Woke? What?

Woke (/ˈwoʊk/ WOHK): adjective: aware of and actively attentive to important facts and issues (especially issues of racial and social justice)—Merriam-Webster  

I don’t read publications like the Western Standard or the Dorchester Review as a rule but thanks to the imbroglio over Law Society Rule 67.4, I made an exception.

Rule 67.4 gives the Law Society the authority to mandate continuing professional development programming including the Indigenous cultural competency course called The Path.

The Path was a response to the Truth and Reconciliation Committee’s call to action #27. It was developed by an Indigenous consulting firm and covers the history and contemporary realities of First Nations, Inuit and Metis in Canada.

It is a free 5-hour online course which can be taken in 1-hour chunks and is virtually impossible to fail. Lawyers had up to 18 months to complete the course, failing which they’d be suspended.  

And this is a problem, why?

Fifty-one lawyers (petitioners) petitioned the Law Society to repeal Rule 67.4 because:

The course is mandatory. Some lawyers say they have no issue with its content, nope, none whatsoever, they’re just worried the Law Society could use Rule 67.4 to force lawyers to take courses that are “political propaganda” and that smacks of the kind of mandatory education found in repressive regimes like China. This is the slippery slope argument, but we’re lawyers, so who cares.   

Interestingly, the same argument could be made about the Law Society’s mandatory professional development course for lawyers who wish to become principals mentoring and supervising articling students, but for some reason, this course is not a problem.

The course is an example of woke woo woo. Lawyer Glenn Blackett (of the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms) sets out his reasons for repealing Rule 67.4 in the Western Standard and the Dorchester Review. It’s part of the “radical, activist and authoritarian movement known as ‘wokeness’”. It is “re-education, or indoctrination, into a particular brand of wokeness called “decolonization” and, like a cancer, it threatens to “distort the law within the very system entrusted to protect it.”

He argues The Path’s post modernist ideology is based on “metaphysical relativism” and “moral relativism” which holds that “there’s no such thing as the real world or right and wrong.”

The relevance of these complex philosophical doctrines is not explained, instead Blackett offers support for his position by plucking sentences from The Path like:   

“We can look at science and at origin stories as simply different ways to describe where we’ve come from.”  

(I suppose this isn’t the time to bring up that other origin story, the one where Earth is 6000 years old and we all descended from two people who lived in the Garden of Eden).

Four hundred lawyers and 124 non-active lawyers and students have written an open letter urging the Law Society to keep the training requirement.

The matter goes before the Law Society on Monday, Feb 6 where it will be put to a vote.

Why this matters

This is about more than a handful of lawyers objecting to doing their part to deliver on the TRC’s call to action.

It’s about lawyers who would politicize the Law Society’s effort to promote reconciliation.

In addition to urging lawyers to vote to repeal Rule 67.4, Blackett wants “liberally-minded” lawyers to put their names on the ballot for the 2023 Bencher Election, presumably to oust the “woke” Benchers who’ve foisted this “wokeness” upon them.

(Benchers are elected every 3 years, 20 are elected by the profession and 4 are appointed by the Justice Minister, who, you will recall, is currently under investigation by the Law Society).

So Lawyers, when you receive your LSA notice in the fall listing the candidates who‘d like to serve as Benchers you may want to check whether they support professional training in the history and treatment of Indigenous peoples in Canada and vote accordingly.

To paraphrase the historian Timothy Snyder, it’s nuts to assume that those who came to power through institutions won’t change or destroy those very institutions, especially when that’s exactly what they’ve said they’re going to do.

I’m no longer an active member of the Law Society and I can’t vote on Feb 6, but I am confident that the majority of my colleagues will vote to keep Rule 67.4 so the Law Society can continue to offer training like The Path.

I’m less sure about the Smith government who will come under intense pressure to interfere with the Law Society’s ability to regulate itself if Monday’s vote does not satisfy Blackett et al.

If Smith yields to this pressure, we will have further proof that democracy is under siege in Alberta.

Woke? What?