By Glenn Blackett
The radical, activist and authoritarian movement known as “wokeness” has captured a vast array of Canadian institutions: universities and public education, charities, media, governments, banks, and even churches.
We are now seeing its infiltration into professions through various professional regulators.
The Law Society of BC has also mandated indigenous cultural competency training on its members.
In November 2022 about 30 Alberta lawyers who had failed to submit to this training were automatically suspended from the right to practice and earn a living.
The Path represents politicized regulatory overreach and, while ostensibly intended to promote reconciliation, is likely to do far more harm than good.
The legality of the Law Society of Alberta mandating cultural re-education is doubtful.
Many law societies in Canada have the power to impose specific “continuing professional education” on lawyers.
Even if we assume the Law Society does have this power, I’m aware of no shoehorn long enough to cram the foot of “cultural competency” into the shoe of “continuing professional development.”
The Path is re-education, or indoctrination, into a particular brand of wokeness called “decolonization.”
Through a combination of post-modern ideology and a clumsy, distorted and lopsided history, the main lesson intended for Alberta lawyers seems to be that Canadian history, as it relates to our indigenous people, is entirely one of racism and genocide — evils which somehow remain inherently lodged in Canadian law and legal structures:
These statements are speculative and theoretical propositions which are simply presented as established fact. Whether or not they are true, a country mile separates this kind of political speculation from the core legal and ethical competencies which are the appropriate business of a law society.
Law societies are empowered to ensure lawyers know the law and behave ethically. Law societies are not empowered to force lawyers to submit to political indoctrination of any kind.
The Law Society of Alberta seems to rely, as part of its authority to impose re-education on lawyers, on the 2015 Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). The TRC’s “call to action” number 27 of 94 states:
“We call upon the Federation of Law Societies of Canada to ensure that lawyers receive appropriate cultural competency training, which includes the history and legacy of residential schools … This will require skills-based training in intercultural competency, conflict resolution, human rights, and anti-racism.” [emphasis added]
The TRC’s calls to action are not law. They don’t give legal authority to order anyone to do anything. They certainly don’t amend the Legal Professions Act. Only Parliament can do that.
Any remaining doubt as to the propriety of this kind of “cultural” training should be vaporized by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The Charter guarantees that Canadians, including lawyers, have the right to freedom of speech and conscience. Mandatory political re-education is a frontal attack on these freedoms.
The case of Jordan Peterson, a famously anti-woke psychologist, appears to be another example of woke institutional capture. His regulator, the College of Psychologists of Ontario, has threatened to revoke his license to practice unless he submits to re-education in the form of social media “coaching.”
The lifeblood of a liberal democracy is freedom of speech and freedom of conscience. That’s why authoritarian regimes outlaw free speech and mandate ideological indoctrination.
The woke capture of professional regulators threatens these freedoms by weaponizing regulatory power to suppress free speech by “cancelling” heterodox voices and to mandate ideological re-education.
This threat is especially dangerous as it relates to our legal system.
A Threat to Liberal Democracy
Liberal democracy depends for its existence on the rule of law. Political disputes are resolved by free citizens through their elected legislative assemblies which create laws. Those laws apply to everyone until the legislature changes or repeals them.
If some person or body other than the legislature is making law, that chews away at democracy.
Minor rule-making power is often delegated by the legislature to government bodies like agencies, commissions, and regulators including law societies. If those bodies make rules outside the power delegated to them, that also deteriorates democracy.
In Canada, the more we have people making rules they’re not supposed to, including by the warped interpretation and application of rules, the less our legislatures are the rule-makers and the less democratic we become. At some point, although we may continue to flatter ourselves with the label, we cease to function as a meaningful democracy.
Democracy is particularly vulnerable to degradation if lawyers are the ones improperly making or warping the rules. This is because lawyers play a unique and important role in a liberal democracy: they manage and protect the rule of law itself.
For this reason, liberal democracy depends on the legal system being free of state and political influence. The Supreme Court of Canada has said:
“The public interest in a free society knows no area more sensitive than the independence, impartiality and availability to the general public of the members of the Bar and through those members, legal advice and services generally.”
The infiltration of wokeness into the legal system is, therefore, a particularly pernicious danger. Like cancer of the lymphatic system, it threatens to distort the law within the very system entrusted to protect it.
The unique and vital role of lawyers make law societies excellent attack vectors for the woke assault on liberal democracy.
Enter the Path. Although labelled “cultural competency,” it largely vilifies Canadian law and advocates for its fundamental restructuring.
Remember, this advocacy is not made to the electorate, as it should in a democracy, it is being force-fed to the managers and protectors of the legal system.
The Path includes specific policy and practice prescriptions, including applying laws so as to reduce indigenous incarceration, the creation and expansion of race-based laws and legal systems, and “trauma-informed” legal practice.
More generally, however, the Path is woven together with concepts that clash with Canada’s basic legal structure and liberalism’s animating spirit: the principles of the Enlightenment.
This is especially true of the Path’s post-modern ideology. Post-modernism, the product of mid-20th-century French philosophers including Jacques Derrida and Michel Foucault, is based in “metaphysical relativism” and “moral relativism” which means, in essence, that there is no such thing as the real world and no such thing as “right and wrong.” Rather, there is only one’s perception of the real world and one’s perception of morality, which is different from person to person, culture to culture. Your perception of the real world and morality are simply the product of your place in a power hierarchy or place in several “intersecting” power hierarchies.
The Path tells us, for example:
Quite apart from the obvious question, “how did this modern French philosophy worm its way into a purportedly ‘indigenous world view’?” we have to ask, “how does this philosophy square with Canadian law?”
Very poorly, it turns out.
Our legal system grew out of an empirical worldview, one that is premised on there being a real world — and only one of them. The entire point of a trial is to determine “what happened?” not “what does everyone think happened?” Courts enforce contracts by reading them and figuring out what they objectively mean, not what each party subjectively thinks they mean.
The Path advocates a post-modern or subjective approach to law. For example:
“The Crown thought the Treaty was about land surrender. The First Nations thought it was about sharing the land.”
“Every Canadian should have an understanding of law that allows it to be intensely democratic in terms of how they manage their families, in terms of how they manage their communities, in terms of being a part of the relations of power in Canada. It's everybody's business.” [emphasis added]
A Path Away from Reconciliation
Wokeness is authoritarian and, as such, any criticism of the Path, an ostensible project of reconciliation, is certain to be attacked and dismissed as “racist” or “colonial.”
It’s a sad irony, then, that the Path seems far more likely to stoke racial division and reinforce socioeconomic disparity than it is to actually help bring about reconciliation.
The Path’s divisiveness is both overt and insidious.
A necessary ingredient of woke re-education is the defamation of the present system as somehow inherently evil, be it “patriarchal” or “white supremacist” or “colonial.”
The Path is, therefore, permeated with character assassinations on many Canadians, past and present, and assaults on Canadian law, as racist and genocidal. These attacks are devoid of context and nuance.
Referencing the 1969 “White Paper,” a proposal by Pierre Elliot Trudeau and Jean Chrétien to reform indigenous policy including abolishing the much maligned Indian Act, we’re treated to Harold Cardinal’s quasi-lunatic rant:
“It’s aimed at the white people who are bigoted, who hate Indians … I think the phraseology of equality and phraseology of freedom is used much like the Nazi’s [sic] used the music of Beethoven as they were marching the Jews into the gas chambers … If they had a legal way … which they [sic] could justify their action, I think they would have shot every Indian to death in this country this year. But since they could not do this morally, they resorted to a legal means of cultural genocide.” [emphasis added]
The Path is also peppered with more subtle attacks, like that on our national anthem:
“And when you sing that Canada is our home and native land, are you really celebrating our Indigenous past?”
I’m well aware of the purported wisdom that we have to “face our past” to achieve reconciliation. I’m also aware of a competing and, I think, more compelling wisdom that dwelling on blame is counterproductive.
This competing wisdom holds true particularly when blame is directed across racial lines in the form of ancestral allegations of collective guilt and collective suffering. The lessons of Kosovo, Turkey, Israel, Rwanda, Iraq, and Somalia come to mind.
The vitriol directed at Canadians in the Path seems less likely to promote reconciliation than to promote a distorted perception of history and of the causes of socioeconomic disparity, anger, shame, and enduring indigenous alienation.
The most divisive aspects of the Path are, however, more insidious.
As can be seen in the “viewed through the lens” quote above, the Path presents indigenous people as essentially different in the way they think, behave, organize their families and communities, and interact with the natural world.
We’re told, for example, that:
The entire premise of the Path, as “cultural competency” training, seems to be that it is necessary that lawyers receive specialized skills and knowledge to successfully interact with indigenous Canadians because they are inherently and fundamentally different.
The Path teaches that understanding body language is important. We’re told that indigenous “use humor to teach” so we shouldn’t “take yourself so seriously.” We’re warned that it’s not polite to look an elder in the eye for too long or to ask them too many questions. We’re told to “simply listen, observe, imitate [sic] and think about what you’ve learned. Often the lesson will come to you later, when you need it.” We’re asked, “is the relationship just about what you need from them? ... Do you care about their wellbeing?”
The problem with all of this, beyond ascribing traits to people based on race, which used to be called “racism,” is the assumption that any of it needs to be said at all.
Indigenous people are not essentially different from other Canadians of any race. We have a shared humanity. We all try to plan-ahead, protect the environment, maintain a sense of humor and humility, respect our elders, care for one another, and not creep people out with uninterrupted eye contact.
Any human equipped with basic decency, humility, and civility can navigate an unsupervised and unmediated relationship with a person from another culture, including an indigenous person. To suggest otherwise is simply a denial of shared humanity.
The aspiration of multiculturalism is a beautiful mosaic, not a balkanized patchwork of mutually incomprehensible racial tribes.Perhaps the most destructive aspect of the Path, however, is its postmodernism. This ideology informs the Path’s approach to understanding and solving very real and very important problems.
As the Path points out, there remain massive socioeconomic disparities between indigenous and other Canadians. Indigenous people are far more likely to be poor, to live in broken homes, to be imprisoned, to be the victim of violence including sexual violence, to drop-out of high school, to be sick with diseases including diabetes and tuberculosis, to commit suicide and so on.
Whether we call it “reconciliation” or simply “human compassion,” all decent people want to see these disparities eradicated.
The Path seems bound to prolong, not alleviate, these crushing realities.
The Path embraces the central woke dogma and post-modern offspring of “systemic discrimination.” Systemic discrimination is an accusatory label applied to a law which is not racially discriminatory but which leads to statistically different outcomes for different races. As absurd as this may seem, the Law Society of Alberta itself adopts, basically, this definition.
The Path focuses attention on high rates of indigenous incarceration. So let’s take, for example, the criminal prohibition on murder. That law seems on its face to apply equally to indigenous and other Canadians. However, indigenous Canadians are charged with murder at nearly six times the rate for other Canadians. Therefore, by definition and on the basis of that statistic alone, the criminal prohibition of murder is “systemic discrimination.”
Note what this implies: the only reason indigenous Canadians are more likely to be charged with murder is that the system is discriminatory. It is, of course, heretical and racist wrongthink to even suggest one plausible explanation for this statistical difference: that more indigenous people are charged because more indigenous people offend.
Therefore, “systemic discrimination” is an evidence-free label applied to communicate that: 1) the system is the problem and the only problem; and 2) you had better not ask any more questions.
Properly understood, “systemic discrimination” is a disabling blindfold. To fix a problem you must, first, understand it and, secondly, be permitted to explore and propose effective solutions.
In like manner, the Path suggests that “colonialism” has caused seemingly every socioeconomic disparity between indigenous and other Canadians: lower life expectancy, childhood poverty, suicide, “sky-high” rates of diabetes, tuberculosis, disproportionate numbers of indigenous peoples who are victims of violence, are murdered, or go missing, high rates of substance abuse, poor education, employment outcomes, “and the list goes on.” The Path also repeats the dogmatic but specious assertion that colonialism including residential schooling has caused “inter-generational trauma.”
Having concluded a priori that colonialism, intergenerational trauma, and systemic discrimination are the sole cause of existing disparities, we’re then to believe that if we somehow remedy colonialism, systemic discrimination, and inter-generational trauma – presto! We solve all these pernicious socioeconomic problems.
There’s a word for this kind of problem solving: utopianism. It seems always to lead to ruin.
As I sat through this re-education, its “history” of unmitigated racism and genocide, and its assertion that “our people are in a state of constant trauma,” I couldn’t but help wonder if it wasn’t all just modern packaging on a perennial scourge: the paternalistic attitude of pity and racism of low expectations with which Canadians have long cursed our indigenous brothers and sisters.
I shudder when I consider the profoundly disempowering effect this “history” and these concepts are bound to have on indigenous youth and Canadian youth writ large. If the solution to the problems they see around them is to “decolonize” Canada or to “dismantle systemic racism” there is, practically, nothing they, as individuals, can do.
To believe you are powerless is to be powerless.
To readers who may concede the Path and other instances of woke capture are real problems, please don’t take comfort in some palliative like “the pendulum may have swung too far but it will return.”
At the Law Society’s December 2022 annual general meeting, woke initiatives were virtually the only business discussed. The Law Society’s President “commended” lawyers on their "participation” in the Path and emphasized the Law Society’s “commitment to engage lawyers with further opportunities.”
Problems don’t inevitably get better. Some problems, like an infection, tend to worsen exponentially.Glenn Blackett is a lawyer based in Calgary with the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms' network of lawyers. A shorter version of this article appears in The Western Standard here.