Wokeness captures Alberta’s law society

Glenn Blackett – Western Standard

The radical activist and authoritarian movement known as “woke” captured a vast array of Canadian institutions: education, charity, media, government, finance and even the church.

It is now infiltrating professions through various professional regulators. Take for example the cases of psychologist Jordan Peterson, nurse Amy Hamm, pediatrician Dr. Kulvinder Kaur Gill, and emergency room physician Dr. Christopher Milburn.

As part of this trend, in 2021 the Law Society of Alberta (LSA), like the Law Society of BC, required every one of Alberta’s nearly 11,000 lawyers undergo woke indigenous “cultural competency” training called the “Path.” In November 2022 the LSA suspended about 30 Alberta lawyers for their failure to complete the training.

The legality of the LSA mandating cultural re-education is doubtful. Unlike other Canadian law societies, Alberta’s Legal Professions Act does not appear to give the LSA the right to impose “continuing professional development” (CPD) on lawyers. The LSA also seems to rely, in part and improperly, on Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) call to action No. 27.

Even if the Law Society has this power, though, there is no shoehorn long enough to cram the foot of “cultural competency” into the shoe of “continuing professional development.”

The Path is re-education into a brand of wokeness called “decolonization.” It employs a “post-modern” ideology and relies on a clumsy and distorted history to demonstrate Canada’s historical relationship with indigenous communities is largely one of racism and genocide — evils which somehow remain lodged in Canadian law and legal structures:

“… events have exposed the racism, the discrimination, the unfair treatment and the inequality built into Canadian law, policies, and structures.”

Whether or not this is 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. The LSA’s job is to ensure competence and integrity, not to impose political indoctrination.

Any remaining doubt as to the legality of the Path should be vaporized by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms which guarantees freedom of speech and conscience. Mandatory political re-education is a frontal attack on these freedoms.

The woke capture of professional regulators threatens fundamental freedoms by weaponizing regulatory power. Regulatory power is used to suppress free speech by “cancelling” heterodox voices and is used to directly mandate ideological re-education.

This threat is especially dangerous as it relates to our legal system.

A liberal democracy operates by the “rule of law” in which legislatures make the law that citizens are expected to know and follow. Lawyers have a special task in a liberal democracy: operating and protecting the rule of law.

The Path does contain some legal practice recommendations. Most notably, lawyers are told to treat indigenous people with special care including not focusing on their “current circumstances” but rather on their inter-generational “trauma.”

However, the Path also strays well into the political. For example, it encourages approaches to reduce indigenous prison populations including different application of existing case law and “restorative justice.” The Path even advocates for the recognition of “indigenous laws” as part of Canada’s legal system.

While these might be good proposals, note exactly how and where they are made. They are not made openly to elected representatives or the electorate, but rather to a captive audience of professionals tasked with operating and protecting the rule of law. If the intention is to influence lawyers’ perceptions and conduct, which is surely the purpose of the Path, then it represents an intention to change the legal system through the application of regulatory force within the legal profession itself. That is both authoritarian and anti-democratic.

Like cancer of the lymphatic system, woke efforts like the Path threaten to distort the law within the very system entrusted to protect it.

Apart from the Path’s specific policy proposals, it 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, a mid-twentieth-century French ideology, is based in “metaphysical relativism” and “moral relativism” which mean, basically, there’s no such thing as the real world or “right and wrong.” Rather, there is only one’s perception of the real world and morality, which is different from person to person, culture to culture.

The Path tells us, for example:

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

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 is very much 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.

While the Path doesn’t say exactly how far this post-modern woo woo should be taken, given racism is apparently baked into our legal system, one would have to guess “quite far.” For Canadians who like liberal democracy, any distance is too far.

The Path sells itself as being about reconciliation but, as with wokeness in general, it seems more likely to have the very opposite effect.

The Path is not conciliatory. Instead, it’s loaded with wild and irresponsible accusations about Canadian history, people and even liberalism itself:

“… the phraseology of equality and … freedom is used much like the Nazi’s (sic) used the music of Beethoven as they were marching the Jews into the gas chambers …”

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?”

The most divisive aspects of the Path are, however, insidious.

As can be seen in the “lens” quote above, indigenous people are presented as essentially different.

This is a rejection of shared humanity. Indigenous people are not essentially different from other Canadians of any race. We don’t need specialized knowledge to have a good relationship with an indigenous person. As with any person, we only need civility, humility and caring.

Reconciliation is often taken to mean remedying socioeconomic disparities like incarceration, health and wealth. Here too the Path’s post-modernism is destructive. There are concrete and identifiable causes for these disparities like higher criminal offence rates, malnutrition and substance abuse, and lack of economic opportunity. There are pragmatic steps indigenous people and communities can themselves take to improve these things. Knowing this is empowering.

But the Path, like all wokeness, sees causation in ethereal boogeymen like “systemic discrimination,” “inter-generational trauma,” and “colonialism.” What agency does an indigenous community, much less an indigenous individual, have to change that? That is a dis-empowering perception. To believe you are powerless is to be powerless.

We too have power. In the next few weeks, the LSA will hold a meeting to vote on eliminating mandatory CPD. If you’re a lawyer, attend and vote. In November 2023 the LSA will elect its benchers. Liberally-minded lawyers need to organize, run and vote.

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