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MMIWG recommendations prompt additional training for Alberta legal aid lawyers

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After recommendations were made following the MMIWG inquiry, Legal Aid Alberta says it wants to enhance training for lawyers. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press) Two weeks after the MMIWG released its recommendations on reconciliation, lawyers working for Legal Aid Alberta say they need to do better in representing their Indigenous […]


After recommendations were made following the MMIWG inquiry, Legal Aid Alberta says it wants to enhance training for lawyers. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Two weeks after the MMIWG released its recommendations on reconciliation, lawyers working for Legal Aid Alberta say they need to do better in representing their Indigenous clients.

Legal aid introduced mandatory cultural-sensitivity training for its lawyers in 2016 in an effort to better help Indigenous clients, especially when it comes to sentencing.

"We did not necessarily possess the knowledge we should have for assisting our indigenous clients, so it started as in-house training," said Danny Lynn, senior advisory council with Legal Aid Alberta.

Now, following the recommendations made by the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls inquiry, Legal Aid Alberta wants to enhance the training.

April Kellett, one of the first lawyers to take the training, said the half-day course changed her perspective when working with her Indigenous clients.

"I'm looking more at trying to pin the past to the present and how the systems need to help persons who come from that path in perhaps a different way," Kellett said.

The training helped Kellett see her clients and their individual history as separate from one another, making her realize she needed to look deeper at the history of each of her clients, she said.

This has guided her on how to approach each client as unique, she said.

A critical step

The training was provided by Patti LaBoucane-Benson, a Métis Indigenous advocate and now a senator.

LaBoucane-Benson focused on how to provide historic trauma-informed services for Indigenous Peoples, she said in an email to CBC News.

"Understanding our history and particularly the experience of Indigenous peoples in Canadian history and how it informs clients' thoughts and behaviours is one critical step in the reconciliation process," LaBoucane-Benson said.

Sharon Gladue, vice president of Sixties Scoop Indigenous Society of Alberta, said not only does the public service, lawyers and judges need the training, but it should be provided to mainstream Albertans.

With up to 30 per cent of Legal Aid Alberta clients being from the Indigenous community, the training will not stop, Lynn said.

Other public servants have also taken the course.

More than 32,000 staff at Alberta Health Services have taken the training since the former NDP government made the course mandatory for many public servants.

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