A Small Revolution Brewing at Lakehead Law

Nobody said starting a new law school would be easy.

Lakehead University plans on opening the first new law school in Ontario in over 40 years in September 2013. The school stylizes itself as the law school “in the North for the North,” and will focus on pressing issues in rural Ontario, including:

  1. aboriginal law and understanding of aboriginal issues
  2. the needs of small practitioners
  3. natural resources law, such as mining rights and employment standards

Development of this specialized curriculum has sparked controversy, before it has even started. The conflict started when the university Senate replaced a mandatory 1st-year full credit course on world issues from a First Nations perspective. In its place they provided a half credit course on how First Nations views fit within the Canadian legal system.

The student body took their cue from Idle No More, and challenged the administration head on. They even “occupied” the president’s office by hosting a sit-in.

The university has rebuffed accusations that the changes have watered down the First Nations focus in the curriculum,

No other law school in Canada has a mandatory stand-alone course in its program’s first year devoted to Aboriginal issues. No other law school in Canada has a mandatory stand-alone course in its program’s second year devoted to Aboriginal law. Lakehead University’s law degree program has both. Furthermore, Lakehead’s Faculty of Law commits itself to addressing Aboriginal issues in all of its subjects.

The school indicates the need to offer a law course touching on First Nations issues, rather than a humanities type course which would simply reference the legal system. The school also emphasized that considerable consultation with First Nations occurred in making the changes.

The sit-in and the protests ended this past week when the Senate voted not to re-institute the previous course.

While it’s refreshing to see students so enthusiastic about First Nations issues, it’s also worth noting that the school has an expressed commitment to “integrating aboriginal perspectives into our other subject areas where appropriate” in addition to any stand alone courses, so the school’s mandate may still be achieved.

I don’t expect the mining lawyers to start a revolt any time soon. But can we request that those small practitioners in the north ensure we have law schools teaching practical skills as well?

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