Postcard from Fraser
It’s been awhile; did you think I got the boot? I wouldn’t blame you; 1L (first year law) had some pretty rough moments.
It’s not that it’s hard per se, it’s that it’s so intense. The workload, the demands on your stamina, your focus. The layer of personal detachment that “good lawyers” are supposed to exhibit runs contrary to Indigenous legal orders which require the recognition and engagement of active agents. There are no passive observers, disconnected from the issue at play. In short; it takes a long time to make peace with the commitment that’s required.
But it looks like I live to see another day, and it feels really good to be back. I don’t have any “survival tips” for the incoming class, now that I’m a know-it-all 2L, but I can offer this: it gets better. Really!
Second year feels like a cake walk in comparison. Perhaps some of it comes from the confidence of knowing you can do it, that you’ll figure it out, that the language of law isn’t as foreign as it once was. Maybe it’s for any or all of these reasons, that it feels better, and that has been a happy surprise.
One of the remarkable privileges of being a law student at UVic is the abundance of opportunities that are available to learn and experience law.
A visit to the Supreme Court of Canada
This summer law students received an open invitation inviting us to attend to Justice Nicholas Kasirer’s Question and Answer with the members of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice & Human Rights as well as the Senate standing committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs regarding his potential appointment to the Supreme Court of Canada. As I was currently out east spending time with my family in tropical Toronto, I accepted the invitation and took the train to Ottawa for the spectacle.
The session occurred in a very fancy building that required the standard airport security level of clearance in which to enter. Everyone was dressed in their conservative best. All the provincial flags and symbols of Canada were on bright and shining display. I saw nor felt any Indigenous symbols bar my little beaded hair clip, which strangely felt like an act of open defiance.
Justice Kasirer was met with a friendly audience of around 200-300 hundred friends and allies. The questions posed to him were lobbed so slowly and easily that by the end of the session, I felt that I could have a crack at the job. I actually understood the questions; Quelle surprise!
Role of judges in interpreting policy, that sounds familiar! “The judge’s job is to apply the law as parliament intended,” LLP 101! Regarding the incorporation and recognition of Indigenous legal orders into a “multi-jural” approach, he quoted Justice Lamar in Delgamuuku “Let’s face it, we are all here to stay”.
When asked, he would only speak to the “potentiality” of the incorporation of Indigenous legal orders. Kasirer spoke about “linguistic minorities” as a reason for his desire to sit on the bench (which seemed a bit rich considering the current commitment by the federal government to revitalize Indigenous languages). I appreciate that he has to walk a fine line of judicial impartiality, but in truth, he seemed to use this as master class in artful dodging.
When asked his thoughts about the importance of having an Indigenous judge on the SCC, the moderator cut off the question and he answered, “Well as I am up for the position, I don’t think I should comment on that.”.Which, of course garnered a big laugh.
When asked about feminism, he commented that he was really proud of his feminist activist daughter (okayyy). Basically anything that touched on Human Rights, he said he was limited in that he could speak only generally and also stated that he couldn’t comment on anything that could potentially be before the court or has the potential to be.
For example, regarding a question on which Charter rights and freedoms should take precedence over others, he remarked that the question was too vague to answer. He also kept referencing the term “making space” for others which sounded awkward. When a Committee member finally asked his to explain more fully what he meant, he said “I didn’t come up with the term.” I was afraid that that one point he was going to refer to himself as “woke.”
Anyway, everyone loved him and laughed with cute French accents and 2.5 hours later, that was that. My beaded hair clip and I headed back on the VIA to Toronto. And I thought after a glass of railroad wine, hey maybe I should clerk, it doesn’t seem like it’s all that hard.
It is noteworthy that this invitation was offered a year to the day that I was offered admission to the Faculty of Law at the University of Victoria. To think that these opportunities exist now makes me feel profoundly grateful and still in awe that I am in a position to be offered so many rich and diverse opportunities to have a peek inside the “parlour.”
A trip to Harvard Law
Speaking of parlours, this fall I had the chance to spend some time at Harvard Law with my friend American Anna. Last year, Anna audited our transystemic classes, and she learned so much that she got herself into Harvard Law!
When I think about my visit there, I keep returning to the theme of abundance. The student ‘lounge’ resembles a first class airport lounge. Between each class, a team of housekeepers come into the class and wipe every single thing down, everyone has an assigned seat in corporate office chairs. I sat near Mitt Romney’s nephew. As one does.
No computers are permitted in class, and it’s a Socratic teaching system, so students come prepared. All in all, it was a fascinating peek inside one of the most exclusive bastions of education in the world.
These ‘field trips’ feel like the cherry on top of the rich learning that I get to do in the portal that is the Fraser building. They also serve to keep me on track when the cycle of midterms and papers begin the familiar looming march.