Law Times - Newsmakers

2018 Top Newsmakers

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IT WAS a tumultuous year for Lakehead University's Bora Laskin Law School and its former dean of law, Angelique EagleWoman. The country's first Indigenous law dean, Eagle- Woman said in April that she had been the "victim of systemic discrimination" at Lakehead Univer- sity and resigned two years into being appointed. "It's been very hard," EagleWoman said at the time. She had been appointed to the role in January 2016. "Unfortunately, I feel that Lakehead Univer- sity [senior administration] presented themselves as wanting to have a strong Indigenous leader but in the actual day-to-day interactions took steps to minimize and undermine my authority and mi- cromanage my work." She said the school played a "shell game" in terms of what they were really looking for in a dean of law for the school. EagleWoman, 48, is a scholar of Indigenous law and a member of the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate Tribe. Before arriving at Lakehead, she taught at the University of Idaho College of Law. She was appointed dean of law at Lakehead in December 2015 for a period of five years and two months. She is now a visiting professor of law at the Mitchell Hamline School of Law in St. Paul, Minn. Three months after EagleWoman resigned, Lakehead University embarked on a consultation with faculty in an effort to find a replacement dean by consulting with its academic community about who should be considered for the role. In addition to consulting with its Lakehead University governance bodies, as well as faculty, staff and students, the school also reached out to external organizations, includ- ing the law associations and its local and regional Indigenous leadership organizations. The university also retained the services of an executive search firm. In early May, the school was criticized for its choice of interim dean — Ontario Su- perior Court of Justice George Patrick Smith — by the deputy grand chief of the Nish- nawbe Aski Nation, Derek Fox. Smith had sentenced Chief Donny Morris and five members of the Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug Council to prison in 2008 during the community's lengthy fight to protect its traditional territory from mining activity, according to a statement from Indigenous leaders. Fox says the university reached out to NAN after it had made its concerns about Smith known, but he says it declined to provide further feedback. The Canadian Judicial Council's probe into Smith ended in early November with a CJC review panel finding he contravened the Judges Act but that he acted in good faith and had a genuine desire to help Lakehead Uni- versity by serving as interim law dean. The panel referred the case to Senior Associate Chief Justice Rob- ert Pidgeon, who agreed with the panel. Though the conduct review panel found Smith violated s. 55 of the Judges Act by bringing his ju- dicial position into an area of public debate and controversy, he will not be removed from the bench. Smith, a supernumerary judge from Thunder Bay, was given leave to take up an interim role as dean of the Bora Laskin Faculty of Law at Lakehead University, after Eagle- Woman resigned and accused the school of systemic racism. Smith resigned as the CJC initiated a review. In late November, EagleWoman indicated she was suing the uni- versity for constructive dismissal and employment discrimination. The statement of claim, which was served on Nov. 20, says the uni- versity undermined her authority and effectiveness, creating a "poi- soned" work environment, forcing her to resign. Eaglewoman is suing for $2.67 million, including for damages equivalent to her salary and benefits as dean and tenured professor for the period remaining on her contract and until age 71, for future salary if her contract had been renewed, moral and aggravated dam- ages and punitive damages. "Lakehead University senior administration imposed conditions of work on dean EagleWoman that made it impossible for her to con- tinue in her position," said Paul Champ, of Champ & Associates in Ottawa, who is representing EagleWoman. "They regularly micro- managed her in a manner that is completely inconsistent with the dean's position. They regularly undermined her with respect to her faculty and staff. And further, there was a significant under-resourc- ing and understaffing at the faculty and the school of law that made it almost impossible for EagleWoman to manage the law school." The second element of the claim is that EagleWoman's experience took place because she is Indigenous. The statement of claim says the hostility, lack of support, micromanagement and questioning of her judgment, abilities and leadership style was attributable to her be- ing a woman and Indigenous. Part of the claim also involves the fact that EagleWoman was originally given the salary of $210,000 a year, $9,000 less than her predecessor, who was white and male, before she complained and was given a raise. Also representing EagleWoman is David Nahwegahbow of Nah- wegahbow Corbiere Genoodmagejig Barristers & Solicitors. Nahwegahbow says the university touted itself as having an Indigenous focus and publicized its hiring of the first Indigenous law dean in Canada. "The first Indigenous law dean ever appointed in the country. The university certainly used that in their marketing efforts and were able to trumpet it as a huge accomplishment for their university and effectively wound up not fulfilling on the commitment that was explicit in that objective, which was to create a law school that would cater to northern issues, small-law practices and Indigenous law and Indigenous reconciliation," he says. EagleWoman is also suing under s. 5 of the Ontario Human Rights Code, which affords equal treatment, free from discrimination, in the workplace. The punitive dam- ages are "to punish the defendant for misrepresentations to the plaintiff and the broader aboriginal community," according to the statement of claim. EagleWoman was herself accused of discrimination by two Lakehead staff mem- bers, Amanda Trevisanutto and Annet Maurer. According to the statement of claim, a pattern of disrespect from Trevisanutto, who was office administrator at Lakehead's community legal clinic, led EagleWoman not to renew Trevisanutto's contract in June 2016. Trevisanutto later filed an application with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario alleging EagleWoman discriminated against her as a young white woman, pointing to the fact EagleWoman had sought to recruit and retain Indigenous faculty, staff and students. Maurer left the school in December 2016 and commenced civil action against the university the following February, also saying she was discriminated against because she was a white woman. She did not name EagleWoman in the claim, but EagleWoman's "published work and support for an Indigenous focus at the law school was used to infer discrimination." Lakehead settled both Trevisanutto's and Maurer's claims and Eagle- Woman says she was not consulted in that process. "I moved my family to Thunder Bay and was looking forward to a long and product- ive career as Dean and Professor of Law," said EagleWoman in a press release prepared by her lawyers. "This was an exciting opportunity for me to work in a law school com- mitted to legal education that emphasizes Indigenous law and perspectives. But I found the reality at Lakehead University did not match its many promises, to me or the local Indigenous communities. " In mid-November, the university said in a statement that the search process for its next dean of law "is continuing on schedule and we look forward to making the an- nouncement once the successful candidate has been chosen." A spokesperson for Lakehead University also confirmed that the university had "re- ceived a statement of claim from Angelique EagleWoman's lawyer." "Lakehead University does not comment on any litigation or personnel matters," said the statement. — with files from Aidan Macnab Lakehead law school dean resigns, sues school Angelique EagleWoman alleged 'systemic racism' BY JENNIFER BROWN, LAW TIMES top stories Angelique EagleWoman says Lakehead played a 'shell game' in terms of what they were really looking for in a dean of law for the school. Contingency Fee, Referrals and Co-counsel arrangements accepted. 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