Justice Harry S. Laforme first judge appointed to a Court Of Appeal

The President of the IBA was honoured to attend the first appointment of a First Nations judge to the Court of Appeal in Canada on November 11, 2005. The Indigenous Bar Association has been working with other organizations to inform public debate to realize the appointment of more judges in Canada. It is such an honour to see the efforts of Mr. Justice LaForme have led to this appointment.

Dianne G. Corbiere presented Justice Harry S. LaForme with an Eagle head statue carved by a Mohawk artist to honour this historic achievement. The small honorarium exemplifies his achievements to date; he truly soars like an eagle by blazing a trail for other Aboriginal people.

By way of background, Justice Harry S. LaForme is a Mississauga Indian and a member of the Mississaugas of New Credit First Nation located in southern Ontario. He was born and raised on his reserve where his mother and some of his family continue to reside and remain active in that First Nation’s government.

He is especially proud of having his efforts recognized by his own Aboriginal people with such honours as:

(i) 1997 National Aboriginal Achievement Award in the area of Law & Justice; and

(ii) Aboriginal elders have on two (3) occasions presented him with an Eagle Feather, which symbolise the virtues of honesty, integrity, and respect. The most recent being at his swearing in as a Justice of the Ontario Court of Appeal.

Justice LaForme graduated from Osgoode Hall Law School in 1977 and was called to the Ontario Bar in 1979. He articled with the law firm of Osler, Hoskin and Harcourt and joined that firm as an associate in the practice of corporate commercial law. After a brief time with Osler, Hoskin, Justice LaForme commenced his own practice and concentrated on issues involving aboriginal law. His practice afforded him the opportunity to litigate and address matters involving the Constitution and Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Justice LaForme has appeared before each level of Court and has been privileged in that his practice afforded him the opportunity to have traveled extensively throughout Canada as well as representing Canadian Aboriginal interests in Geneva Switzerland, New Zealand, and British Parliament.

In 1989 Justice LaForme was appointed, through the joint orders-in-council of Ontario and Canada, as Commissioner of the Indian Commission of Ontario. The Indian Commission of Ontario was mandated with the task of assisting the governments of Ontario, Canada and First Nations within Ontario to identify problem issues of mutual concern to all and to further facilitate, mediate and to utilise such other fora as may be required to examine and resolve those issues. The issues undertaken by the Commission under Justice LaForme’s direction included, chairing negotiation sessions respecting aboriginal self-government, education, policing of aboriginal communities and land claims.

In 1991 Justice LaForme was appointed by the federal cabinet to Chair the Royal Commission on aboriginal land claims known as the Indian Claims Commission. The Indian Claims Commission was established in 1991 to inquire into and recommend to Cabinet its findings and proposed course of resolution. The process and responsibilities of the Commission included conducting hearings of inquiry on questions of the validation and compensation of aboriginal land claims. The Commission remains an independent appeal mechanism whereby First Nations throughout Canada may have certain land claims issues formally heard by panels of independent Commissioners.

In addition to his work as a practising lawyer and his responsibilities as chairperson of two Royal Commissions, Justice LaForme taught the “Rights of Indigenous Peoples” law course at Osgoode Hall Law School for a term in 1992 and again in 1993. From October 1989 to June 1990 Justice LaForme served as co-chair on the independent National Chiefs Task Force on Native Land Claims. The final report of the task force entitled “First Nations Submission on Claims” was tabled with the federal government on December 14, 1990 and subsequently gave rise to the establishment of the Indian Claims Commission.

In January 1994 Justice LaForme was appointed a judge of the Ontario Court of Justice (General Division), which is now titled the Superior Court of Justice, Ontario. At the time of his appointment he was one of only 3 Aboriginal judges ever appointed to this level of trial court in Canada.

Finally, in November 2004 Justice LaForme was appointed to the Ontario Court of Appeal. He is the first Aboriginal to be appointed to sit on an appellate court in the history of Canada.

Congratulations from the Indigenous Bar Association on this historic achievement!

Juridical Reasons for Appointing Aboriginal jurists to the Supreme Court of Canada