Justice system needs more trauma-informed training, says Métis lawyer

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When Métis lawyer Myrna McCallum began working as a lawyer and arbitrator, she was unprepared for what she describes as a tsunami of trauma.

“I became so incredibly traumatized, not only did I carry a bunch of unhealed trauma that I refused to look at, but I was immersed in everyone’s trauma story every day,” said McCallum, who grew up. in the Métis village of Green. Lake and attended Lebret Residential School.

“I had a personal crisis in my life and all of their [the claimants] the traumas collided with mine. I’ve become someone I don’t even recognize. “

It was then that she began to think about her profession as a lawyer. She acknowledged that law school does not adequately prepare lawyers to deal with trauma, particularly in criminal, family and immigration law.

“We need to understand trauma: how it manifests in others, how it manifests in ourselves. And if we don’t, we will end up harmed, ”said McCallum, who now practices law in North Vancouver.

She started a podcast titled The Trauma-Informed Lawyer which aims to educate all lawyers on the practice of Indigenous trauma-informed attorneys, cultural humility, collateral trauma, collateral resilience, and intergenerational trauma.

McCallum says this work is intended for all professionals in the legal system.

“I think we have an ethical duty and a responsibility to ensure that people are supported as they are about to embark on an area of ​​a legal process that will be very traumatic for them.”

McCallum also learned from Dr. Gabor Mate, an author known for his work on trauma, addictions and child development, who explains how grief is part of the healing process.

“Grief is the great healer,” she said. “Grieving brings you into all of your feelings and helps you deal with what you’ve been through and helps you find a new normal.”

When McCallum was working with residential school survivors, she was shocked to see them transform into a younger version of themselves when the trauma occurred. For example, a 70-year-old man suddenly turned into a seven-year-old boy. She was shocked at how deeply devastating sharing their stories was.

“What I came to understand was that for people who have never done healing or grieving work, they might die in this place of pain and horror and fear that they keep cracking down because it sticks with them, ”said McCallum, who was an adjudicator for the residential school settlement process.

“So you’re talking to someone who’s going through this event like it’s yesterday. And I think that’s the big gap that we don’t understand as lawyers, that’s how trauma works on them. people.”

McCallum says the plaintiffs in the process were his greatest teachers.

“Without them I wouldn’t be the trauma-informed lawyer I am today and people around the world wouldn’t benefit from the teachings they gave me.”

Lawyers aren’t the only ones who need trauma-informed training

McCallum says lawyers aren’t the only people who need more trauma-informed training. She says Cree lawyer Harold Johnson, a former La Ronge district attorney, often shares the view that RCMP officers working in northern Saskatchewan are not ready to be immersed in trauma.

“These young officers coming out of the depot… are leaving in a few years because they are highly traumatized by everything they are exposed to,” she said. “We are doing people a disservice when we don’t say, ‘Hey, here are the risks of working in communities you know little or nothing about and discuss trauma and resilience. And how are you going to take care of yourself while you do this really heavy and hard work? “

She thinks people need to recognize things like intergenerational trauma, collective trauma, and cultural trauma. In all of this, trauma and trauma-aware practice have space and place.

“Lawyers should not work with indigenous peoples without first truly understanding what intergenerational trauma looks like and how it has devastated communities and nations across the country,” she said.


Call to Action: Stories of Reconciliation features individuals and groups from across the province who are endorsing the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s calls to action. Themes range from language to justice, emphasizing local efforts and the people who lead them. Read more stories about the call to action here.

Artwork for The Trauma-Informed podcast by Métis lawyer Myrna McCallum. (Myrna McCallum)


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