Positive Profile: Justice Harry Laforme’s Continuing Legacy

In late 2018, I had the honour of meeting Justice Harry LaForme, and it was truly an inspiring experience to be able to watch him address the room, and speak with him directly as well, so I thought I would finally get down to doing this ‘Positive Profile’ piece that I can only hope will do a shred of justice to his legacy. Justice Harry S. LaForme will always be a legendary figure in Canadian history, and global Indigenous history, as he is the first appellate court judge in Canada who hails from a First Nations community. Justice Harry S. LaForme was born on October 31st, 1946 on his family’s reserve. He is of Anishinabe descent, and is a member of the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation which is located in the Southern part of the Province of Ontario in Canada. Justice LaForme is an alumni of the prestigious Osgoode Hall Law School, and he was called to the Ontario Bar in the year 1979. He began his legal journey in the large Corporate firm Osler, Hoskin and Harcourt; but shortly thereafter, he followed his passion, and began practicing Indigenous Law through his own practice.  Not only is Justice LaForme an example of a leader when it comes to Human Rights Law, with particular attention to Indigenous rights, but he has also appeared in front of  every level of Canadian Court. Justice LaForme has also appeared internationally in Geneva, New Zealand, and before the British Parliament to discuss various issues pertaining to Indigenous Peoples. He also had the honour and great responsibility of providing instruction on the “Rights of Indigenous Peoples” at his alma mater, Osgoode Hall Law School. Co-chairing on the independent National Chiefs Task Force on Native Land Claims, acting as Chair of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Land Claims and also being the Chief Commissioner of the Indian Commission of Ontario simply add to the esteem and experience that he holds when in comes to tangibly creating change in the realm of Indigenous laws and rights. Not only has Justice LaForme written and spoken extensively in issues of Indigenous Law, but he has also articulated on the areas of Criminal, Constitutional, Civil, and Human Rights law as well. He has been a trailblazer when it comes to Human Rights for all, including in 2002 when he was the leading voice on re-defining the legal definition of marriage to allow same-sex couples the right to marry. As a result of his exemplary leadership and knowledge both in an academic setting, and in the legal field, he has been the recipient of honorary degrees from no less than the following institutions: York University, University of Windsor, Nipissing University, and The Law Society of Upper Canada. Some of Justice LaForme’s most beautiful honours however, have come from the First Nations community. This includes being recognized the 1997 National Aboriginal Achievement Award in the area of Law and Justice, along with the presentation of one of the highest respects, being given multiple Eagle Feathers by First Nations Elders on several occasions. Eagle Feathers are symbolic of honesty, integrity, and great respect.  Today, Justice LaForme acts as Senior Counsel at the law firm of Olthius, Kleer, Townsend LLP, a large firm that specializes in Indigenous law. I would like to close this piece off with an inspiring piece of advice that Justice LaForme gifted to me, and it was that one should always follow the line of work they are truly passionate about, because it is in doing that, that one will feel the most fulfilled, and make a difference in whichever way resonates with them.

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