Harry LaForme, Canada’s first and only Indigenous judge on an appellate court, has joined Olthuis Kleer Townshend LLP as senior counsel.
LaForme was a judge of the Ontario Court of Appeal for 14 years and on the Superior Court of Ontario for 10 years before that. He was the first Indigenous person to serve as a judge of the Court of Appeal anywhere in the Commonwealth, according to a press release by OKT. He retired from the Ontario Court of Appeal last month.
“OKT for me was really the only option of where I was going to go,” LaForme told Legal Feeds. “If I wasn't going to practise law at OKT with that group of lawyers they have there, I was probably going to retire completely.
“I've known about the firm for a long time. As a lawyer who actually went to law school to do the work that OKT has done over the years, it just seemed like a natural fit…It just seemed like when I left the court ... I was going to complete the circle, I was going to finish my legal career the way I started it, and that just seemed to be very appealing to me.”
LaForme has long advocated for Indigenous rights throughout his career, and he has most recently criticized the “functionally bilingual” requirement for judges on the Supreme Court of Canada, saying it likely prevented him from serving on the court.
“That functionally bilingual requirement trumped what I think is an even more precious notion for the Supreme Court, of having an Aboriginal person there,” LaForme recently said to The Globe and Mail.
OKT has more than 30 lawyers based in Toronto and Yellowknife and represents Indigenous governments, organizations and people across the country.
OKT managing partner Renée Pelletier told Legal Feeds that LaForme is joining the firm “actually wanting to do legal work, which is really great for us. I imagine that we'll be able to keep him busy both with our existing files, but then also the work that will come our way as a result of him joining us.”
“On a personal note,” Pelletier says, “here at OKT we make it a priority to hire Indigenous lawyers as much as possible. We have a number of Indigenous associates and a few Indigenous partners. As one of those people, I can say that it's really a major honour to have him join us.”
LaForme is Anishinabe and a member of the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation located in southern Ontario. He was born and raised mainly on his reserve.
LaForme graduated from Osgoode Hall Law School in 1977 and was called to the Ontario Bar in 1979. He articled at Osler Hoskin & Harcourt LLP and joined the firm as an associate. He then started his own practice, specializing in Indigenous law.
LaForme served as co-chairman of the independent National Chiefs Task Force on Native Land Claims; chief commissioner of the Indian Commission of Ontario; chairman of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Land Claims; and he taught the "Rights of Indigenous Peoples" at Osgoode Hall Law School.
In 2002, LaForme served on the Ontario Divisional Court panel that ruled that denying same-sex couples the right to marry was a violation of their civil rights; his suggestion — that marriage be redefined — was subsequently adopted by the Court of Appeal for Ontario.
Editor's Note: Comments by Harry LaForme added at 2:20pm.