Alberta lawyer requirement to swear oath to king being challenged in court

Three Indigenous Alberta women are involved in a lawsuit that requires articling students in the province to swear an oath of allegiance to “be faithful and bear true allegiance to His Majesty King Charles the Third.”

Rachel Snow is an Îyârhe Nakoda First Nations legal consultant and Indigenous law practitioner, and a descendant of makers of Treaty 7.

Her father John Snow was chief of the Wesley Band, west of Calgary. In the 70s he received an audience Queen Elizabeth II and presented Prince Charles with a book that he wrote about the history of his people.

John fought for Indigenous rights and had an honorary doctorate of laws degree from the University of Calgary.

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Rachel has a law degree but she can’t be a lawyer in Alberta unless she swear an oath of allegiance to the king.

“It’s very much a remnant of colonialism,” Snow said.

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In September, Rachel, Janice Makokis and Anita Cardinal started a lawsuit challenging the oath of allegiance. The three Indigenous women all graduated from law school.

Cardinal and Makokis are Cree women from First Nations in Treaty 8 and Treaty 6 territory.

Rachel says an oath to the King is contrary to her spiritual beliefs as an Îyârhe Nakoda person. She said she can’t swear an oath to a system that has caused harm to her people and to an oath that she will uphold newcomer laws over the laws of her own people.

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“It makes me feel like I’m betraying my ancestors,” said Rachel. “If my ancestors negotiated the treaties so that we would be able to come forward with all the practices and way of life, and languages and ceremonies — if they had negotiated that, then why is it that at this time that I have to step down or go under somebody else’s jurisdiction?

“Where is the reciprocity?”

She said First Nations are a sovereign people who signed an agreement with the Crown because they agreed to be partners.

“Why would we then submit or capitulate under the British Crown? If we agreed to be partners then that means our legal traditions have the same weight as they always have had. Why does there have to be one group submitting to the jurisdiction of another?” Rachel said.

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The lawsuit has named the Alberta government and the Law Society of Alberta as defendants.

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The Law Society said while it is not within their power to amend legislation, “we support an amendment to the Oaths of Office Act that would create flexibility for articling students by making the oath of allegiance to the King optional”

The Law Society said that amendment would remove inequitable barriers in Alberta.

The lawyer representing the women said the oath of allegiance is a form of discrimination.

“It’s the basic injustice of it,” said Orlagh O’Kelly. “I think most people can understand this is their land. This is their territory. This is treaty territory and they can’t practice law.

“These are voices that we should have as part of our legal profession.”

“They do have that right in accordance with the treaties which we are all bound by and requiring that they take this symbolic oath was never contemplated in the treaties.”

Other provinces have already opted to get rid of the oath of allegiance or to make it optional.

The mandatory oath of allegiance has been challenged in two separate lawsuits.

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