ELECT ETIENNE ESQUEGA FOR BENCHER- NORTHWEST REGION/OUTSIDE TORONTO
MY ELECTION STATEMENT
I live in Thunder Bay, and my office is located on the Fort William First Nation. I am a member of the Biinjitiwaabik Zaaging Anishinaabek. I graduated from Osgoode Hall Law School and was called to the bar in 2005. I guess that makes me more of a mid-career lawyer now. I have amazing daughters who I love to spend all of my free time with.
I have been practicing law in Northwestern Ontario since my call to the bar in 2005. I started my career in a larger regional firm, and then I went solo in 2012. Last year, I hired a new grad from the Bora Laskin Faculty of Law, and there are currently two of us in my office. I have a great appreciation of what it is like to be a small firm lawyer in a remote part of this beautiful province.
I was raised by my grandparents who were both residential school survivors. My grandparents always expressed their disappointment from their residential school experience. My grandfather always expressed his disappointment with the lack of education he received from that system when considering he was discharged from it after grade 8 and the amount of abuse he experienced through those years. Despite the cycle of intergenerational trauma which circulated our family while I was growing up my grandparents always reminded me of the opportunity that I had to get the quality education that they were denied.
I went off and received that education. I now have the privilege of practicing almost exclusively in the area of Indigenous Legal Issues.
I represent clients on land claims, civil litigation, First Nation governance, and corporate/commercial matters. Recently, I acted for a First Nation in a settlement of a flooding land claim. I also acted for a party at the 7 First Nation Youth Inquest.
I am a co-chair of the Indigenous Advisory Group to the Law Society of Ontario. I also volunteered on the working group which developed the Certified Specialist in Indigenous Legal Issues designation.
The world and the practice of law are changing around us, and the LSO must keep up. One of the biggest challenges and opportunities to the practice is the ever-expanding use of technology. When I first started practicing the large, block-like, blackberries were a must-have. Look how far we have come, and where we may go. As a lawyer in the north, I truly appreciate how technology makes the practice of law in the north easier. However, I believe there are many opportunities for the LSO to improve technological efficiency and to integrate technology in a more mindful, workable and efficient manner to facilitate and assist both the membership and the public.
A PRESENCE IN THE NORTH
Our regulator must have a greater presence in the North to support its members. One means of accomplishing this is to explore opportunities, and perhaps partnerships, for CPD programming to be made available (live) for members in the North and remote locations. CPD programming and events provide us with great up-to-date information, but also provide networking opportunities, and our regulator should play a role in facilitating this.
SUPPORT FOR MEMBERS WITH MENTAL HEALTH CHALLENGES
We must be mindful of members who face health challenges. Mental health challenges in particular. We need to improve and explore new ways that the LSO can offer early support to members so that their struggles do not result in disciplinary proceedings.
NEED FOR PROMPT INVESTIGATIONS AND REGULATORY PROCEEDINGS
We need to ensure that our regulator engages in prompt investigations and disciplinary proceedings. In particular, the recommendations from the 2018 Review Panel on Regulatory and Hearing Processes Affecting Indigenous Peoples must be addressed. While some of these recommendations are specific to Indigenous peoples and issues, implementation would be beneficial to the membership and community as a whole.
I appreciate that LSO fees are something that we must remain mindful of. Costs, that are downloaded to the membership, must be kept down.
STATEMENT OF PRINCIPLES
I support the statement of principles. I do not understand why we as professionals cannot adopt principles that support the elimination of racism, discrimination, and barriers to access to justice. The regulator must continue to address these principles and the work as set out in the Challenges Facing Racialized Licensees: Final Report, the Working Together For Change: Strategies to Address Issues of Systemic Racism in the Legal Professions report and the Review Panel on Regulatory and Hearing Processes Affecting Indigenous People report.
In support of the Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) hours, a group of Indigenous lawyer and myself are currently planning a CPD event this year which will have an Indigenous Peoples theme. The event will be offered to licensees who want to attend the event in Thunder Bay, ON. I am excited to be working with these dedicated colleagues on such an important initiative.
OWNERSHIP OF LAW PRACTICES
I am leery of private ownership of law practices. I feel that it would put us lawyers in an ethical dilemma if we had non-licensee shareholders running the show. I think this form of business model may also add to the significant access to justice issues we are facing, especially for those in the north.
ACCESS TO JUSTICE & LAW SCHOOL TUITION
Access to justice is probably the biggest issue facing our profession right now. We need to deal with it. The costs of tuition for law school is disturbing. It is going to create an elite society for only those who can afford to go if the costs continue to go up. People from small northern communities and Indigenous communities struggle at times to put food on the table. How can parents be expected to save up for annual tuition fees that are in many circumstances greater than what annual salaries are? There is a problem, and we as a profession must address it.
We are seeing students coming out of law school with significant debt. This debt is affecting the issue of access to justice because young lawyers have to leave the profession, or private practice, to find higher paying jobs. As a result, the small firms and the solo practitioner is at risk of becoming a thing of the past if this horrible trend continues.
LEGAL AID PROGRAM
We must continue to support legal aid certificates for those who cannot afford a lawyer. The importance of these certificates is especially important for those from the north including the many Indigenous defendants that are before the courts. A recent example in support of this requirement is the fact that two independent police reports looked into the Thunder Bay Police and found issues concerning institutional racism. This racism leads to Indigenous people being charged when they should not have been. The fact of the matter is that many Indigenous individuals come from communities and homes where poverty is sadly the norm. They do not have the funds to hire a lawyer. So, the legal aid certificate program must be protected so that those who do not have the individual means to afford a lawyer can obtain a legal aid certificate so they can retain legal representation.