Candidate bio description
Metis lawyer and legal academic. Received LLB in 1999. Also have MA, LLM and PhD. Full-time professor at Osgoode Hall Law School. Previously worked for two provinces' provincial Crowns in Criminal Appeals, Prosecutions, Public, Civil and Deputy Minister's office. Worked for Government of Canada at the Department of Justice and (now) Indigenous and Northern Affairs. Also worked at a large law firm.Over twenty years teaching at a university level. Significant experience in adjudicative and administrative functions within three universities and professional institutions. Appointed by United Nations to represent NGO at fora regarding economic, cultural and social issues. Award-winning writer, teacher, and researcher. Specialist in torts, law and economics, legal history, and Indigenous rights. Currently on OBA Board of Directors, OBA Provincial Council and OBA WLF exec. Member of WLAO, Indigenous Bar Association, Canadian Law and Society Association. Previous Board experience includes for a poverty legal aid clinic, first Indigenous women's shelter in Canada, a public legal education institute, Crown-society think tank. Acquired translation level in French. Have also studied Cree. First woman in family to obtain a university degree. Still paying off student loans. My previous work experience impacts my concern for the public interest through a regulatory institution such as the LSO. But my personal experience of having to become part of post-secondary training without family experience or family financial assistance, along with cultural background, are also part of how I imagine the future of our profession. Please see www.signadaumshanks.com.
What inspired you to run for bencher this year?
I am interested in many issues that I believe the LSO is working on. And working with organizations such as the OBA's provincial council and its WLF, along with being on its Board, combine well with what I do for a living. So now is the time to be part of another circle :). And, of course, my family always tells me to contribute whatever knowledge I have elsewhere when it can be of assistance. As of now, I have immense experience in linking the legal profession with legal training, whether in an LLB/JD program, advanced training in an LLM, CPD education or even reaching out to our youth about what it means to become a lawyer. I am also always involved in conversations about how future graduates enter the profession, whether deliberating the LPP program, the impact of debt upon decisions, the work lawyers can do outside the GTA, the form articling can take (or not). I am also interested in how para-legals and lawyers combine together to provide services and respond to concerns about access to justice. As someone who worked as a 'temp' in what we now would see as para-legal jobs, I have experiences that I think are helpful for imagining how our two professions interact. My experience is also helpful for how we think about expanding our exposure to different cultural backgrounds and thinking deeper about how those differences can be welcomed. As Osgoode's inaugural Director of Indigenous Outreach, I have already created and then implemented positive ties between various circles that help all of us perform our jobs more efficiently, thoughtfully and then more accurately. The LSO needs people with a great attitude and experience in the areas I've described here. I think I have already demonstrated both, so it's time to step up and contribute to Convocation!
What do you believe is the biggest issue facing the legal profession?
It's the algebra of the costs of practice plus the cost of becoming a lawyer plus the cost of hiring one. This equation's problematic result is growing and shows itself when we discuss the issues of diversity in our profession, self-representation and un-representation in the legal system, and our reputation as a profession within society as a whole. Too often, we think of these subjects individually rather than in tandem. Their combination is the issue, not solving one topic and then moving to the next. I hope my 'first priority' and 'pressing concern' would help mitigate this issue.
What would be your first priority upon election?
Immediately, I can help with any efforts that pertain to learning about diverse perspectives and how these views impact legal and procedure reform, our own governance methods and what the LSO expects of of lawyers within society as a whole. With particular focus on Indigenous perspectives, I see these efforts as a way to reminds us about how the public interest is best served when we are perceived to be aware of the qualities and pressures society actually has. Being more aware of the public's actual cultural/economic qualities makes everything we do more impactful in a positive way. Our profession's reputation is always at stake, and telling our fellow Ontarians that we deeply appreciate the diversity of our province is pivotal. But this appreciation must also be evident -every day.
What do you hope to achieve over the next four years as a member of Convocation?
I have significant experience in regulation, adjudication and administrative matters, so my experience means I am already ready to take on issues regularly facing the LSO. I can shine light on issues that help move us forward in thinking about Reconciliation. I can help strengthen links between the profession and those circles that train us to become, and then continue to be, good lawyers. I can participate in dialogue between governments and the LSO, so that we are both working to improve society's confidence in the rule of law.
What's the most pressing concern for the profession in your region of the province?
Toronto is the ultimate location for accessing information about, and then working collectively on, how technology/self-representation impacts legal process. The GTA can be a hub for: making information about the LSO more accessible to the public; encouraging the development of better filing processes in the courts; using technology for aiding access to information for those whose abilities are limited, whether physically, financially, or geographically; organizing post-action document holding. An urgent effort to improve technological functions benefits the GTA and, as an effect, helps our colleagues who work in non-urban and isolated communities as well. Arguably the best in Canada ,the GTA's potential for innovation exists and we can improve everything we do by learning more about what is slowing us down technologically, implement ideas that speed up our actions, and then improve access to knowledge about the law as a result.
Do you support the requirement to create and abide by a statement of principles?
First and foremost, our job is to serve others who come to us in the hopes we can solve a problem they face. We all work hard to help those who trust us to do so. The SOP reminds us to think more deeply, and then more accurately, about a situation in front of us. As a result, it helps us lawyer better. But it's helpful in another way. It also makes us more aware, and then more supportive, of differences within our own profession that deserve to be celebrated and supported. Institutions such as the TTC have already introduced statements. These announcements act as a way to publicly tell their clients/users that all backgrounds are welcome. But announcements also encourage the public to potentially contribute knowledge that actually helps the institutions achieve their original goals. That is what the SOP does for us: helps make the profession even better aware of circles to which we do and don't belong, and then makes the public interest even better served based on that improved awareness.