The benefit of patience in Aboriginal issues: Strike
By AdvocateDaily.com Staff
In close to four decades at the bar, Bowmanville personal injury lawyer Ron Strike has learned that it often takes patience to earn the trust of his clients.
He's also learned that some communities are more difficult to win over than others.
Strike, counsel to Will Davidson LLP, says his Indigenous clients were sometimes leery of him in the early days, but over the years, he has built a level of trust in certain communities.
“A white man isn’t always to be trusted, and you can’t really blame them for feeling that way when you think of what has occurred over the years,” he tells AdvocateDaily.com. “It took me a while to be accepted, but after you’ve done a few cases and people on the reserve get to know you, it's easier to build relationships.
He says he has often been retained to represent residents involved in accidents on reserves around the province.
“I’ve been involved in a number of accidents that happened on reserves, which has given me an insight into how difficult life can be in those communities,” says Strike.
“There is a lot of turmoil for people living there, including rampant alcohol use and the way people are tossed back and forth within the justice system.”
He says there is often a distrust of those involved in the criminal justice system, so lawyers have to be patient and understanding. Without building that rapport, it's difficult to get clients to open up and share information.
Strike is currently acting for an injury victim who was almost killed in a group home fire and left with serious physical and emotional injuries.
Many residents of the home for troubled and vulnerable teenagers have Indigenous backgrounds, including the 17-year-old who admitted setting the fire. She recently pleaded guilty to manslaughter for causing the deaths of two people at the group home — one a resident and the other a colleague of Strike’s client.
“My client is a very experienced and incredibly dedicated worker,” Strike says. “The children that she works with have already been rejected from many places before they get to her.”
According to an agreed statement of facts filed in court, the girl’s medication regime had recently changed before the fire, increasing her propensity for temper tantrums and outbursts.
After learning she would not be returning to her home on the reserve after her 18th birthday, she became enraged and pushed Strike’s client to the ground, prompting some staff and residents to retreat to a safe room upstairs.
When the girl set a fire downstairs, Strike says his client and the two deceased were unable to escape from the upstairs room. The litigation arising out of the event remains at an early stage, he adds.
"Incidents of this nature — and many others — have prompted me to take a keen interest in the struggles of our Indigenous people," says Strike.