Harry S. LaForme

If it wasn’t for a group of young Aboriginal basketball players, Justice Harry LaForme might not be where he is today. Growing up in New York State, the future Justice had never considered his Mississauga First Nation heritage until he began coaching a group of Aboriginal youth. Inspired, Justice LaForme headed into the heart of Aboriginal politics, becoming Executive Director of the Association of Iroquois and Allied Indians. Justice LaForme laughs when he recalls how naive he was about Canada and its relations with the country’s First Nations. He didn’t even know the name of the Minister of Indian Affairs until he sat next to him. The Minister’s name was Jean Chr├ętien. These experiences led to Osgoode Hall Law School. At graduation, one of Canada’s most prestigious law firms, Osler, Hoskin and Harcourt, hired him. He was soon 67 floors above Toronto, practicing corporate law, but he didn’t like it. Remembering his basketball team, he felt empty. Justice LaForme left the big firm, becoming one of Canada’s first Aboriginal-rights lawyers. He was soon arguing treaty rights cases, land claims, Charter issues and cases concerning the constitutional division of powers. He returned to his alma mater to teach Aboriginal law and was published in numerous learned journals. One of the first Aboriginal persons appointed as a Commissioner of the Indian Commission of Ontario in 1989, he supervised the authorship and edited a groundbreaking report on federal land claims policy that showed the inherent conflict of interest in Ottawa’s serving as judge, jury and interested party. It also led directly to the creation of the federal Indian Claims Commission and Justice LaForme’s appointment as its first Chief Commissioner. In 1994, he became Mr. Justice LaForme, one of the first two Aboriginal Justices in Ontario history to serve on the Ontario Court of Justice (General Division). He continues there today, an inspiration to his people and respected by all. And, he still loves basketball. Justice LaForme received a 1997 National Aboriginal Achievement Award for his contributions to the cause of Aboriginal justice.