Leighton Grey, senior partner of Grey Wowk Spencer LLP, has been named this year’s recipient of the Gary J. Biggs Champion of Justice award. The award will be presented by the Alberta Civil Trial Lawyers Association (ACTLA) today at a reception in Edmonton.
The humanitarian award is presented to one legal professional a year who has worked on behalf of people who are underprivileged or victims of injustice.
Work with Indigenous people
Grey has been recognized for his work with Indigenous people and he began his work over two decades ago.
Grey’s indigenous lineage is part of the Carry the Kettle Nakoda First Nations, near Regina, Saskatchewan. His great-grandfather was a chief of the nation post World War I.
His great-grandfather was the first indigenous person from that reserve with a formal education.
Grey’s grandmother and her sister were sent to a residential school when they were children.
Just over 20 years ago, “my grandmother called me up and ask what I knew about residential schools,” explained Grey.
“She had spent most of her childhood in a residential school in Brandon, Manitoba. “I was embarrassed, I knew nothing.”
Around the same time, Grey had a client from Saddle Lake First Nations, who had repeatedly been in front of the courts.
“It came up about his background, a psychologist said he suffered a host of problems, alcohol and such from residential schools.”
Grey said the combination of his grandmother’s revelation about her experience with residential schools and being a lawyer that dealt in the criminal aspects of the law sparked a passion to help those affected by residential schools, Indian day schools and Indian hospitals.
“I’ve done a lot of things, specifically criminal,” with that background, Grey noticed, “systematic background factors, people who grow up and raised in First Nations, suffer from intergenerational trauma.”
That trauma from residential school was passed down, generation to generation, causing a higher risk of suicide, addiction and life of crime in First Nations communities.
“Overrepresentation of Indigenous people in our courts is a direct result of residential schools,” stated Grey.
“I started traveling to First Nations communities and meeting with the people, hearing their stories.”
Grey said he interviewed over 100 people and said he wasn’t sure what he was doing.
“But this was something that was important.”
He was involved in the first set of class action suits in 2006.
Over the next decade, there would be over 200 hearings that Grey was a part of.
“People would tell their stories and appear in front of an adjudicator and they would receive settlement.”
Grey continues to work for Indigenous people. He is currently working on suits involving Indian hospitals and Indian day schools. Including a claim regarding Kehewin Cree Nation people and Notre Dame School in Bonnyville. Note: this is not the same school(s) that are presently operating in Bonnyville.
Regarding the Award
“I would like to thank Bradley Sinclair, who nominated me for the award.” Long-time colleague and friend, Sinclair sent in the nomination to the ACTLA.
Grey is quick to thank his team at Grey Wowk Spencer LLP. “This represents the team, we have a wonderful team. Lesley Doucet, she deserves a lot of credit for this award.”
“My partners are really wonderful people. There’s no way I would be receiving an award without them,” stated Grey.
Gary J Biggs
Grey had the chance to meet the man the award is named after – Gary J Biggs.
“He was the best kind of lawyer. He allowed you to ask questions. He was always very generous with his time and knowledge.”
Grey will receive the award tonight in Edmonton at the ACTLA banquet.