June 28, 2021
Former RCMP officer realizes childhood dream of practising law
When Chad Haggerty, JD’19, was a child, the dream of becoming a lawyer seemed out of reach. Despite near-perfect marks in school, the potential financial burden of law school loomed large. Haggerty, who is Métis from the East Prairie Métis Settlement in Northern Alberta, instead joined the RCMP at age 19 and served on the force for the next 17 years.
“I started university at age 38, studying criminal justice at Mount Royal University. I had a desire to work in criminal law, and along with my experience in policing, I chose an undergraduate degree that I felt would apply to the work I wanted to do,” explains Haggerty.
He was posted at various locations throughout his time with the RCMP, including St. Paul, Saddle Lake, Bonnyville, High Prairie, Thorsby and the Edmonton International Airport. And while most of his time with the force was positive, some instances were less enjoyable. When Haggerty joined the RCMP, he didn’t identify as Indigenous, for fear of being labelled as having been accepted simply because of his Indigeneity. He admits that once other officers learned he was Indigenous, some assumed he was only hired because of his heritage, and not his inherent ability or capability.
“Experiencing systemic discrimination in the organization and dealing with dangerous situations on the job left me in a situation where I knew I needed to leave the job and find a new career. I decided it was finally time to chase that childhood dream to become a lawyer.”
Experience in northern Alberta inspired career in criminal law
Haggerty acknowledges that his experience with the RCMP in small Northern Alberta communities, where everyone knows each other, played a role in his decision to go to law school and pursue criminal law.
“Oftentimes, the only people trying to get accused persons help to address their issues were busy defence lawyers,” he says. “The social programs were there but were overburdened and couldn’t address the needs to the community.”
Haggerty is one step closer to reaching his childhood dream: he recently completed his articles at Craig Hooker Shiskin Criminal Law in Calgary and was called to the Bar in mid-June. Under the supervision of his principal, John Hooker, he has been able to gain valuable experience in trials, liaising with the Crown and other stakeholders, and the importance of remembering to always respect and preserve the dignity of his clients.
“Many of our clients were in unenviable circumstances and have disadvantaged histories. Part of our job is to ensure that all of our clients get the best possible outcome; respecting their inherent dignity is a huge part of that process.”
While he is grateful for the experience and success he is seeing as he begins his career as a criminal defence lawyer in Calgary, Haggerty admits he would have liked to have started earlier.
I waited until my late 30s to chase this dream. I graduated from law school at 44 and won my first solo trial at 45. While the wait to pursue this profession was worth it, I’d give anything to go back and chase it sooner.
Haggerty's advice to other Indigenous students
We asked Chad for some advice for other Indigenous students who are thinking about going to law school.
“The legal system in Canada needs you. Indigenous people are over-represented in all aspects of the criminal justice system except one: the legal profession. If you have any desire to be a lawyer, reach out to UCalgary Law and ask to be connected to a current student or a graduate to discuss the possibility. Reach out to a lawyer that you know or have heard of or find them in a Google search. Almost every lawyer I know will take time to talk to students and interested people about the profession.
"If you’re concerned about the financial burden of law school, there are resources and options available. The staff at UCalgary Law can help you access those resources.”
In June, Canadians celebrate National Indigenous History Month to honour the history, heritage and diversity of Indigenous Peoples in Canada. It is also an opportunity to recognize the strength of present-day Indigenous communities.
National Indigenous History Month is a time for learning about, appreciating and acknowledging the contributions First Nations, Inuit and Métis people have made in shaping Canada.
The Government of Canada recognizes the importance and sacred nature of cultural ceremonies and celebrations that usually occur during this time. While celebrations and events for National Indigenous History Month may be different this year than those in the past, we can still share and learn from stories, traditions and culture in new ways that keep us together and connected.