© Herald photo by Matt Gardner
Left to right: Lawyers Paul Gregory McNeil and Cara-Faye Merasty pose with judges A.R. Rothery and R.D. Maher following their induction into the Prince Albert Bar Association on Friday at the Court of Queen’s Bench.
Two up-and-coming young lawyers were inducted into the Prince Albert Bar Association on Friday at the Court of Queen’s Bench.
The afternoon ceremony served as the official introduction to the court for lawyers Cara-Faye Merasty and Paul Gregory McNeil.
Along with family, friends and colleagues, visiting dignitaries attended to show their support for Merasty -- the first woman from Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation and the first person from Pelican Narrows to be admitted to the bar.
“I’m a little overwhelmed with that,” Merasty said of her pioneering status. “But I’m just very happy and humbled by the whole experience and being part of the legal profession.”
Dignitaries included Grand Chief Ron Michel of the Prince Albert Grand Council; Chief Peter A. Beatty, executive director Ben Merasty and councillors Joan Beatty and Warren McCallum for Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation; and vice chiefs Kimberly Jonathan and Simon Bird for the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations.
In his introduction of Cara-Faye Merasty, local attorney Gordon Kirkby noted that she was fluent in Cree and proud of her culture. But he also noted the tragedies and obstacles Merasty had overcome to reach this point.
The young lawyer’s father passed away when she was a year old, while her mother became gravely ill when she was nine, passing away shortly before she graduated Grade 12.
Merasty helped care for her mother throughout her illness. After graduation, her brothers and sisters helped encourage her to pursue her education.
“Cara does not see today’s accomplishment as her own, but wishes to give this accomplishment to her community, her family and her parents,” Kirkby said.
During her university years, Merasty won almost a dozen prominent scholarships, including the Roger Carter Scholarship 2012, Canadian Bar Association Aboriginal Student Award 2012, a University of Regina scholarship in 2009 and more.
“Her accomplishments are exemplary,” Kirkby said.
“Not only has she overcome many tragedies and challenges, all of us within the legal profession know the struggles of First Nations communities brought about by a whole variety of factors -- colonization, the residential school system and its continuing effects today relating to addictions … and all sorts of difficulties.
“All of these obstacles this young woman has faced with perseverance and hard work.”
Speaking on her decision to enter the legal profession, Merasty said, “I found that aboriginal people were underrepresented in the legal system on the lawyers and judges side, and so I wanted to contribute to my community by being part of the legal profession.”
When you go into law you can do a lot of things with it. Paul Gregory McNeil
Since she began working at Kirkby’s law office in June 2012, Merasty has specialized in family law and real estate. She plans to practice in Prince Albert for the foreseeable future.
Introducing McNeil, George Combe -- currently acting legal director at the Prince Albert office of Legal Aid Saskatchewan -- explained how the young attorney came to his attention through the Nova Scotia bar.
A graduate of St. Francis Xavier University and the University of New Brunswick Fredericton, McNeil agreed to make the long journey out to Prince Albert and begin work at Legal Aid.
Referring to him as “one of the hardest workers I’ve ever met for a young lawyer,” Combe detailed how McNeil’s methodical reading of every single file that comes his way helped him win his first case, when he referred to video testimony by the plaintiff that even the Crown prosecutor was unaware of.
“I’m very proud of him for his accomplishments and more so, I’m very proud of him … for his contribution to lower-income families in this province,” Combe said.
“This man works hard to serve low-income clients, and when I look through his resume -- I did it again this afternoon -- I realized that that’s what he did … He worked with low-income people, he worked with people who had issues and he volunteered his time, and that’s something that is important.”
McNeil pointed to the varied career possibilities associated with a law degree as one of the biggest reasons for his own path to the bar.
“It’s interesting,” he said of the legal profession. “There are a lot of different things you can do with it, so it’s not necessarily limiting yourself to career path. When you go into law you can do a lot of things with it.”
Going forward, he planned to maintain his focus on criminal law by continuing his work at Legal Aid.
Bookending the induction ceremony, Justice A.R. Rothery provided opening remarks and a message to the inductees near the end. Justice R.D. Maher oversaw the administration of oaths as well as the signing of the register.
Other speakers who offered words of welcome included Ron Parchomchuk of the provincial Law Society, Shelley Cannon of the Saskatchewan Trial Lawyers Association and past president of the Canadian Bar Association’s Saskatchewan branch David Thera.