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Salish Sea Sentinel | October 16, 2019

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Lawyer honoured for contributions to Indigenous rights

A lawyer who has fought for Indigenous peoples’ rights throughout his 55-year career has been honoured for his notable contributions. 

Marvin Storrow is known for working with B.C. First Nations on cases that have resulted in some of the most significant rulings in Canadian history, including the Supreme Court of Canada’s R. v. Guerin ruling, R. v. Sparrow and R. v. Gladstone. 

On Feb. 1, Storrow was awarded an honourary Doctor of Laws at Vancouver Island University for his legal contribution towards the formal recognition of Indigenous rights. 

“I don’t mind challenging the law, because that is how it develops and grows,” Storrow said in a statement. 

“I realized early on in my life there were people in our Canadian community that were not treated equally and I thought that was wrong.” 

Marvin Storrow

Storrow was born in Vancouver in 1934. He became involved in various community and sports activities where he befriended a number of Indigenous athletes and discovered all the injustices they faced under the Indian Act. 

He attended the University of British Columbia in the 1960s, during a time when Indigenous people who received a university degree — or became a doctor, clergyman or lawyer — lost their band status, and weren’t allowed to have their own representation in court.  

In the mid-1970s, Storrow met then-Musqueam chief Delbert Guerin, who was having trouble finding a lawyer to take on a case regarding an unfair lease agreement deal around its reserve lands. 

Storrow took the case on, resulting in the landmark Supreme Court of Canada ruling in Musqueam’s favour, R. v. Guerin. The ruling established the federal government’s fiduciary duty to Indigneous people, specifically in regards to their reserve lands.  

Storrow has worked on many other notable cases, including R. v. Gladstone, the only case to recoginize Indigenous commercial fishing rights. He also is behind R. v. Sparrow, the first case to address the constitutional rights of Indigenous peoples under Section 35 of the Constitution Act of 1982. 

Anna Fung, past president of the Law Society of B.C., said in a statement that she believes Storrow’s accomplishments have contributed to a wider push to recognize Indigenous rights and title across the country. 

“It would be fair to say that the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was made possible at least in part due to the groundbreaking achievement that Storrow accomplished in gaining general legal acceptance of Aboriginal rights and title in Canada over the past several decades,” she said.