Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond

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Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond

Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond (born 1963 in Niagara Falls, Ontario, Muskeg Lake Cree Nation) is a Canadian lawyer, judge, and legislative advocate for children's rights. She was appointed in 2006 as British Columbia's first Representative for Children and Youth, an independent position reporting to the Legislative Assembly. She was re-appointed to a second 5-year term in 2011. Turpel-Lafond was earlier the first Treaty Indian to be appointed to the judicial bench of the Provincial Court of Saskatchewan. She was given leave to take the legislative position.

Time Magazine has twice bestowed honours upon Turpel-Lafond, naming her as one of the '100 Global Leaders of Tomorrow' in 1994, and in 1999 as one of the 'Top 20 Canadian Leaders for the 21st Century'.


Mary Ellen Turpel was the youngest of four girls born to an ethnic Scottish mother and Cree father in Niagara Falls, Ontario. She grew up in poverty, enduring harsh physical mistreatment, and lived with domestic violence and alcoholism in her home. Her upbringing was similar to that of many of the indigenous children she has since encountered through her work.[1][2]

By age 18, she had entered Carleton University, Ottawa, gravitating from the study of math and science to politics, philosophy, and eventually the law.[1] Turpel-Lafond holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from Carleton University, a law degree from Osgoode Hall, a master's degree in international law from the University of Cambridge, and a doctorate of law from Harvard Law School.[3] She also studied the International Comparative Law of Human Rights at the University of Strasbourg.


Enrolled as a member of the Muskeg Lake Cree Nation, at age 35 Turpel-Lafond was the first Treaty Indian to be named to the judicial bench in Saskatchewan.[4] She was the Administrative Judge for Saskatoon, involved in the administration of the Provincial Court of Saskatchewan in relation to access to justice, judicial independence projects, technology and public outreach.

She has also worked as a criminal law judge in youth and adult courts, which led her to work at developing partnerships to better serve the needs of young people in the justice system, particularly sexually exploited children and youth, and children and youth with disabilities, such as fetal alcohol spectrum disorder.

Prior to her judicial appointment, Turpel-Lafond was a lawyer in Nova Scotia and Saskatchewan. She is a tenured professor of law at Dalhousie University Faculty of Law. She occasionally lectured at the University of Toronto, the University of Notre Dame and other universities, and held the position of Aboriginal Scholar at the University of Saskatchewan. She has been a visiting professor at the University of British Columbia and the University of Victoria law schools.

In November 2006, Turpel-Lafond was appointed to a five-year term as British Columbia's first Representative for Children and Youth. Her responsibilities include; advocating for children and youth, protecting their rights, and improving the system for their protection and support, particularly those who are most vulnerable. She serves all British Columbians under the age of 19, with an emphasis on young people in government care – such as those in foster homes, group homes or youth custody. These children and youth face greater challenges than those in the general population, especially related to health and education, incarceration and dependence on income assistance.

Turpel-Lafond was appointed to a second term in late 2011. In 2015 she called for the government to hire immediately at least 250 social workers for indigenous children, in order to provide needed services and protect vulnerable children. She said that due to turnover, government hiring had resulted in a minor increase in the number of social workers to care for children.[5]

As the Representative, she does not work for the executive branch of government. Rather, the Representative for Children and Youth is an independent office of the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia and does not report through a provincial ministry. Their work is based on the United Nations' Convention on the Rights of the Child, and upholds the following values:

– Children have a right to be protected and kept safe – Families are the best environment for raising a child – Parents and extended family have the primary responsibility for a child – Decisions made about a child should include their own views and input

As a practicing lawyer, Turpel-Lafond has appeared before all levels of Courts in Canada, including the Supreme Court of Canada. Turpel-Lafond has worked on land claims with the Indian Law Resource Center in Washington, D.C., and served as a key legal and constitutional adviser to aboriginal leaders.[1]

In 2018, Turpel-Lafond joined the Peter A. Allard School of Law at the University of British Columbia as professor and was subsequently named the inaugural director of the University of British Columbia's Indian Residential School History and Dialogue Centre.[6][7]


Turpel-Lafond lives in Victoria, B.C., with her second husband George Lafond, who is a former Vice-Chief and Tribal Chief of the Saskatoon Tribal Council. They have a son and three daughters, including one set of twins.

"People are very resilient, children are resilient, and support for children makes a massive difference," Turpel-Lafond says. "Look at my life." [1]


  1. ^ a b c d The Victoria Times-Colonist, August 5, 2007
  2. ^ The Globe and Mail, August 7, 2007
  3. ^ McMahon, Rob (April 11, 2007). "Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond: BC's children's champion". The Georgia Straight. Retrieved Feb 19, 2017. 
  4. ^ Legg, Erin. "TURPEL-LAFOND, MARY ELLEN (1963–)". The Encyclopedia of Saskatchewan. Retrieved Feb 19, 2017. 
  5. ^ [ "Advocate says B.C.'s children in government care need more social workers now"], The Canadian Press, 8 October 2015, accessed 11 February 2016
  6. ^
  7. ^

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