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Professor D’Arcy Vermette Likes His Coffee Thick As Molasses

Canons: You’ve attended three different law schools for your LLB, LLM, and LLD, and you are now teaching at a fourth. How would you say the U of A’s law school differs from the others?

Professor Vermette: I never really had the chance to compare apples to apples. The experiences are separated by time (it has been ten years since I graduated with my LLB and I was awarded my doctorate last year) and by the nature of my involvement at each of those institutions. I would even have a tough time describing how first year law school compares to upper years. I spent the first year of my LLB trying to reconcile my preconceived expectations of what law school should be, with the reality of what I was experiencing. Some students come to terms with it or quickly adapt and comfortably move on to the upper years. Others, like me, grit our teeth and push through. My Master’s experience was so great because I felt a freedom to examine the law in a way that I never did as an undergrad. But as a graduate student, I never felt like I was part of the law school. I am still trying to get to know U of A Law. I think my students are terrific so that is a good start.


Have you ever experienced Edmonton in the winter before? If so, what did you enjoy about it (if anything)? If not, what have you been doing to prepare (i.e. brace) yourself?

I grew up in Saskatoon where the winter wind feels like being slapped by a Yeti. Rather than crying and complaining about the rude Yeti (I think her name is Betty… yes, Betty the Yeti sounds right) it is important to just face the challenge. I like cold weather. There is something exhilarating about being out and about on a really cold day. When I was a teenager, I went to a local outdoor rink to play hockey. Nobody else was there, so I had the entire sheet of ice to myself. I decided to practice my shot (not that I needed it). I took a slap shot, and it hit the post square on (in order to challenge myself I aim at the posts) and the puck split in two! No lie. It split into two pieces! I knew from experience that I had the hardest slap shot west of pretty much everything east of west, but I had never split a puck into two pieces before. It was in that moment that I realized two things: one, it was minus one million degrees and the puck split because it was frozen and two, I was somewhat odd for loving that cold weather.


Tell us a bit about your Aboriginal law course next semester. What are you most excited about with respect to teaching this course?

Next term I am team teaching with Professor Bell. It is really her course set-up that we are running with. Content-wise, I will be adding my own unique spices and hopefully it is a great term for everyone. Beyond the teaching, it is a good opportunity for me to see how Professor Bell runs her course, the content involved, and to see how students participate in that structure. If there are possibilities for me to develop the Aboriginal law course offerings in the future, it is important to know what is already in place. So, I think that team-teaching this course will be good for the faculty in the long run, too.


What do you want students here to know about you?

Students should know that I am interested in pursuing the liberation of Aboriginal peoples. I am not overly interested in discussions concerning “compensation,” “rights,” or “reconciliation.” Discussion of those matters should only be pursued with a broader goal in mind. These ideas should not be the end game, nor should “equality” or “inclusion” in some economic or participatory sense. The end game is not about liberating Aboriginal peoples as a race (because there is no such thing as different races of people) but, rather, it is about liberating Aboriginal cultures from the economic, legal, and political structures that are killing them. I am here because law school should contain a strong critique against the oppression of the current Canadian legal apparatus.


What do you prefer: coffee, tea, or neither? If you are a hot beverage indulger, where is your favourite place to grab one?

Objectively speaking, coffee tastes pretty gross, but I can’t go without it. Yesterday I drank seven cups of coffee. My favorite place to grab a coffee is at my office. That way I can make sure that each scoop of grounds is piled extra heaping so that the coffee flows like a thick molasses. There are few things more disappointing in life than a weak cup of coffee.


If you are a hot beverage indulger, what is your favourite place in Edmonton to grab one?

I have two young daughters so working at home is kind of like fighting the Borg (if the Borg were more like Ewoks and Gremlins. Please don’t tell me that all those references are too old for your readers). As a result, my office is the only place I can trust to get work done.


What is your favourite comfort food?

I don’t eat cows or pigs. But I do eat chocolate. Can chocolate be a comfort food? [Editor’s note: Is that a real question?]


What are you looking forward to most this year?

Survival. It sounds like a small goal. But this is my fifth year teaching and I know enough to appreciate that starting new courses at a new place, and especially in a new topic area, can be challenging. I want to be here for a long time and hopefully become an important part of this faculty, so I am setting a modest goal for the first year.


What do you like to do for fun?

Playing with my kids is fun. Golfing is fun. Telling bad jokes in class is fun. I get a kick out of being the only person in the room who understands a reference. I also think it is fun to joke around with very little joking flare, deadpan delivery that falls dead is incredibly funny to me.


What would you rather have: the ability to fly or become invisible?

Flying or invisible? Invisible. No question about it. I would deliver all my lectures with my invisible powers engaged. But I would need a good start-up phrase so that everyone knew I was about to go all superpower on them. “Invisibility cloak engaged one hundred percent!” sounds pretty catchy. Then, I would tiptoe around the room and randomly slam student’s computers shut. It would be great fun. “Good luck taking notes now, suckers!” It would also be fun to sneak up on them while they are looking at the PowerPoints and slowly make only my eyes appear in front of their eyes. “YIKES!”


I would also use my powers to sneak into the Supreme Court of Canada and whisper in the judges ears: “You are doing it wrong…again.” “Nope, that still isn’t correct.” I would do it more to torment them than to actually influence them. I would also use my time in Ottawa to stand by the Prime Minister when he was giving official speeches and every time he went to speak I would yell randomness into the microphone: “Balhswouardoudhj!”


After that I would be pretty bored with invisibility.


Do you speak more than one language? If so, which one(s)?

I can understand “two-year old,” which is a very complex language. I do have trouble speaking it fluently. I speak a very unsophisticated version of English, and that is it.