Marvin Storrow

A man dressed in blazer and tie stands with his arm resting on the back of an arm chair inside a home.
Lawyer Marvin Storrow and his family established the Colette Storrow Award to be given to an entering or continuing Indigenous student in the University of Victoria’s Faculty of Law with demonstrated financial need. Photo by Colette Storrow.

A fight for rights

Marvin Storrow (LLD ’21) championed Indigenous rights in court—and supported legal education through a gift.

For an accomplished lawyer whose 60-year career includes several landmark cases that have steered the course of Indigenous law in Canada, Marvin Storrow is a man of surprisingly few words. Or, more accurately, he chooses them wisely.

The economy of his speech when reached on the phone from his Vancouver home, which he shares with his wife Colette, is in stark contrast to his years of service and generosity.

Even the award he established at UVic does not include his first name, but instead honours his wife. The Colette Storrow Award is given to an entering or continuing Indigenous student in the University of Victoria’s Faculty of Law with demonstrated financial need. It’s one of several educational endowments for Indigenous students that Storrow and his family support across a number of post-secondary institutions.

“My wife is very supportive of Indigenous rights and very knowledgeable of the history, so I thought it would be good to name it after her,” Storrow says of Colette who’s been a volunteer with the Education Committee and a Gallery Guide at UBC’s Museum of Anthropology for the past 20 years.

When asked how his wife feels about having an award named after her, you can almost hear Storrow shrug over the phone. “I don’t know. She’s very modest.”

Mr. Storrow goes to Ottawa

Storrow, who received an Honorary Doctor of Laws from the University of Victoria in 2021 and the Order of British Columbia the same year, graduated from UBC in 1962. It was a time when Indigenous people who received a university degree—or became a doctor, clergy leader or lawyer—lost their band status, and weren’t allowed to have their own representation in court.  

“I have long ago come to the conclusion that our Indigenous people were not treated properly under the law, particularly the federal law, and not enough was done about it,” Storrow says. “So I went to Ottawa to help improve these laws in favour of Indigenous people.”

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, which had been leased to the Shaughnessy Golf Club.  

“[Guerin] told me how the Government of Canada took away 162 acres of their reserve land and got into a 75-year lease over those lands, and how they did it, I concluded, was a breach of trust, and the Supreme Court of Canada agreed with that,” says Storrow who continued to work on other notable cases. R. v. Gladstone recognized Indigenous commercial fishing rights, while R. v. Sparrow was the first decision to apply section 35 of the Constitution Act of 1982, recognizing and affirming that Indigenous rights predate Canada’s beginnings as a country.

In 2000, the Canadian Bar Association’s National magazine ranked the Guerin and Sparrow cases among the top 40 most significant legal events of the past 100 years.

Anna Fung, a past president of the Law Society of BC, said in an interview that these legal victories contributed to a wider push to recognize Indigenous rights and title across Canada. “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 ground-breaking achievement that Storrow accomplished in gaining legal acceptance of Aboriginal rights and title in Canada over the past several decades.”

‘…Make Canada a little better’

Storrow says he chose to establish an award at UVic because of the reputation of its Faculty of Law. “I have a lot of respect for that school… [after] talking to law students who have graduated from there and [hearing] their stories how they respect the school and admire its qualities and standards.”

Although the pursuit of fairness and equity have been constant themes in his life’s work, Storrow says he doesn’t know how or where these values were first instilled in him, maintaining that it’s just part of a desire to “hopefully help make Canada a little better.”

And what motivates me to do that is by being supportive of Indigenous law students and law. I’ve helped a little bit to equalize the law and Indigenous people in Canada, because it wasn’t equal for a long time, and I just felt it might be a good idea to help change that a bit.” - Marvin Storrow

Watch Marvin Storrow’s remarks at UVic’s Honorary Degree ceremony.