We are chatting with Brad Regehr, the new Canadian Bar Association President and the first Indigenous person to take on the role. We’re talking about reconciliation, Covid-19 and even his amateur theatre career.
Conversations with the President: The President’s take on TRC’s Calls to Action, Ep 1: Meet Bradley Regehr, CBA President 2020
We are chatting with Brad Regehr, the new Canadian Bar Association President and the first Indigenous person to take on the role.
We’re talking about reconciliation, COVID-19 and even his amateur theatre career. His podcast series Conversations with the President - The President’s take on TRC’s Calls to Action highlights many of the 94 calls to action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, particularly those related to the legal profession.
Visit www.cba.org/dispatches to learn more about CBA President and his goals.
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Marlisse Silver-Sweeney: Welcome to The Every Lawyer, a Canadian Bar Association podcast. I'm your host, Marlisse Silver-Sweeney. Today is a very special episode of The Every Lawyer. We get to chat with Brad Regehr, the newly appointed president of the Canadian Bar Association, he's also the first indigenous person to ever hold this role and is a member of the Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation in Saskatchewan.
We're talking reconciliation, COVID-19 and even his amateur theatre crew. Brad is a partner with Maurice Law in Winnipeg where he focuses on aboriginal law, civil litigation and administrative law.
He was part of the legal team that successfully defended a challenge to a First Nations' tax laws under the First Nation Fiscal Management Act, the first litigation involving that statute. He's been a member of the CBA since 1996, most recently serving as the president of its Manitoba branch. Brad, it's such a privilege to get to speak with you today, thanks for being here.
Brad Regehr: Thanks for having me and thanks for joining.
Marlisse Silver-Sweeney: So your personal goal this year is to advance the work of the CBA's Truth and Reconciliation initiative. Can you tell me more about this and the work you've already done in this area?
Brad Regehr: The board passed a work implementation plan for the bar association, I guess that's about a year and a half ago where the CBA is going to be working on the calls to action to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. We've done a number of things, there's now a plaque for example in the national office acknowledging the unseated territory of the Algonquin Nation. We had a ceremony for that. I think ongoing the CBA has always responded to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in terms of its advocacy efforts and the subject areas and resolutions that have gone forward in council over the years.
But specifically one of the biggest things that is going on with the CBA, education of lawyers in terms of the history of Canada visa vie indigenous people and, you know, indigenous legal issues. So we've developed an educational program, so it's a CPD program called The Path, we did that with a partner based out of Ottawa, who's majority indigenous owned. That program is I believe four hours long. You can get credit with it, it's been recognized by law societies across the country, as a valid CPD program. And it really brings to light for people what has gone on in this country in terms of indigenous people, the legal system, the history of the country.
And I've had, personally, I've had people contact me after they've taken the course and just said I learned so many things I didn't know. We were never taught these things in school, we certainly weren't taught them in law school and they're really appreciative.
We've had such good uptake, we've had over a thousand members take the course already and we only released the program in the early summer and we've had a number of law schools approach us wanting to purchase the product and have their students.
I believe it's now mandatory for all first year students at The University of Calgary to take this mini course. We've had – the law society has contacted us about being able to use it for a licensing fee for their members. And we've had large law firms who want to be able to us the product, not just for their own internal lawyers, but also to present to some of their big clients. So the uptake has been great. I'm really happy to hear what's going on.
Marlisse Silver-Sweeney: That's fantastic and you're saying it was just released this summer.
Brad Regehr: Yeah, just months ago.
Marlisse Silver-Sweeney: Wow. Yeah, I'm just thinking back to my own legal education and certainly the holes when it comes to the area of aboriginal law and indigenous relationships with the law. So I think that, you know, this is something that I want to do immediately, so thanks for telling us about it.
Brad Regehr: Yeah, I mean in my own education, you know, I went to, I'll probably regret saying this, but almost 30 years ago that I was in law school. And, you know, there was an aboriginal law course but it was taught as a seminar course where the professor came in, talked a couple of classes and then had us all do papers and present on our papers.
In my mind you don't get as much out of that as you do of a well structured course. And now, and, you know, in the last 20 years I've seen way more courses, way more in depth courses, legal texts, textbooks being made available to students. And to the point where I know at some law schools they actually do the KAIROS blanket exercise as part of their orientation. And I think a lot of this is the response to the calls to action in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report.
Marlisse Silver-Sweeney: For sure and actually that's a really good segue because that's something that I wanted to talk about because that's going to be a feature of your podcast. And just so our listeners know Brad's podcast is called, Conversations with the President, the President's Take on TRC's Calls to Action. And so it's going to be highlighting many of the 94 calls to action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, particularly those related to the legal profession.
Can you talk to us a bit more about some of the more important messages from the calls to action for the legal profession and the justice community specifically?
Brad Regehr: Well, there's 94 calls to action, not all of them obviously deal with the legal profession, so working with our staff, [Aviga Roberg] and [Kim Colbert] in particular in terms of developing what we would doing with the nine episodes. We're starting off by we'll be looking at funding, education funding in particular, that was call to action number 11. Sort of tying that in how earlier education is so important to people getting on that path to becoming lawyers, to getting that legal education and ensuring that there is adequate funding.
You know, some people might say that well, you know, that's education but in my view it's all tied together. The, you know, barriers for people who live in remote communities in terms of the level of education they're able to obtain, lack of mentorship, systemic racism in education, lack of awareness as an aboriginal issues in schools. These are I think part and parcel of the conversation that ultimately leads to legal education.
The second episode we're looking at doing as a response to call to action 27 cultural competency training and so we're going to have some guests on there. But to talk about cultural competency, because there's a lot of initiatives to do that, there's also some criticism on what does cultural competency mean? So we're going to talk about that term. What does it mean, what are people's viewpoints? How can this be done?
Then we'll actually talk about legal education in another episode because that's call to action 28, again talking about what can be done with legal education in terms of cultural competency, in terms of what's being taught. You know, hopefully bringing in some legal educators to talk about that.
I won't go through each episode individually but we're going to be looking at the recognition of aboriginal justice systems, aboriginal crime relations and the education of public servants UNDRIP, the United Nations Declaration and the Rights of Indigenous People, that is going to be an episode, one I'm really looking forward to having some discussion on.
And the last one will be kind of a wrap up in terms of where do we go next, what comes next, that kind of thing. So I think it's going to be a really interesting podcast series, or at least I'm really hoping so, since I'm the host. But looking forward to doing it and, you know, we'll one will come out probably every month or so. So I'm hoping lots of people tune in.
Marlisse Silver-Sweeney: I am too. I know you have one audience member right here. I'm really, really looking forward to being taken through the different TRC calls to action by you personally. Of course I've read them and I've thought about them, but just having more of a richer conversation about them and particularly how they relate to the legal profession I think is really valuable.
Brad Regehr: Yeah, it's a personal priority for me but it's really personal for me having had family members, particularly my grandfather who went through residential school, and that legacy that happened as a result of residential school and the impacts it had on indigenous people from coast to coast to coast, you know, with things, other things happening, the 60s Scoop, all sorts of things.
It's just – I said in my presidential speech at my reception earlier in September I said I'm committed to having these discussions and some of them are going to be uncomfortable and I'm not going to apologize for them being uncomfortable because they're conversations that have to be had.
Marlisse Silver-Sweeney: Yeah. Well, that's actually what I wanted to, part of what I wanted, to talk to you about personally and I just wanted to get how you feel about being the first indigenous person to hold the position of CBA president, what does that mean to you and your family and the legacy that you're building?
Brad Regehr: Well, I'm honoured and I'm humbled because people keep asking me this question [laughs] and I, you know, I've been involved in leadership positions within the organization for probably 15 years both in the Manitoba branch and then nationally in terms of sections. And then on the board I did a stint on the board under the old governance model and now I've done this one on the new governance model.
And I just sort of when I thought well, you know, maybe, maybe running for the presidency is something that I want to do, I feel that I could give something to the organization in terms of leadership. And I'm not sure I was, front and centre I was going I'd be the first indigenous present, I just thought, you know, I think I got what it takes to be president. I'm glad that I'm president, I'm so extremely grateful that my colleagues on, you know, the board of directors, section chairs, the branch presidents, all had the confidence in me to vote me in as vice president a couple of years ago.
And certainly I'm honoured that they made that decision. I think it's important certainly for the association, for the legal profession, that we're able to show that the biggest legal association in Canada is actually capable of having some diversity at its top leadership position. So I'm the first indigenous president, Vivene Salmon was the first black president in its history. I think it's been a long time coming, I think it was necessary for the organization and I just see it as a, I see it as really positive thing.
Marlisse Silver-Sweeney: Absolutely. And part of I think is for the young lawyers, in particular young indigenous lawyers, who are following your career and who are seeing you in a leadership position. What advice do you have for them?
Brad Regehr: I would say I think one of the big things is, don't give up. I know that the practice of law can be frustrating and I think that there's some additional challenges that indigenous lawyers face that perhaps other lawyers don't face. And if you're getting frustrated reach out and talk to someone.
At this point in time we have a lot of senior lawyers, we have more judges, not enough in my mind, but we do have some, people that have been in the profession for a long time. And reach out and, you know, find someone you can talk to. I know that a lot of, a lot of more senior indigenous lawyers will, you know, they're willing to go out for coffee; they're willing to have a discussion.
Because I think sometimes we need that mentorship to be available. And this is, I mean mentorship is a big thing for young lawyers everywhere, it doesn't matter where they're from, specifically in terms of young indigenous lawyers, you know. You can do it. If you need help, get that help, talk to someone, find a mentor because just talking to someone will help an awful lot.
Marlisse Silver-Sweeney: Alright, so find your mentor. And I'm sure that you are an enormous mentor in your position right now as president of the CBA.
Brad Regehr: People keep suggesting that to me but I start to become a bit self conscious when they say that.
Marlisse Silver-Sweeney: OK, well I'll just suggest it and you can, you know, nod your head.
Brad Regehr: OK.
Marlisse Silver-Sweeney: I want to switch gears a bit and talk about well, the time in which you are taking office, which is a time of enormous upheaval. You're co-chairing the CBA's task force on justice issues arising from COVID-19, which likely wasn't something you probably ever thought you'd be doing in your career. You're doing that with your predecessor Vivene Salmon. What can the CBA do to support its members through this challenging turbulent time?
Brad Regehr: Well, as a CBA we have made resources – and we did right out of the gates. Mid March when all of a sudden, you know, through the winter you'd been hearing about this COVID, you know, virus that had been ravaging Europe and China and, you know, it didn't seem to be here. And I can remember sort of blithely going off to our governance meetings in the middle of February in Ottawa like not thinking about it. And, you know, less than a month later I've pulled my kids out of school, I've moved, you know, my office into the basement. My wife has moved into the dining room, the kids are working at the kitchen table.
But right from that point in time, the bar association, and when I talked, now when I say bar association I mean nationally and I mean the branches all pivoted and immediately started making resources available to the members, whether it was we pulled up previous CPDs we had done on pandemic planning, you know, dusted them off, updated them a bit but got them out there. We got – there was branches who were regularly sending out information daily as it developed in terms of court closures, changes to court process, registries, whether those were land title or corporate registries, things that were changing and were providing that information to their members like almost instantaneously.
And we also began developing CPD programs specifically designed around responding to COVID, you know, how it's going to impact your practice, things that you could do. And I'm pretty proud of the organization as a whole in terms of how it responded and supported members. I know the Ontario branch made its Zoom account available to courts and they were recently thanked by the courts for that service that they provided.
I know for example the Manitoba branch they started having calls with the managing partners of a bunch of the firms just to – because sometimes people just need to talk about OK, how are you handling this, how are you handing this? And so I just – yeah, I was just impressed with the organization right across the country in terms of how it pivoted. And I think people are getting tired of that term but it's probably the best term to use.
Marlisse Silver-Sweeney: For sure, yeah absolutely, as you describe that rapid response. Now that we are, you know, over six months into this pandemic and it doesn't seem to be going away any time soon, what types of issues will you and Vivene be tackling in your task force on COVID-19?
Brad Regehr: So we've been meeting for the last six months, actually there was a meeting just the other day, which unfortunately I couldn't attend because of a client commitment, but the focus now after a lot of discussions people would present what was going on in their particular arena that there will, a study will now start to be worked on. And professor Karen Eltis from The University of Ottawa will be authoring the report. And the idea is to have that report out by March of next year.
So we will continue to have some meetings but it's really now we want to move into the process of what have we learned, where have we adapted? And again a task force is focused very much on the Supreme Court and the federal courts including The Tax Court of Canada as well as federal administered tribunals. And the idea really is to see what have we learned, what has changed, what has adapted and what, from those changes, are here to stay?
Because there has been a call for modernization from our, particularly our court systems for a long time, a lot of that is of course impacted by the resources that are made available but also, you know, through the adoption of technology, you know, what can we adapt all the while maintaining that commitment to the open court concept, which is part of our democracy, our democratic tradition. So how do we adapt sort of on a go forward basis, how do we ensure access to justice? So that's going to be a lot of the discussion in the paper.
Marlisse Silver-Sweeney: Those are some big topics, Brad [laughs].
Brad Regehr: Yeah, absolutely, absolutely. I mean the federal court child division adapted fairly quickly and had trials by way of Zoom, where people were if they could be in their offices they're in their offices, if they were in their homes. You know, and they were robed, the judge was on there and, you know, they did it using Zoom and other platforms.
So, you know, what kind of things can we do? Did, you know, did those trials, or motions or other things, you know, ensure access to justice, ensure that people's rights were maintained? I mean I did, I myself did three days of mediation over the summer by way of a video platform. It was – may not have been the thing that we really wanted to do but we still got it done. Yeah, I had my client on one – and this was multi party litigation, there was four parties. So lawyers and clients, so there was a lot of little boxes with people's faces in them.
Marlisse Silver-Sweeney: I was about to say that's definitely a gallery view situation on Zoom if I've ever heard one.
Brad Regehr: Yeah.
Marlisse Silver-Sweeney: Yeah, what a time to be starting as president of the CBA. It certainly – I'll be interested in chatting with you again in a year and see what your year was like. I know you're a busy person and so I don't want to keep you for long but I have to ask, my last question has to be about the fact that you're an amateur actor and you have been in eight productions of the Lawyer's Play, don't think you're going to get away from this. A little bit of context for our listeners, the Lawyer's Play, it's a fundraiser between Manitoba Bar Association and The Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre, what's your favourite role been and why?
Brad Regehr: Oh boy, I should preface it to saying that the first time I did it was 17 years ago when I met my wife. Because she's a lawyer as well and she was in that play, I had a small part. So that was not my favourite part. Being in that and meeting her was probably one of my favourite things, but.
Marlisse Silver-Sweeney: Well, yeah let's hope, let's give her that [laughs].
Brad Regehr: I would have to say my favourite role was playing Carmen Ghia in The Producers. I don't know if you've seen The Producers. Carmen Ghia is the character who's the assistant to the director they eventually hire to direct the show. And so my character was very flamboyant, which if you knew me was something that wouldn't exactly come across if you met me [laughs] for the first time but it was a lot of fun.
I've also been in shows with Senator Murray Sinclair, a lot of people don't realize that. He's a – he's been in those shows as well. So I was in Mid Summer's Night Dream with him as well.
Marlisse Silver-Sweeney: Wow. Well, it sounds like it's been – I mean I didn't know that when I asked this question I find out that's how you met your partner. But it sounds like it's been a really important part of your life actually.
Brad Regehr: Yeah, yeah. She's the one with the talent. I did it on a dare, ended up doing eight productions but yeah, she's the one – she's the triple threat who can act, sing and dance, so.
Marlisse Silver-Sweeney: Nice. Just as my kind of follow up question from that, you have this background in community theatre, you're about to lead a podcast, do you see any interaction between storytelling and your profession and the importance?
Brad Regehr: Yeah, I think it's – there's a direct link. As lawyers, especially for litigators, you go into court and you tell the story. You're not, not a fictional story, but it's still stories you're presenting what happened to your decision maker and you're characterizing those – you have to tell the tale of what occurred.
And so, you know, I guess getting back to the bar associations, the Manitoba Bar Association's production, is the ridiculous number of lawyers who go in those shows who actually have professional acting background, people who went to the national theatre school, other people who did fine arts at university, in particular drama. And it just seems to be a natural fit for particularly litigators and telling those stories. Yeah, I think that's a really important link.
Marlisse Silver-Sweeney: Well, I am personally looking forward to your storytelling throughout your podcast over this next year and I wish you the best of luck in position.
Brad Regehr: Thank you very much.
Marlisse Silver-Sweeney: What a privilege it is to speak with Brad for his goals for the Canadian Bar Association this year. I'd love to hear what you think about reconciliation and the CBA's role in it as well as the other topics we explored in the episode today.
Tweet to use @CBA_news or you can reach me at my handle @marlissess. We are on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcast and Stitcher or wherever you listen to podcasts. Subscribe to receive notifications for new episodes and leave us a review if you like what you hear.
Brad's podcast, Conversations with the President, the President's Take on TRC's Calls to Action will start in November, thanks for listening.