Taking on Difficult Questions Together

Reflections from my presidency

Taking on Difficult Questions Together

One of the great pleasures of being CBABC president has been the opportunity to meet and hear from members. I’ve had the opportunity to attend more in-person events as pandemic restrictions have lifted, but I also regularly hear from members by email, phone, or even as we pass in the halls of the courthouse. After 11 months in this role, I feel like I’ve built a working relationship with you. While I will miss working with you in this role, I know that our incoming presidents over the next years — Aleem, Scott, and Lee — will do a phenomenal job.

Many of you have expressed gratitude for the roundtables that CBABC hosted earlier this year. So many of us have anxiety about the future of the profession and our practices, and members have told me how much they appreciated the opportunity to share their thoughts and have CBABC be a voice for their concerns. It’s humbling, being president, to see firsthand the kind of impact CBABC can have and the kind of strength it gives our individual voices. As we move into the consultation on a single regulator for all legal professions, I encourage each of you to keep engaging in that conversation.

I’ve also heard from members about CBABC’s work in recent years on reconciliation and equality, diversity, and inclusion. Most of those conversations have been incredibly positive, and some of you have told me that you specifically re-joined CBABC because we are engaged in this work. Others have shared that, while it’s appropriate we’re doing this work, our priority focus should be on practical and regulatory issues facing lawyers.

The idea that these are distinct areas of focus, rather than overlapping and intertwined, reminds me a bit of when I first heard people giving territory acknowledgements. While I am, and have been, committed to reconciliation, many such acknowledgements seemed to me to be cursory, routine, or simply virtue-signaling. I had difficulty seeing how they were relevant to my daily work or part of meaningful advancement toward reconciliation.

What I realised, through engaged listening, conversations with others, and looking critically at my own reactions, is the somewhat obvious truth that I can’t really know and shouldn’t assume what lies behind anyone else’s words. My obligation is to have that challenging conversation with myself — why am I dismissing their words as “virtue-signaling” rather than taking them as an opportunity, an invitation, for reflection? What steps have I taken to learn about the First Nation on whose territory I am a guest, both their history and their current lived experience? What role do I play, as a person and as a lawyer, in furthering reconciliation? When I am chairing meetings, what can I do or say to communicate territory acknowledgements that feel more meaningful and invite others to engage in reflection?

In other words, like so much else in our lives and our work, I need to challenge my own assumptions and thinking. I believe the same is true of the idea that issues of reconciliation, equality, diversity, and inclusion are not practical and regulatory issues facing lawyers on a daily basis. Even setting aside Law Society requirements, how are we serving our clients if we are not engaged with these issues? If we are not challenging our own biases, assumptions, and prejudices, how can we be sure that we’re fully hearing our clients and providing them with the best advice and service? How are we protecting the rule of law and access to justice if we are not actively working to ensure that everyone has access to the profession and justice? These are practice and regulatory issues for all of us.

This is complex, hard work. These conversations, both within ourselves and with others, are ongoing and probably lifelong. CBABC is here to be a partner in that work with you. I am grateful to you for letting me be a part of that conversation.