A presidential year like no other

  • August 11, 2021

Serving CBA members was not what I expected. It was better.

By Brad Regehr, CBA President 2020/21

It would be an understatement to say that the year 2020-2021 was not what I expected when I became the first Indigenous president of the Canadian Bar Association. Despite the myriad challenges brought on by the pandemic, it was better than I expected.

When my spouse, son and brother put the chain of office around my neck in September in a hybrid ceremony over – what else – Zoom, I was faced with the uncertainty of the pandemic’s impact on CBA membership – which would make balancing the budget a very perilous exercise. I was worried about membership numbers, staff morale at the national office and not being able to find the time to work on reconciliation, my top priority for the year.

It’s fair to say I started my year with an iceberg of stress, but it quickly melted away. Not only did we not see a decline in membership, but we increased our numbers slightly and while meeting people was confined to virtual events, I am proud of the work the CBA was able to accomplish to provide value to its members, make significant advocacy gains, provide actionable COVID-19 resources to legal professionals, and advance the work of reconciliation – most notably with the Truth and Reconciliation Toolkit for law firms we released in June.

In the same vein, I was very pleased that in discussion with partner firms earlier this year they all wanted to discuss equity, diversity and inclusion, wellness, and truth and reconciliation. There is real progress being made, which gives me hope.

Another aspect of this year that I cannot leave unmentioned is the discovery of human remains on the sites of former residential schools. This was certainly unexpected and had a real impact on me personally, but I believe that the CBA’s response was timely, respectful and appropriate.

Relatedly, a rewarding moment that stands out in my memory was the joint event we held last November with the American Bar Association, on Indigenous legal issues in the U.S. and Canada. I got to be a presenter along with Dr. Tracy Bear from the University of Alberta, while my friend, ABA President Trish Refo, moderated. We had over 500 lawyers from both countries watching the program. It was a big highlight of my year.

I know by now everyone hates the word “pivot,” but I would be remiss if I didn’t take a moment to celebrate the incredible success the CBA had over the year with virtual conferences, fantastic PD offerings and the Annual General Meeting in February. Nobody started the pandemic knowing how to do these kinds of events remotely and everybody rose to the occasion. Even my pandemic cat (aka “KitKat”) exceeded expectations when she became internationally famous during my presentation to the London Opening of the Courts from my basement office. It was particularly humorous when Justice Knowles of the Commercial Court in London exclaimed “I can see your cat!”

It was a year like no other, and I will forever be grateful for the opportunity to do a podcast with so many inspiring individuals, for the friends I’ve made, and for the extraordinarily hard work everyone at the CBA did to provide value to members of the legal profession.

Last but not least, to our more than 36,000 CBA members: Thank you for the privilege of serving you as president.

Ekosi, miigwetch, merci, thank you.