In September, Cree lawyer Brad Regehr became the first indigenous president of the Canadian Bar Association (CBA), marking a major milestone for the CBA.
By Family Lawyer Magazine Staff
Brad Regehr, a member of the Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation in the province of Saskatchewan, Canada, started his one-year term on September 1, 2020.
A lawyer based in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Regehr took over from Vivene Salmon, who herself made history as the CBA’s first president of color on September 1, 2019.
Considered the voice of Canada’s legal community, the 124-year-old CBA represents 36,000 lawyers, judges, notaries, law teachers and law students from across Canada.
Regehr will co-chair the association’s Task Force on Justice Issues arising from COVID-19. The task force will address legal issues that have come up during the pandemic. The board will be prioritizing the modernization of justice systems as its first task.
Brad Regehr: First Indigenous President of the CBA
Regehr is a partner in the Winnipeg office of Maurice Law. His practice focuses primarily on civil litigation, administrative law, and Aboriginal law. Immediately prior to becoming the president of the CBA, Regehr completed a one-year term as the CBA’s vice president. He has been a member of the CBA since 1996 and has also held a number of different positions at both the provincial and national levels of the CBA.
Prior to becoming vice president of the CBA, Regehr completed a two-year term as the president of the Manitoba Bar Association; he was the first indigenous lawyer to hold that office, and the first lawyer since 1946 to hold the office for two years.
Called to the Manitoba Bar in 1997, Brad Regehr helped to defend a challenge to a First Nation’s tax laws under the First Nations Fiscal Management Act, the first litigation involving that statute. He has also advised numerous First Nation clients on implementation issues involving both land claim and flooding agreements.
Focusing on Truth & Reconciliation
As the first Indigenous lawyer president of the CBA, Regehr states that his personal priority will be “to advance the work of the CBA’s Truth and Reconciliation initiative.”
Earlier this year, the CBA’s Truth and Reconciliation initiative launched “The Path: Your Journey Through Indigenous Canada“, which Regehr says is “about increasing awareness of the legacy of the Indian residential school system.”
A response to the Canadian Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action, the CBA is offering this accredited program of five online modules made up of videos and quizzes that “focus on the First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples of Canada, the history of Indigenous peoples and their relationship with European settlers, the British Crown and the Dominion of Canada.”
A component of the Indian Residential Schools (IRS) Settlement Agreement, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) was active in from 2008 to 2015. The TRC prepared a report and recommendations for the Canadian Government concerning the IRS system and its legacy, and established the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation as a permanent resource for all Canadians at the end of the TRC mandate.
Outreach Podcast: Conversations With the President
Regehr states that one of the Association’s other priorities will be member outreach, which has proven to be difficult during the outbreak of COVID-19 due to the restrictions that followed. Regehr plans to speak to members through the podcast titled “Conversations With the President.” This year, the podcast aims to focus on the “Calls to Action” in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report. Some of the Calls to Action include child welfare, justice, equality for Aboriginal people in the legal system, professional development and training for public servants, and much more.
Regehr also states that wellness and focusing on young lawyers is another priority during these difficult times: “The stress and isolation of COVID-19 is weighing on everyone this year. I will also continue the Association’s focus on young lawyers. They are an important part of everything we do.”
Regehr Calls on Canadian Government to Protect Mi’kmaq Treaty Rights
On November 4, 2020, Brad Regehr weighed in on the current fisheries dispute in southwestern Nova Scotia, which has been making headline news for several weeks in Canada.
In the 1999, the Supreme Court of Canada held that 1760-61 treaties signed with the Mi’kmaq gave those peoples the right to make a moderate livelihood through hunting and fishing.
“In the 21 years since that decision, successive federal governments have failed to negotiate appropriate arrangements with the Mi’kmaq – a failure that has led to clashes between Mi’kmaq fishers seeking to exercise their constitutionally protected treaty rights and non-indigenous fishers seeking to disrupt the exercise of those treaty rights,” Regehr stated.
“The criminal acts, racism and violence which the Mi’kmaq are being targeted with is unacceptable,” he continued. “The CBA calls on the federal government to protect the Mi’kmaq treaty rights enshrined in the Constitution, and to negotiate with the Mi’kmaq in good faith in accordance with the honour of the Crown the regulation that will help prevent these disputes by setting out clear guidelines.”