Cree lawyer based in Winnipeg becomes 1st Indigenous president of Canadian Bar Association

By | September 4, 2020

For the first time in the organization’s history, the Canadian Bar Association will be led by an Indigenous lawyer.

On Tuesday, Brad Regehr was announced as the bar association’s president for a one-year term, following Vivene Salmon, who last year became the organization’s first president of colour.

“I’m just honoured to be able to have this position,” said Regehr.

Regehr, who is Nehiyaw from Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation in Saskatchewan, was called to the bar in 1997.

He is now a partner at Maurice Law in Winnipeg and has spent a good portion of his career working in the area of Aboriginal law, as well as corporate/commercial, civil litigation and administrative law.

Born and raised in Winnipeg, Regehr was adopted in what is now commonly known as the Sixties Scoop.

He also said his grandfather went to a residential school from age five to an adult, and that it was not a good experience for him. Because of this, Regehr would like to focus some of this year’s advocacy on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 94 Calls to Action. 

“I just think it’s such an important thing to continue to implement, because too often in the past, you’ve had big reports done and then you get very little action on it,” said Regehr.

‘It’s about time’

The Canadian Bar Association is the largest professional association for lawyers in Canada.

In order to become president, potential candidates have to be nominated and voted into the vice-president position for a one-year term, and are then promoted to president.

One young lawyer who is excited to see Regehr as CBA president is Raven Gobeil.

Raven Gobeil is a new lawyer in Winnipeg. She said that Regehr serving as president will be beneficial for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous lawyers across Canada. (Alyssa Bird)

Gobeil, who was called to the bar in June, is a member of Poplar River First Nation and has M├ętis roots in southeastern Manitoba. She has been working as an associate at Cochrane Saxberg, a Winnipeg-based firm which has 10 Indigenous lawyers.

“An Indigenous person occupying the head position is very beneficial because it’s in a position to create change for Canadian lawyers,” said Gobeil.

“It’s about time an Indigenous person took such a strong lead for the Canadian Bar Association and I’m very pleased that it’s someone as dedicated and as hardworking as Brad.”

Regehr said he has seen some big changes for Indigenous people in law during his career.

One was the Supreme Court of Canada’s 1999 Gladue decision that sentencing judges must take into consideration the influence of things such as residential schools, the Sixties Scoop or child welfare system on Indigenous offenders. This is sometimes in the form of a “Gladue report” prepared at the request of the court.

“That’s a big one and one I would like to see increased resources being put towards [that] as part of the justice system,” said Regehr.

Another thing that he would like to see is more Indigenous people becoming judges.

“I would like to see even more that because that perspective needs to be present on the bench as well,” said Regehr.

Regehr said the CBA’s work in the next year will focus heavily on access to justice and the challenges of the pandemic.

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