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CBA passes motion defining diversity at AGM

New justice minister David Lametti defends his role as AG
|Written By Tim Wilbur
CBA passes motion defining diversity at AGM
From left to right: Brad Regehr, incoming CBA vice president, Nabeel Peermohamed, CBA board member, David Lametti, minister of justice and attorney general of Canada, and Vivene Salmon, CBA vice president.

The Canadian Bar Association passed a motion at its annual general meeting defining diversity after a multi-year consultation.

“This definition will provide almost like a GPS, what our basic co-ordinates are in terms of addressing diversity. But I personally feel there’s a lot to be done yet,” Kamaljit Lehal told Legal Feeds. Lehal moved the resolution yesterday at the AGM in Ottawa while speaking by video conference from Vancouver.

The motion was passed without debate. The same motion had failed to pass in 2018 because the AGM had run out of time before members could vote.

The definition states that diversity “means the inclusion of members from a variety of backgrounds, with particular attention to representation in the Association of members from equality-seeking groups, including but not limited to women, LGBTI2S (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and two-spirit) communities, Indigenous peoples, racialized and ethno-cultural groups, and persons with disabilities. Diversity is to be interpreted consistent with the evolving nature of equality issues.”

“This is intended to give context to the various recognition references throughout the [CBA] bylaws of diversity,” Lehal told the audience at the AGM. “It is hoped that this definition will encourage the association not simply to be more diverse but to pay particular attention to increasing representations on the board, on committees and in the organization as a whole of persons from constituencies that are currently under-represented both in the CBA and in the legal profession as a whole.”

The CBA’s equality subcommittee was tasked with developing the definition after the suggestion was made at the 2017 CBA AGM. The subcommittee, according to the motion materials, consulted with the executives of the Women Lawyers Forum, the Young Lawyers Section, the Aboriginal Law Section, the Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Community Section, the Chairs of Branch Equality Committees and the CCCA Diversity Committee.

Jeff Howe, who seconded the motion and sits on the CBA board, also spoke when the motion was tabled. The subcommittee “is the first to acknowledge that our association still has a lot of work to do in the areas of promoting equality and inclusion,” Howe said.

However, CBA president Raymond Adlington “has made it his personal priority as president to advance equality and inclusive,” said Howe.

“Ray has taken taking the time to start a podcast series in this regard. . . . Our board is more diverse than it has ever been. We have elected a young woman of colour [Vivene Salmon] to be vice president. . . . And we are taking steps to implement the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s calls to action.”

Salmon, who is in-house counsel at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, announced the newly elected vice president Brad Regehr, who will take over Salmon’s role on Sept. 1 when Salmon assumes the presidency from Adlington. Regehr is a partner at Indigenous law firm Maurice Law Barristers & Solicitors in Winnipeg and is a member of the Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation.

Attorney general David Lametti also spoke at the AGM. He outlined the Trudeau government’s justice achievements under his predecessor Jody Wilson-Raybould, and he indirectly addressed the controversies currently in the news regarding her actions in the ongoing prosecution of SNC-Lavalin.

“There has been a great deal of commentary recently about the role of the attorney general, one of the two roles that I perform as a member of cabinet in addition to being minister of justice,” Lametti said. “I’m not going to comment on any issues currently in the news. But I do want to say this: It is important to remember that, while the attorney general sits at a certain distance from his cabinet colleagues, in Canada, unlike in other countries, he does not work in isolation from them or the important experiences or considerations that those colleagues bring to the table. These discussions can improve the quality of decision-making, but there is a line that cannot be crossed. Telling the attorney general what a decision ought to be, that would be interference. At the end of the day, I abide by the long-standing principle that when acting as attorney general I will apply my judicial mind to a decision and not my political mind.”

The CBA also passed two other motions without debate, which urged federal and provincial governments to allocate “sufficient resources to family law research” and “to adopt or amend legislation and policies limiting disclosure of non-conviction information in law enforcement databases.”