Former federal government executive Simon Coakeley named CBA’s CEO

Coakeley, a lawyer, will take up his position on Feb. 1

Former federal government executive Simon Coakeley named CBA’s CEO
Simon Coakeley will become CEO of the Canadian Bar Association effective Feb. 15.

The Canadian Bar Association has announced the appointment of Simon Coakeley as its next CEO, effective Feb. 1. Coakeley, a lawyer, has spent most of his career in senior positions in the federal civil service and currently runs a non-profit membership-based organization in Ottawa.

“We were very impressed with his range of experience,” says Brad Regehr, the CBA’s president, “both extensive experience within government, but also currently [as CEO of] a non-profit,” namely the National Association of Federal Retirees.

“He has familiarity with a national membership-based organization, understands what needs to be done, understands the challenges, [and] is running a membership-based organization in the midst of a pandemic, which obviously poses its own challenges.

“He’s very well-spoken, his French is impeccable … , he’s very intelligent and well-organized, and so he will be a great leader and asset to our organization.”

Coakeley spent 25 years as an executive in the federal government, including 14 years as an assistant deputy minister, as a special advisor to the Clerk of the Privy Council on human resource management, and as executive director and executive lead for refugee reform implementation at the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada.

He received his B.A., LL.B. and LL.M. from the University of Ottawa, and is a member of the Law Society of Ontario.

Coakeley will take up his position on Feb. 15, a week that coincides with the CBA’s “major governance week,” which includes the organization’s annual general meeting, leadership forum and board meeting. This year’s events will all be held remotely due to the pandemic, with Regehr chairing the events from his office in Winnipeg.

“Normally in that week we would also have the President’s Dinner,” which will not be possible this year, and the organization will pre-record recipients accepting their awards for presentation at the AGM.

Coakeley will replace Steve Pengelly, a lawyer in private practice and based in Bath, Ontario, who has been acting as the CBA’s CEO. Cheryl Farrow resigned her position as CEO in May and stepped down in August, after nearly four years in the role, and just before Regehr took up his position of president.

Regehr then approached Pengelly, a former executive director of the CBA’s Ontario branch whom he had known for a long time, to be the interim CEO, and the latter agreed.

After some telephone discussion, “I remember he called me back, and I thought he was gonna give me bad news,” Regehr says. “And he said, ‘Well, when the president asks, you have to say yes!’ I was very, very grateful that he said yes; he’s made the transition a hundred times better” than it might have been.

Pengelly will stay on for a while to help Coakeley transition to his new role.

As for Regehr’s plans for the remainder of his one-year term as president, which will expire at the end of August, he continues to work on the CBA’s response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s calls to action. He has made two presidential podcasts on the calls to action so far and plans another four by the time summer rolls around.

The organization’s COVID-19 task force, co-chaired by Regehr and past president Vivene Salmon, has also finalized its report on how the federal justice system “has reacted to the pandemic,” he says, including its new measures, procedures and technologies; that report, authored by University of Ottawa law professor Karen Eltis, will be released at the AGM in February.

In the fall, Salmon and Regehr wrote a letter to the prime minister and the minister of justice advocating for the appointment of more BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Colour) candidates to the judiciary, as well as disabled individuals.

“We know there are vacancies coming up in the Supreme Court in the next few years [and] we’d like to see a BIPOC person appointed to one of those vacancies,” Regehr says; “we think it’s about time. That’s certainly a focus for me as well.”

Otherwise, the pandemic remains a live issue, and Regehr commends the leadership shown by the CBA, nationally and by its branches, both on the membership and staff levels. “They have really stepped up, adapted and pivoted,” he says; “when things went into shutdown last March, everyone did what they had to for the best interests of the organization, and what members needed.

“That trend continues, and I think Mr. Coakeley will fit in really well with that leadership.”

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