President discusses her mandate for CBA, its progress, and what she still hopes to accomplish
Vivene Salmon has been president of the Canadian Bar Association since September; her one-year term will expire on August 31. At the CBA’s annual meeting in Ottawa in February, Salmon spoke about the CBA’s role in upholding the independence of the judiciary and its work intervening in complex legal cases that affect the justice system.
“When judicial independence is threatened and judges cannot speak for themselves, we speak up. In December we intervened at the Supreme Court of Canada in a case involving the governments of B.C. and Nova Scotia on a principle of judicial independence,” she told attendees. “The CBA works on the front lines of our justice system to protect the core values of the legal profession from regulatory and legislative encroachment.”
Chief Justice of Canada Richard Wagner, the meeting’s invited guest, called on the legal community to advocate for judicial independence as a pillar of a democratic society, especially as judges are less free to speak out.
Here, Salmon talks to Canadian Lawyer about her mandate for the Canadian Bar Association, its progress in the past six months, and what she still hopes to accomplish.
The theme of this year’s CBA annual meeting was “The Power of Change”; what type of change have you sought to bring during your tenure?
I have three priorities: young lawyers and intergenerational dialogue; healthy lawyers; and diversity, inclusion and belonging in the legal profession.
Through our podcast series, Conversations with the President, I have tried to tell a story about what young lawyers are experiencing in the legal profession due to changes in technology and other pressures, and to bridge the divide between senior and younger members of the Bar.
My mother was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer disease early on in my legal career. Physical and mental health are very important to me and I hope that, in sharing some of my personal stories, I too can stand on the shoulders of legal leaders who came before me, like Justice Michelle Hollins and Orlando DaSilva, to shift the culture of the legal profession in Canada.
As the first non-white person to lead the Canadian Bar Association, diversity, inclusion and, most critically, belonging are important to me. Last fall our board adopted goals to deepen our relationship with various affinity groups.
I have also made significant inroads in improving how the CBA communicates with its members. We have ramped up our social media presence and I regularly vlog and issue digital photo albums and video content about the CBA on my personal Twitter account.
What are some of the initiatives the CBA has pursued since last year?
Our two strategic advocacy priorities are access to justice, and protection of solicitor-client privilege. Our #LegalAidMatters federal election campaign in 2019 was very effective; we framed legal aid as an access-to-justice issue, with a goal of raising awareness of the need for stable, sustainable funding across the country.
The CBA is also putting a priority on judicial independence. It is critical to our justice system that Canadians have faith in the system and that our judges our respected, meaning that integrity, fairness and faith in the justice system must be upheld.
And we are working to help redress the difficult legacy of colonialism in this country. We have a number of initiatives stemming from the recommendations made by our Truth and Reconciliation Task Force, and we launched a website last fall to help educate our members. It outlines our advocacy efforts, and provides resources and tools for lawyers working with Indigenous clients. As one small gesture of reconciliation, Indigenous artists were asked to contribute their work to make the website visually stunning. We have also launched an Indigenous advisory group of five lawyers who contribute their knowledge to the CBA; and we are working to take down barriers that prevent Indigenous lawyers from becoming involved and taking on leadership positions in the CBA.
What are you looking forward to during the remainder of your tenure?
The CBA-CCCA will host its annual conference in Montreal, April 26-28, with a theme of “Focus on the Future.” The CBA’s first-ever Young Lawyers Conference in Toronto on June 5 will focus on innovation in the legal profession, and we will be launching a Digital Literacy Series.
What has been a career highlight for you?
I was honoured to become the first racialized person of the CBA. Being the tenth woman, the first female in-house counsel, and the first non-white person to lead the CBA in 124 years is daunting and hard work, but it is also special. It has been an honour and highlight of my life to meet brilliant lawyers and judges from across Canada and learn first-hand about the wonderful work they are doing in their communities and their passion for improving our justice system.
And what has been a career lowlight?
I have had many. I recall vividly an incident as a very young lawyer on a client visit, where I was asked to serve coffee and cake to male lawyers sitting around the table by a lawyer from the other side! I did serve the coffee and cake; but I felt humiliated, disrespected and devalued as a lawyer and a professional. From that day forward, I swore to myself that I would not allow anyone to disrespect me as a person and devalue my skills and expertise as a lawyer.