Spotlight on the 2019 AGM

  • February 12, 2019

An appearance by the new Justice Minister was the highlight of this year’s CBA annual general meeting, held in Ottawa on Feb. 11.

In introducing David Lametti, CBA President Ray Adlington acknowledged that the Montreal MP was enduring a bit of a trial by fire a month into his term.

“The Minister probably thought he would have a longer grace period before being in the spotlight,” Ray said. “We’ve all read the news reports, but no one here is in a position to know everything that happened behind closed government doors in the last number of months. What all CBA members do know is the importance of having lawyers in the room to advise when important decisions are made. Solicitor-client privilege and prosecutorial independence are two of the cornerstones of the Canadian criminal justice system. We must be vigilant to ensure they remain so.”

While he said he would not comment on the current SNC-Lavalin story, Lametti said it “is important to remember that while the Attorney General sits at a certain distance from Cabinet colleagues, he does not sit in isolation from them. There is a line that cannot be crossed” – and telling the AG what a decision should be, would be interference.

Lametti says he owes the CBA a “personal debt of gratitude” – winning the Viscount Bennett Award in 1991 enabled him to study at Oxford University, he told the crowd in the room at the National Arts Centre, which sits kitty-corner to the new CBA office in downtown Ottawa. “Thank you from the bottom of my heart.”

His government, he says, has “provided progressive, forward-looking government that has not been afraid to embrace transformational change,” passing legislation that speaks to Canadian values – for example, creating a framework for medical assistance in dying, the legalization of cannabis, the protection of gender identity and gender expression. More legislation is still in the works, such as proposed changes to the Divorce Act.

He also noted that his government has named more than 260 judges since 2015, 55 per cent of whom are women, underlining his government’s intention to have the bench reflect Canadian diversity.

He mentioned the work done by former Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould on improving the relationship with indigenous peoples.

“It is a source of national shame that indigenous peoples are over-represented in the justice system,” he said. Part of his job will be “transforming how Indigenous peoples experience the criminal justice system.”

Nearly 300 people participated in the meeting, either on-site in Ottawa or joining the meeting from 29 hubs across the country. Some listened in from their workspaces, where they could vote on resolutions, but could not participate in the discussion.

There were three resolutions on the table: A definition of diversity to be included in the Bylaws, disclosure of non-conviction records and the need to safeguard family law research. There were no proposed amendments and the resolutions passed without debate.

Ray was scheduled to give a report from the Board. But, noting that he regularly reports on what the Board is doing on his Dispatches page, he used his time to talk about the importance of membership and engagement in the Association.

“I suspect many of you in this room, or your firms, if your firms purchase your membership, have had the discussion about value for money, and whether CBA delivers enough of it to justify continuing,” he said. “To nobody’s surprise, probably, I say there is. Because we provide important and worthwhile continuing legal education. Because we’re always looking for ways to help our members succeed. Because of the work we do to improve the law and support the justice system, including judicial independence. Because we are an important and valued voice on the national and world stages – one voice turned up to 36,000, speaking so loudly we can’t be ignored.”

Nabeel Peermohamed, Chair of the Finance Committee, reported on the state of CBA Finances. Members voted to appoint KPMG as the new auditor.

CEO Cheryl Farrow’s presentation highlighted the ways that the Association is working to meet its strategic objectives.

To cap off the meeting, Vice-President Vivene Salmon announced that Manitoba Board member Brad Regehr has won the vice-presidential election, and will take up the role in September.

AGM week events continued on Tuesday with a Leadership Forum and President’s Dinner, as well as an open house at the new CBA offices on Slater Street on Tuesday, and a Board meeting on Wednesday.