Supreme Court visit captivates Winnipeg

  • October 04, 2019

The Supreme Court of Canada’s week-long visit to Winnipeg between September 23 and 27 was a historic, once-in-a-lifetime occasion for the city, according to CBA Vice-President Brad Regehr, who had a front-row seat for numerous activities.

“I think everyone has had their socks blown off. The legal community rallied around the visit of the court, recognizing the historical significance of the visit. And not just the legal community, but the wider community as well,” he says.

Nine individuals from the Manitoba legal community were named as ambassadors, one for each justice.  Regehr was assigned to The Honourable Michael J. Moldaver and said he was thrilled to have the honour.

“I found him to be a wonderful human, very funny but also humble. I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know him better,” says Regehr.

Regehr’s ambassadorial duties included the gala dinner on Thursday, September 26. “(Manitoba) Chief Justice (Richard) Chartier said that he wants ‘Toronto numbers’ to the gala,” says Regehr.  “The dinner was sold out -- 800 people, with 80 tables. It was a big deal.”

Even in a group that size, Regehr described how the justices made themselves available to many in the gala. “There was no head table, so each of the 9 Supreme Court judges would move to 9 different tables for each course. That meant 27 tables got to sit for a course with a justice.”

The outreach to the public included reaching out to the next generation. A total of 64 law students from of University of Manitoba Law School attended the gala dinner – 2 at each table. Each justice visited a high school, so students in 9 different schools were able to have the experience of meeting with a Supreme Court justice. The justices also met with indigenous and francophone organizations.

“If you include the two hearings, they went to about 15 public events,” says Regehr.

At the public meet-and-greet, the justices took questions from attendees. Former Manitoba Attorney General Al Mackling, who brought legal aid to the province in the 1970s, asked about legal aid issues. With Regehr facilitating a follow-up meeting later in the event, Justice Moldaver made a point of speaking to Mackling to further the discussion.

The justices were also on hand on September 26 for an important landmark in the Manitoba court system as part of reconciliation with First Nations. Manitobans can now testify in court by holding an eagle feather rather than by putting their hand on a Bible or stating that they will tell the truth before the court. 

Throughout the week, “the justices were impressed with the friendliness and warmth,” Regehr says. “they were treated as the rock stars of the legal community, but they said they are just lawyers like everyone else.”