Gaylene Schellenberg retires from the CBA

  • June 10, 2020

A 27-year career of serving the legal community at the CBA will draw to a close at the end of June. Gaylene Schellenberg retires with a well-earned record for leading work on gender equality and guiding the CBA’s efforts on access to justice.

Gaylene began as a contract researcher for the CBA’s gender equality report, Touchstones for Change, in 1993 The next year, she was hired as a staff lawyer, which she has been ever since, except for the three years from 2012 to 2015 when she was Project Director of the CBA’s major Equal Justice Initiative.

“As a champion for equal justice, Gaylene is a principled voice in the CBA’s work to ensure that people in Canada have access to the legal help they need. She always brings sound, practical advice to the CBA members with whom she works,” says Tamra Thomson, Executive Director, Advocacy. “She has been a trusted mentor for the younger lawyers on the CBA Advocacy team. And she embraces the philosophy of creativity found in a messy desk.”

Reflecting on the evolution of access to justice, Gaylene says there has been some progress but also discouragement about the continuing overrepresentation of Indigenous people in the criminal justice system and problems in prisons.

“I remember a time when raising access to justice in the context of a legislative change or system innovation was just not done – the issue wasn’t one that was “on the table” for discussion. So, that’s a positive change, that many people are concerned about access to justice now,” she says. "I fear, though, that things have not changed much for people in real trouble, the people with complicated, compounding legal and life problems.”

As a highlight of her career, Gaylene cites the Envisioning Equal Justice Summit in 2013, which brought together more than 200 people from across Canada, along with her work with close friend Melina Buckley on the subsequent Reaching Equal Justice report.

“Gaylene's stellar contributions over the years are founded on a deep commitment to equality and belief in the role of the CBA in contributing to a fairer, more accessible justice system. From her early days carrying out research for the Task Force on Gender Equality in the Legal Profession to her long term and continuing leadership on equal access to justice, she has worked tirelessly on behalf of underprivileged and vulnerable people and groups,” says Buckley.

Gaylene worked with current Supreme Court Justice Sheilah Martin on another equality report and was involved in the formation of the Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Community Section.

She has also spent substantial time advocating in the areas of criminal, family, Aboriginal, health, pensions and benefits, and privacy law.

“I’ve been grilled by many Parliamentary committees alongside the Chairs from the Family and Criminal Sections,” she says.

Eric Gottardi, senior partner at Peck and Company and former Chair of the CBA Criminal Justice Section, says Gaylene shepherded the Section through different governments and laws such as the omnibus crime bill, Bill C-10.

“She is a smart, thoughtful idealist who believes strongly in the rule of law and the independence of the Bar and the Judiciary. She is the legal equivalent of a star athlete who remains with their home team for their whole career – a rare accomplishment,” says Gottardi.

Gaylene’s work with the CBA – and the esteem in which she is held – was recognized with the Jack Innes Award in 2013 for outstanding contribution to the CBA by a staff member who has exhibited creativity, innovation, leadership and commitment.

She attended the University of Toronto and University of Texas at Dallas as a mature student before entering law school. She earned an LLB from Osgoode Hall Law School between 1988 and 1991, and was called to the Ontario bar in 1993.

Prior to her career in the law, Gaylene was a daycare worker and a weaver. She lives in Ottawa and has three grown children and a beagle. She says she will devote some time to her hobbies, including refinishing and reupholstering a garage full of old chairs. She also looks forward to travelling when it becomes feasible. Her first and most important visit, however, is to Manitoba to spend time with her 86-year-old mother, who is still playing golf.