Spotlight on the 2021 AGM

  • February 18, 2021

Appearances by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada Richard Wagner, and Canada’s Justice Minister David Lametti, were two of the highlights of the first-ever all-virtual CBA annual general meeting.

The Chief Justice commented on the changes the pandemic has forced on the justice system, pointing out that modernizing the system is critical. “The costs of not having access to justice are high. Not having access to justice has profound effects on people’s lives, erodes trust in our legal system and reinforces existing inequities,” he said. Minister Lametti likewise insisted we could not “put the justice system on pause.” 

In his remarks, CBA President Bradley Regehr said 2020-2021 was not the presidential year he expected. Nevertheless, he reported that the CBA Board was “gratified and amazed” by how everyone has stepped up to overcome the challenges posed by COVID-19.

Nearly 800 people participated in the meeting from all across the country, debated and voted on resolutions.

Four resolutions came up for a vote. The most hotly debated one was a call for the CBA to adopt a definition of climate justice that would recognize the profession’s responsibility in helping shape law reform policies in Canada. It was ultimately defeated.

A proposed amendment to CBA bylaws to amend the definition of diversity to specifically include religious groups was adopted. Participants also voted in favour of a call for the CBA to urge governments to improve conditions for people living in long-term care homes. Another calling on the government to eliminate mandatory sentences also passed. A fifth resolution that would see the CBA join the IBA and IBAHRI in calling on the Chinese government to uphold freedoms in Hong Kong’s was tabled for a later date. 

John Stefaniuk, Chair of the Finance Committee, reported on the state of CBA Finances. Members voted to appoint KPMG as the auditor for the fiscal year ending August 31, 2021.

Brad Regher introduced the CBA’s new CEO, Simon Coakeley, who assumed his new role on February 15. Mr. Coakeley has 25 years of experience as an executive in the federal government, including 14 years as an Assistant Deputy Minister. Steve Pengelly, who has been the interim CEO since July 2020, is staying on for a period of transition to ensure an orderly and effective transfer of responsibilities.

The AGM also marked the release of No Turning Back, the report from the CBA Task Force on Justice Issues Arising from COVID-19, co-chaired by Brad Regehr and past CBA president Vivene Salmon.

We need to go from where we are now, not where we were, when thinking about modernizing the justice system in a comprehensive way, suggests the report. We need to collaborate with other justice system partners to permanently implement what is working and fix areas that can be improved.