Over a century of influence

  • March 23, 2021

Milestones are good opportunities to pause, reflect and take stock. One hundred years ago the Canadian Bar Association became incorporated through a private act of Parliament, as was the custom in those days. Incorporating the CBA, which had been in existence since 1896, was the brainchild of Sir James Albert Manning Aikins, CBA President from 1914 until 1927 who also served as Manitoba’s ninth Lieutenant-Governor between 1916 and 1926. The bill was sponsored in Parliament by the member for George-Étienne Cartier, Samuel Jacobs.

Jacobs was a lawyer who devoted much of his career to progressive causes. He founded the firm that would become Davies Ward Phillips & Vineberg LLP. He was also the first Jewish person to sit in the House of Commons. He took on many civil rights cases, including that of Annie Langstaff, who in 1914 became the first woman in Quebec to earn a law degree. He supported her efforts to be admitted to the bar despite not having her estranged husband’s permission to do so. (It took until 1941 for Quebec to pass legislation allowing women to become lawyers, something Langstaff would not be able to do in her lifetime. She was admitted to the bar posthumously in 2006.)

Throughout its existence, the CBA has championed high standards in the legal profession, defended the rule of law, worked to improve access to justice and promoted innovations in the justice system.

CBA Sections have allowed jurists to network and promote their common interests since the 1930s.

In 1983, the CBA and Supreme Court of Canada collaborated to hear applications for leave to appeal via satellite from a Vancouver courtroom to the Supreme Court in Ottawa, with the hope that it would lead the way to expanded use of audio-video technology in courts across Canada. We have come a long way to the proliferation of virtual hearings today.

In 1993, the Touchstones report, led by Justice Bertha Wilson, was the first comprehensive exploration by the legal profession of discrimination against women within its ranks. The CBA also produced notable reports on racism in the profession and equal justice.

Among its countless initiatives, the CBA is proud to have launched the Canadian Bar Review, urged the creation of the body that would become the Federation of Law Societies of Canada, jointly founded the Canadian Tax Foundation, established the Canadian Foundation for Legal Research and facilitated the launch of the Canadian Forum on Civil Justice.

The CBA was instrumental in the creation of the Uniform Law Conference of Canada in 1918 to promote harmonized legislation throughout Canada, as well as the 1971 creation of the Law Reform Commission of Canada, which the CBA had called for in a resolution at its 1966 annual meeting. The latter was to provide expert guidance and advice on law reform, to study and review the laws of Canada and make recommendations for their improvements because while the law must be stable, it cannot be static.

Today the CBA continues to push for greater diversity and inclusion in the profession, for instance by making reconciliation with Indigenous peoples a priority and promoting the use of preferred pronouns in proceedings. Throughout our history we have focused on providing value to our members and giving them resources to be the best jurists they can be, for the benefit of society. And we have no intention of slowing down.

Here’s to another century of influence.