Joyce Echaquan. Eishia Hudson. Regis Korchinski-Paquet. With so many traumatic and high profile incidents involving Indigenous peoples occurring across Canada, now more than ever, all eyes are on the legal community to pick up the mantle to address these injustices. However, the reality is that there exists a certain degree of disconnect between what's going on in the legal community and what is happening to Indigenous peoples and other communities of visible minority. So, how do we reconcile this?

On this week's episode of Diversonomics, we hear from Brad Regehr, the first Indigenous lawyer to hold the office of President of the Canadian Bar Association (CBA). A member of the Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation in Saskatchewan, Brad is extremely passionate and unapologetic when it comes to Indigenous rights and moving the needle forward on anti-racism in the legal community. Tune in as he discusses his role with the CBA and his plans to advance the work of the Association's Truth and Reconciliation initiative.



You are listening to "Diversonomics", a Gowling WLG podcast   Episode 2 Season 5

Roberto: Hello everyone. Welcome to Diversonomics, the podcast about diversity and inclusion from Gowling WLG. I'm your co-host, Roberto Aburto. Pre and post-COVID I am from Gowling WLG's Ottawa office or thereabouts.

Cindy: Hi everyone and I'm your co-host Cindy Kou. I'm in my Toronto quote/unquote office. How are you doing today, Roberto?

Roberto: I'm good. It's been quite an odd year but happy to be back hosting Diversonomics and certainly there's a heck of a lot to talk about, that's for sure. How are you?

Cindy: I'm good, thanks. Definitely a very interesting year but excited to be back and having the conversations that we're having today.

Roberto: Yeah, I'm hoping we can capture some of the energy that's out there and advance the conversation. I know people keep talking about how they want to listen so hopefully we can ask our guests on that will give people an opportunity to listen this season. I'm excited to introduce today's guest but first special shout-out to anybody who's tuning in for the first time. Welcome. A friendly reminder that our previous episodes can be found at or in Apple Podcasts. Ontario lawyers, you can also get your EDI credits for your Continuing Professional Development requirements, just for listening.

Cindy: So this season we are using our platform to shine a light on systemic racism in Canada, specifically anti-black and anti-indigenous racism. These are huge and complex topics and we hope our short conversations can serve as springboards for listeners to start or continue doing the work of breaking down systemic racism. Joining us today is Brad Regehr, the President of the Canadian Bar Association and partner at Morris Law in Winnipeg, where he maintains a broad practice including aboriginal law, corporate commercial law, civil litigation and administrative law. Brad is also the first indigenous lawyer to hold the office of President of the CBA and has identified the CBA's truth and reconciliation initiative as on the CBA's priorities this year. Brad, if you'll indulge us, we'll do a brief introduction and then we'll hand it off to you to fill in all the details we've missed. Sound good?

Brad:  Absolutely.

Roberto: So Brad is a member of the Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation in Saskatchewan. It is a survivor of the 60 Scoop. Brad has acted in various litigation and arbitration matters relating to indigenous rights including under the First Nations Fiscal Management Act, Manitoba Treaty Land Entitlement Framework Agreement and Saskatchewan Treaty Land Entitlement Framework Agreement. He also regularly advises First Nations clients on implementation issues involving both land claims and flooding agreements, including a First Nation which became a major partner in a major hydro electric project. As Cindy mentioned, on September 1, 2020, when Brad assumed his role as President of the CBA, Brad also became the first indigenous President of the CBA. He was also the first indigenous President of the Manitoba Bar Association. The first lawyer since 1946 to hold that office for 2 years. In his spare time, which apparently he somehow has, Brad sings, dances and acts with the Lawyers Play, a joint fundraising production between the Manitoba Bar Association and the Royal Manitoba Theatre Center. He coaches his son's sports teams and does Walter Matthau and Billy Bob Ford impressions. Welcome to the show, Brad. We're going to pass it over to you. Can you tell us a little bit more about yourself?

Brad:  All I know is you must have dug deep to get some of that information because those are from old bios. Yeah, thanks for having me on the show. I appreciate it.

Cindy: So, Brad, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us today. Congratulations on your second historic presidency and thank you for your continued service to the Bar. 2020 has been a really challenging year in many respects, including many traumatic and high profile events involving indigenous communities across the country. Some examples that come to mind include the blockades and protests on Wet'suwet'en Territory. Back in January, the violent arrest of First Nations Chief, Allan Adam. The deaths of Regis Korchinski-Paquet and Joyce Echaquan and clashes in Quebec and in Nova Scotia between non-indigenous and indigenous folks, indigenous communities in respect to fishing and hunting rights. So, just to start would you like to start with any words specifically for indigenous listeners?

Brad:  First of all I just want to say her name, Eishia Hudson, who was shot by police. At my Presidential reception, which was about a month ago, I specifically identified her and Chantel Moore and I said I was sick and tired of seeing young indigenous people getting shot by police. You see this happening in the States where it's young black people, and you saw some articles where there's young indigenous people in certain states that are being killed by police officers on a regular basis, and I just said I'm sick of it. I'm tired of it and I see these racisms. I'm tired of that. I don't understand why or how a person, there's a welfare cheque, and how they end up dying. Made me shocked. I don't understand a police officer doing a wellness check with an axe and bashing someone's door down and screaming and yelling at them. It's not okay and something has to change.

Roberto: Brad, thank you for those words. I mean it's been quite a context, and it's sort of interesting in a law firm and legal environment, it sort of seems impactful and I'm sure that it's impacted indigenous folks at our firm. But it seems like a bit of a wall sometimes in terms of what's going on in the legal community and sometimes it disconnects from these types of incidents. So, sort of transitioning to you and the Canadian Bar Association, can you tell us about the pressures and opportunities that you feel come with being the first indigenous President of a major Bar Association in Canada?

Brad:  Well, I certainly feel that I came into this position knowing that I wanted to do it. For many years I hadn't ever thought about doing it. Certainly when I went into law school I never thought that I was going to do this at any point in time. But when I decided I would run for the position of Vice-President, which is really where you get elected then you automatically become President a year later after your Vice-Presidential year, I sort of started to think about what did I want to talk about. Certainly, the calls to action, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission brought out 5 years ago now. I wanted to talk about those and I know that the Canadian Bar Association had put in place a program of doing what it could do. I was on board year and a half ago and we voted on our workplan and what to do and a big part of what I want to do is to oversee that the implementation of that and the ongoing development. It's not sort of we've been doing a couple of things and that's it. We're going to continue working on those things. I decided that in talking with the staff that that was going to be the aim of my conversations with the President Podcasts. I've already done one on the education calls to action with a young lawyer and a legal educator. I decided that, especially after this spring and the summer there was a number of issues, and at my Presidential reception I also said that I'm going to have those uncomfortable conversations. Because sometimes there's people who don't want to talk about this stuff but I'm not going to back away. I'm going to say what I've got to say. I'm going to have those conversations with people who are uncomfortable. I'm not going to apologize for it because those conversations have to happen. Those truths have to be opened up and shown and they have to be dealt with.

Cindy: Absolutely. Hopefully as more people have these difficult conversations it will be less and less work for people who have traditionally been the ones to carry a lot of that burden. To touch on Roberto's point earlier about that concept of a bit of a wall around the legal industry sometimes, do you think that lawyers have a special role to play in addressing systemic racism, and if you do, how would you describe that role?

Brad:  Well, certainly, I mean I've always thought that being lawyer was a pretty unique position in Canadian society. In fact I would go so far as to say we have a really important part to play in the democratic institutions of this country. I can remember people would talk about the first thing we do is kill all the lawyers. I can't remember which Shakespeare play that's from anymore but I remember one of my first classes in the first year of law school and the professor saying that and going, "This is what it really means is that we have been trained and we have the knowledge of understanding the laws." Well certainly understanding the English common law, and then if you're trained in the French civil code, understanding that and interpreting it and the legislative process and laws are made and how they're implemented and how they're enforced. Enforced in some ways and not enforced in other ways. So the legal profession has had its role in systemic discrimination in Canada. I mean, a lot of my focus is on indigenous people, but when I look at laws that were developed, the 1927 Indian Act, which actually prevented First Nations from retaining legal counsel to pursue matters related to lands. Well, who drafted that Bill? A lawyer did. Or a team of lawyers did. Then it got implemented. Then it was on the books until 1951. That's just one example. But any other discriminatory Bills, all the Bills or the laws which deny the right to vote to women, to people of visible minorities. It was over the decades where gradually they opened things up a little bit and a little bit and I think it was indigenous people were the last people to be given the right to vote in Federal elections. That was in the last 40's or early 50's. I think '51. I can't remember exactly but that's 60 years ago. It's not that long ago. There's a lot of people who can probably remember that. They were young people at the time. Even within the profession itself. If anyone tries to say there wasn't systemic discrimination they've got blinders on their eyes plus they've got a blanket pulled over their head and our pretending that that hasn't happened. It has happened and that systemic discrimination, whether it was sexism or racism, it's really not that long ago. At this time this stuff was happening regularly in the profession. I think it still happens now. Lawyers, we've got to clean up our own house, but we do play a special role in the rest of society in being leaders within our society and having that unique position.

Roberto: Brad, you're passionate leadership on the issue of truth and reconciliation is going to be apparent to anybody who's been listening. But before the CBA, can you tell us about the CBA's mandate of what really the CBA, specifically, is playing in addressing systemic racism in Canada?

Brad:  Well, the CBA's always had a major advocacy role in its history. One of its mandates is the pursuit of equality and it says the rule of law, and I know that right now that term, the rule of law, is being tossed around by a lot of different people, and of course it's the rule the law. Well, who is enforcing the rule of law and to whose benefit is the rule of being enforced? I could argue that the rule of law is not being enforced in Nova Scotia with regard to Mi'kmaq fishermen who have an established right to fish and yet I don't see a lot of action on the part of governments to protect that right. There's a lot of sitting back and allowing these people to be harassed by non-Mi'kmaq fishers to the point of all sorts of illegal activity occurring. That's addressing the rule of law and certainly the CBA stands for the rule of law but it's got to be a rule of law that's enforced equally. Because that's another big aspect is the pursuit of equality. The work that the Association is doing on the truth and reconciliation calls to action fits well within its mandate and everything else that it has done over the years. Whether that's related to indigenous people or members of visible minorities, the CBA has always stood for equality and ensuring that people's rights are met. I see it as a good fit for myself.

Cindy: We're grateful to have you leading the CBA in this time, particularly. So, can you tell us some more about the CBA's truth and reconciliation initiative and what your plans are for this year?

Brad:  We had an advisor group came up with a workplan. That got passed a year and a half ago, as I said earlier, by the board. I was on the board when that occurred. It's a range of things. One of the things we have ongoing is the education of the national staff and that has also been extended to branch members who want to participate. There's ongoing orientation and education of staff. Other things. We had a land acknowledgement ceremony in the CBA office, at the same time, a year and a half ago. We wanted to acknowledge that the offices were on the unceded territory in the Algonquin Nation. Certainly the Association, every year on September 30, acknowledges Orange Shirt Day and again we did this year and I had the privilege of speaking to the staff on that day. One of the biggest things I think that we have done is looking at the education of lawyers on the history of indigenous peoples in Canada and some of the legal issues that have arisen out of that complex history and interaction between indigenous people and settler society. So in the spring we launched a program called The Past. We partnered with an Ottawa based firm to develop this legal education program. It's about 5 hours long. People can sign up and take it and you can get CBD credits. More importantly for me though is that people watch it and learn things about the history of indigenous peoples here and how that has interacted with Canada. I've had numerous people email afterwards and go, "I just took The Past and I learned things that I never learnt in school. Whether it primary or secondary or post-secondary, were never taught." They really appreciated it and I think we've had, as of last week, we've had over 1,500 members take the course. We now have, I believe we have, two law schools who have signed up and are having their law students take the course. We've had inquiries from law societies and inquiries from large national firms who want to have their lawyers take it. One of them even was talking about trying to get a licence to provide it to their clients. We're pretty excited about that project.

Roberto: That sounds like a really ambitious project. That sounds really fantastic. I know I've been participating in a book club on the final inquiry report for the missing and murdered indigenous women and girls and there's a chapter that focuses in on the history there. I know I learned a ton there and there's a lot of dark history there. So I'm sure The Past is comprehensive and I certainly look forward to trying it out. You had a lot of experience and leadership roles in organizations where indigenous people have not been well represented. I imagine that navigating and growing support in these spaces presents unique challenges. What do you wish leaders of institutions could have done, or could do differently, to people who are inclusive?

Brad:  Well, the Association's goal, I think one of the big priorities, is educating people. If leaders in these other organizations, businesses, what have you, would educate themselves I think it would cause them to think differently about perhaps the programs they deliver. Probably the people they hire. The approach they take in whatever it is that they're doing. Canada, obviously we're a big country with lots of natural resources, and that seems to be were a huge amount of the conflict with indigenous people arises is with the natural resource area. It would be really great if leaders in business and society who worked in there, and I know some people have educated themselves, but I think a lot more education is needed. I read the case law too and then I see resource projects going through and it just seems that indigenous people tend to be on the losing end all the time. One of the things, I think it was last winter, some guys came out with a study on the use of injunctions and it was just a straight up analysis of what cases where injunctions were granted. Then they did a comparison where indigenous people wanted injunctions, and how often they could get it, and it was radically different in terms of the percentage of successful cases where the injunctions were granted against indigenous people, versus where indigenous people were requesting injunctions and the huge failure rate in terms of being able to obtain an injunction. It's going to take a bit of a mindset and an adjustment that I think there needs to be a lot more negotiation and lot more effort put into accommodating indigenous people on these types of projects. I guess a lot of the companies go into these things with here's what we're prepared to offer. I think sometimes you're going to have to think we might have to do a lot more if we really want to extract these resources. I don't know if that answers your question but that's where I took it.

Roberto: Certainly appreciate the input and I certainly, you know, there's always more to learn and it's a lot of big picture thinking required. For sure.

Cindy: We started the question about inclusivity and your excellent answer included a lot of elements that sound very systemic. Do you have some advice for leaders and institutions to address and really work on dismantling some anti-indigenous racism that might exist within themselves?

Brad:  Well again, I still think that as people start by educating themselves and start by recognizing, perhaps, their own internal biases and we all have it. I have it. We have to work on these things and we have to work on them constantly. In terms of institutions, if I look at universities, there's a lot of things they can do. To be fair, there's a lot of things universities have done already, in terms of addressing a lot of those things. But I think perhaps the approach that one shoe doesn't fit all sizes, in an institution they need to be open to creativity, to adjustment, talking with different groups of people about what it is that they need and what it is that they want. Because on of the big approaches is you can't sort of go into these things going, "Okay. We want to be open and inclusive so here's what we're going to do for you. This is what we think you need." That approach doesn't work. It has to be, "Okay. We want to be inclusive. Let's sit down and we need to hear from you in terms of what we can do to be more inclusive. To deal with any systemic issues that may exist in our institution or our business."

Cindy: Yes, certainly there's an element of humility that's involved in having these difficult conversations. On that note we've heard some people say that a barrier to speaking out or speaking up or having these difficult conversations is a fear of saying or doing the quote/unquote wrong thing, and that some times leads people to feel like, "Oh well, maybe I'll just stay silent." This year we've talked about silence being equal to complicity. So what response or advice would you have for people who are worried about speaking up or speaking out but doing the quote/unquote wrong thing?

Brad:  Have a conversation with someone ahead of time and say, "I want to say this but I feel that it's the wrong thing to say." Or, "I'm not sure about what I'm going to say.", before you're going to make a public statement, if you're unsure. Find someone that you can talk to and ask them, "This is how I'm feeling. This is what I'm thinking and I'd like to say this but I don't know if I'm crossing a line or if I'm saying the wrong thing." I still think doing something is better than doing nothing. So, I encourage people not to stay silent. Especially with what's been going on in the last few years. I feel that people, in the last number of years and I won't identify the individuals who's been responsible for a lot of this, but they feel emboldened to do outright racist acts against people and I think staying silent is a big problem, in that case. I think people have to say something. They need to stick up for people. People need to be called out when they're doing something racist or something that's super inappropriate. That's what I think.

Roberto: So in terms of turning good intentions into actions do you have a call to action for our listeners today?

Brad:  On the assumption that a lot of this is lawyers who are listening, I would say educate yourself on issues of systemic discrimination. Educate yourself on the history of indigenous peoples in Canada. Educate yourself on the history of black people in Canada. Understand that history, that background, those scenarios so that the next time you're thinking something you might have something you learned in the back of your head that might go, "Okay. I think I'm understanding this. I'm getting this now because I've learned things that I didn't know before." I think education is key for all of this. That's really where I would encourage people. Then be an ally. Take your cues from indigenous people, from people from communities of visible minorities and by that ally and do what you can. As I said, it's better to do something than to do nothing.

Cindy: We know that big changes often start in small increments and habits can become very powerful. What daily habit would you challenge our listeners to form in service of dismantling systemic racism in Canada?

Brad:  I keep talking about indigenous people and the indigenous side and going all out. I won't apologize for that just because of where I come from but we've had the land acknowledgments, as an example, a lot of places now you'll go there'll be a land acknowledgment, in terms of which indigenous nations use and, I always like to add this, and continue to use the land and occupied. I try to take it a little bit further for myself and in addition to the specific nations or groups of people but also what languages are spoken here? What is the traditional name of the place you are in? Those kinds of issues. To think about ... so that you get an understanding that you're in this place and it didn't just start and appear in 1867 or 1789 or whatever date you want to pick. But this place has been here for a long time and there have been people here for a long time and try to think about what was this like long before. I'm in Winnipeg so I often do this, even in my own neighbourhood, I think what was this like? What happened here long before Winnipeg existed? I know you're in Ottawa and Toronto and think about that. Long before there was all these skyscrapers and all these other things. Before the Supreme Court building was there. What was this like? Try to fathom that and it might give you an appreciation in terms of some of the larger pictures and how did where I live develop into what it is now? I have a friend, she's taking her kids regularly on tours around Winnipeg, and teaching them about, particularly in her case the Metis background, and just from her posts I've learned things I had no idea about in Winnipeg. The neighbourhood in Winnipeg where the family stopped the surveyors and told them to get out. Which is now a really high-end expensive suburb to live in. Another park called La Barriere Park. I had no idea why it was called that. That's because that's where they stopped, the Metis stopped the people from Eastern Canada coming to try and establish a new Province, at  that park. I had no idea. I went there as a kid for family picnics. It's educating yourself about what's around you, why it's around you, how it developed that way and whose land that it's on. I'm sure there's many other, you know, if you don't want to do that there's many other ways you can do things everyday and think about the history of black people in Canada. They always portray it as the underground railroad in Canada was the place to come. Well, Canada's got some negative history in that background too and I think people need to learn that as well.

Cindy: Brad, thank you so much for being here with us today. We look forward to supporting the CBA's truth and reconciliation initiative, listening to The Past and your podcast and we wish you all the best for the balance of your Presidency.

Brad:  Thank you, Roberto and Cindy.

Roberto: For our listeners if you ever have any questions, comments or ideas for topics and guests, please look us up at and get in touch with us. We'd love to hear from you. Also make sure to check out the show notes for this episode at Last, but not least, make sure to subscribe on Apple Podcasts or Spotify so you don't miss an episode. While we're at it leave us a review. You can also follow me on Twitter @robaburto. Brad, anything you want to plug in terms of social media?

Brad:  I think Cindy talked about it and you talked about it as well. Sign up for The Past and take it. It's a great program and listen to my podcasts. I hope they're good. I haven't listened to the first two yet so but we're going to be covering a lot of interesting material over the next year and the next number of podcasts. That will be my plug for today.

Cindy: I look forward to listening to the podcast. I will sign up right after we end this call and you can follow me on Twitter @ckoutweets.

Roberto: Diversonomics was presented to you by Gowling WLG and produced by Rachael Reid and edited by Matt Rideout. Thanks for listening everyone.

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