Vivene Salmon is the Canadian Bar Association first Black President
September 5, 2019
Just a decade after graduating from the University of Ottawa’s Faculty of Law, Vivene Salmon has made legal history as the first Black person, racialized lawyer and female in-house counsel to lead the 123-year-old Canadian Bar Association (CBA).
Representing nearly 36,000 lawyers, judges, notaries, law teachers and law students across the country, the organization is an essential ally and advocate for its members as the voice of Canada’s legal profession.
At the Chain of Office ceremony in Ottawa last month, Salmon said she’s grateful for the opportunity to represent and serve the CBA as its President.
She also acknowledged Black lawyers who paved the way for her to succeed.
“I am firmly rooted on the shoulders of greats – Black lawyers throughout Canada who have endured a thousand cuts both in their personal and professional lives,” the former Ontario Bar Association member said. “Their strength, dignity, perseverance and steadfastness in the face of injustice and fairness, their victories large and small, enabled me to be standing resolutely before you today.”
Canadian Association of Black Lawyers (CABL) co-founder Patricia DeGuire, who was in Ottawa for the historic moment, mentored Salmon who was called to the Bar in 2010.
“Vivene is focused, courageous, humble, creative, loyal and committed to giving back,” she said. “Those attributes, buoyed by a strong commitment to loyalty, were the driving force for her becoming the CBA president for 2019-20. Her commitment to giving back and her dogged loyalty to the CBA fit neatly into her goal to transform the organization’s culture.”
Frank Walwyn, WeirFoulds first Black staff lawyer and partner, hailed the ascension.
“Her life experiences and professional accomplishments make her uniquely positioned to advance the mandate of the CBA at a very dynamic time for Canadian lawyers,” added Walwyn who was named one of Canada’s top lawyers in the area of corporate and commercial litigation in the 2012 edition of ‘The Best Lawyers in Canada’. “Her addition to the list of CBA Presidents will burnish an already illustrious list of accomplished lawyers and leaders in our profession.”
Sparking intergenerational dialogue between young lawyers and senior leaders in the legal profession and ensuring that members are equipped with tools to deal with health challenges are at the top of Salmon’s priority list.
The CBA will launch a podcast series and she has asked the organization’s National Young Lawyers to take the lead in organizing a national young lawyers’ conference to be held in the spring of 2020.
With lawyers juggling deadlines, files, clients and high stake cases, finding balance is difficult and, for many, the demanding work takes a heavy emotional, mental and physical toll.
In the last 20 years, the CBA has held a wellness forum to help legal professionals manage personal, emotional, health and wellness challenges.
“As someone who has dealt with my mom’s Alzheimer’s disease and gone through major health challenges myself, when I reflect, attending a CBA Wellness Forum as a young lawyer was very impactful,” said Salmon who served as the Young Lawyers Division Central Region Chair from 2014-16. “I became more educated and took away tools to take care of myself both physically and mentally. Along with current health research provided by leading psychiatrists and health professionals, I learned that sometimes it’s okay to put yourself first. Being a healthy lawyer is not a trend. Being a healthy lawyer must be a priority. It is critical that when one of the members of our legal community stumbles or falls, we extend a hand to lift them up. In doing so, we lift us all up.”
With the federal election a month away, Salmon is also excited to lead the CBA’s #LegalAidMatters campaign.
“The aim of the strategy is to increase public awareness of the importance of access to justice and to encourage political parties to commit dedicated federal legal aid funding,” the certified privacy professional noted. “I encourage all of you to make legal aid an election issue.”
As a young girl in public school, Salmon wanted to be a lawyer or journalist.
“After every school year ended, my mom had this book where you would take a photo and then write who your favourite teachers and all your friends were in that year,” she said. “If I look back at that book from about Grade One onwards, it was always I want to be a lawyer or journalist. I really don’t know where that came from. I always enjoyed writing.”
Growing up in a home without television inspired Salmon’s love of reading and books.
“My mom’s favourite radio station was CBC which me and my two older brothers would listen to after church,” she pointed out. “She liked to listen to ‘Cross Country Checkup’ (Canada’s only weekly open live radio program) and we learnt a lot from that also.”
Syd Salmon, who has a Master of Business Administration, is a Marketing & Advertising Specialist while Greg Salmon is a Waterloo Region District School Board teacher.
The siblings were raised in Kitchener-Waterloo by their parents -- Kenneth and Aneta Salmon – who are Jamaican immigrants.
“Dad worked in construction and mom was a personal support worker,” she said. “Talented and very smart, they wanted the best for their kids. Mom is my biggest fan and she always believed in me. She knew I am intelligent and have a lot to offer to the world. My parents never said, ‘You have to do this or that’. It was expected that I would try my best and do well.”
After graduating with a Political Science degree from Wilfrid Laurier University, Salmon was accepted into a provincial government program that provided rotations throughout various ministries. She worked in communications for several years before applying to law school.
Articling at Gowling WLG before joining the Mutual Fund Dealers Association of Canada as an Enforcement Policy Counsel, Salmon is the Vice-President, Country Compliance Manager, Global Banking & Markets Compliance at Bank of America Merrill Lynch.
Responsible for managing the Global Compliance & Regulatory Change Management Programs, she regularly develops and drafts policies and procedures to ensure compliance with Canadian and American regulatory requirements, industry best practice, governance processes, audits and risk management principles.
Salmon also acts as the designated Privacy Officer for Bank of America National Association Canadian branch.
Her other interests include sewing, salsa dancing, swimming and spending time with her five nieces and nephews.