CBA president Headon returns to Moose Jaw

Austin M.
Austin M. Davis
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Fred Headon, national president of the Canadian Bar Association, stopped in Moose Jaw for a lunch with the city's lawyers on Wednesday.

Fred Headon takes a piece of his Moose Jaw connection with him around the country and overseas.

“My great-grandfather who practiced here had left the family his court robes and they still had them,” Headon said. “As the only other lawyer in the family, I asked if I could borrow them this year.”

Headon is serving his one-year term as national president of the Canadian Bar Association (CBA) and wears his grandfather’s robes for ceremonial events.

He was in Regina for the CBA mid-winter meeting and came to Moose Jaw for lunch with the city’s lawyers on Wednesday.

Though Montreal is home for him now, Headon grew up in Winnipeg but remembers many long drives to Moose Jaw to visit family.

His great-grandfather, William McWilliams, practiced law for many years and retired in the 1960s. Headon never met the man, but feels like he did through the stories he has heard.

“To have this piece of the past in my hands, and on my shoulders now when I’m doing these things, was a really nice touch,” Headon said.

Headon said he knew from a young age he wanted to pursue law, and though his family was excited about his decision, it wasn’t because of his great-grandfather.

“There’s a bit of a joke that says if your children read the rules to Monopoly, you know they’re going to be lawyers. I read the rules to Monopoly,” Headon said with a laugh.

He always had an interest in political and social issues. His parents were involved in the community in Winnipeg.

By the time he reached high school, Headon knew he wanted to examine society’s structure, how we interact with one another and fairness.

“You get to see all that theory, all that social science theory, all the humanities. It all comes together in law when you have someone sitting across from you in a meeting room and you’ve got to figure out their problem in a way that makes sense to them and everybody around them,” Headon said.

"If your children read the rules to Monopoly, you know they’re going to be lawyers. I read the rules to Monopoly.” Fred Headon, CBA national president

He took his undergraduate degree at the University of Winnipeg and studied law at McGill University. He passed the bar in Quebec in 1997. His fondness for arguing and labour made his decision easy about what area he wanted to specialize in.

“I ended up going in to labour law, right off the bat,” Headon said. “That’s been a great way to maintain a very human side to the law. It’s about people’s jobs. It’s very real and concrete for people.

“It lets me use my skills to argue cases, but also negotiate because you write those lengthy collective agreements, for example.”

Headon has spent eight years as in-house counsel for Air Canada. He is the first in-house counsel to serve as president of the CBA.

“It’s been a real eye-opener, in a very good way. I spent most of my time before that in private practice, like most lawyers would, and you learn about your clients and you learn how to do your trade,” Headon said.

He said “living with the client” the way he does now with Air Canada makes him feel more informed about the company’s constraints and preoccupations.

Before serving as CBA national president this year, Headon served as the first vice-president and second-vice president for a year in each position.

Balancing both positions forced him to pull back from volunteer commitments. He said the people around him have helped with the juggling act.

“I have a very patient and supportive wife who is looking after two very patient kids this year,” Headon said. “I have an employer who has been very supportive and understanding.”

His trick for keeping ahead of his schedule is easy:

“You just bring the laptop with you everywhere you go.”

Organizations: Canadian Bar Association, Air Canada, University of Winnipeg McGill University

Geographic location: Moose Jaw, Winnipeg, Regina Montreal Quebec

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