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Scaling new heights

Chris Bredt, LLB’79, champions global literacy one peak at a time

by Mark Witten

Scaling new heights

Reaching for the stars never felt so easy for Chris Bredt, LLB’79, as when he stood at night in a volcanic crater atop Mount Kilimanjaro.

“You’re out there at 18,000 feet. The sky is so clear; the stars so close you could almost reach out and touch them,” remembers the senior litigator at Borden Ladner Gervais LLP in Toronto. “The full moon was like a spotlight shimmering against the glacier. It was cold as hell – but beautiful.”

That was July 2006. It marked the first time Bredt led a group of climbers to the summit of Africa’s tallest mountain to raise funds for the Canadian Organization for Development and Education (CODE), a development agency focused on advancing literacy and education in African and Caribbean countries.

Today, Summit for Literacy is the Western Law alumnus’ way of helping not only his fellow climbers, but children around the world, reach for the stars themselves. “I had wanted to climb Kilimanjaro ever since I was a young lawyer,” Bredt recalls. “I was turning 50 and wanted to do something different. So I combined the Kilimanjaro climb with a fundraiser for CODE.”

CODE funds literacy programs in eight African countries, as well as in the Caribbean and among Canada’s First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities. It partners with local organizations to support the development and publishing of locally authored, illustrated and designed children’s books in 17 languages, as well as training teachers and introducing libraries in schools and communities.

“For children’s literacy to develop and flourish, the books have to be culturally relevant and available in local languages,” explains Bredt, who has championed the organization for more than two decades as a donor, board director and previous chair of CODE and the CODE Foundation Board.

“In Tanzania, for example, kids write stories and the best stories are edited and professionally illustrated. These books, published in Kiswahili, are distributed to schools. They get worn out because so many different kids read them.” The production of more than 250 such titles has generated business for local writers, editors and illustrators in Tanzania.

There were seven people on that first climb, including Bredt’s wife, Jamie Cameron, an Osgoode Hall Law School professor. The group raised more than $250,000. Invigorated by its success, Bredt has scaled those heights – three more times.

Since the first climb in 2006, and including summits in 2010, 2014 and 2018, climbers have raised more than $2 million, including matching funds from government programs. Climbers pay their own way to Tanzania, buy their own equipment and commit to raising at least $5,000 via individualized websites set up by CODE.

In July 2018, Bredt took 16 climbers on the trek including litigation lawyers in private practice, a senior legal counsel at Loblaw Companies, and a past president of the Law Society of British Columbia.

“Kilimanjaro is right at the Equator, so each day brings a different terrain from tropical jungle on day one through grasslands and alpine desert to glaciers at the top,” said Bredt, who explains every one of the more than 60 climbers who has accompanied him on the seven-day ascent has made it to the summit. Climbers form close bonds helping each other on the climb and then get to witness how their own personal quest to conquer the mountain is helping kids on the ground.

“When people go to visit the schools that benefit from CODE programs, it really cements their commitment. You see how eager the kids are to learn and to see the books. I enjoy practicing law, but when I visit the schools I know I’m making a real difference. That’s why I keep doing this.”

Bredt practices civil litigation, with an emphasis on commercial disputes, antipiracy actions, corporate restructuring, directors’ and officers’ duties and liabilities, shareholder, oppression and other corporate disputes, class actions, constitutional, Aboriginal and administrative law issues.

He has appeared as counsel before all levels of the courts in Ontario, and before the Federal Court of Appeal, British Columbia Court of Appeal, Supreme Court of Canada, and numerous administrative tribunals, including the Ontario Securities Commission. Since 2008, Bredt has served as an elected bencher of the Law Society of Upper Canada.

But that success had help getting started. Bredt benefited from a great legal education at Western Law, which led to a clerkship at the Supreme Court of Canada, an LLM from Yale and then a DSU (Droit Administratif) from the Université de Paris (II).

“The education and encouragement I got at Western as an undergrad and Law student set me off in the right direction,” said Bredt, who has established the Bredt-Cameron Entrance Scholarship in Law with his wife.

While at Western Law he was particularly influenced by his mentors Dean David Johnston and Professor Dennis O’Connor.

“The school provided me with the foundation to build a successful career in law. It’s essential that alumni give back to allow future generations of students to succeed.”

Bredt remains connected in numerous ways to Western, including as an active member of the Western Law Alumni Association.

“All of your life experiences are what you bring when you practice law. It’s important to have a balanced life outside law,” he said.

“I am a much more well-rounded person because of the work I’ve done for CODE in Africa – it has made me a better lawyer.”

This article appeared in the Western Law 2018 Alumni Magazine.
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