Mtre Jean-Sébastien Clément

Mtre Jean-Sébastien Clément: A harmonious blend of ideals
By Pierre-Luc Beauchesne, lawyer
(Article issued on April 7, 2016) day, Mtre Jean-Sébastien Clément practises aboriginal law with Gowlings. By night, he’s often spotted on a stage plucking away at his stand-up bass and setting down some jazz, blues or world music tunes. With a life story that can best be described as unconventional, this father of two girls has actually struck a delicate balance between his law career and his passion for music, while remaining involved in his community. In fact, his volunteer work is what put him in touch with his colleague Mtre Pascal Paradis, executive director of Lawyers Without Borders Canada, who first got him involved with that organization..

Balancing music and the law

Music has always been a big part of Jean-Sébastien’s life. Even though he has no formal musical training, he has followed  courses here and there, and he has learned quite a bit on his own. As a teenager, inspired by famous Police bassist and frontman Sting, he tried his hand at electric bass. While studying law at UQAM, he would sit in with a number of blues groups for gigs on St-Denis and St-Laurent. He even took a sabbatical one year to devote himself exclusively to music before starting on his articling. After being sworn in as a lawyer in 1994, he decided to put his musical aspirations on the back burner for a few years.

At the turn of the millennium, having returned to his first love with a number of groups, he soon decided to branch out into some new musical ventures. The purchase of his first stand-up bass prompted him to spend more of his energy on jazz and world music. Nowadays, Jean-Sébastien is an active participant in some fifty events every year, playing with bands of varying styles, notably the blues (Off the Hook Blues Band), jazz (En Portée Jazz, Suzi Silva, Bernard Epaud and others) and world music (Klezmer Valody, domlebo).

Jean-Sébastien’s love of music has never been a roadblock to his career in the law. After six years of practice in prison law (notably with Mtre Renée Millette), he undertook a major change in direction. As he always nurtured a passion for rights and freedoms, he was naturally drawn to aboriginal law and started working in 1997 with James O’Reilly, a lawyer with O’Reilly & Associates and one of this country’s pioneers in the matter. Later, in 2004, he joined the ranks of Gowlings in Montreal, where he was named a partner three years later.

For Jean-Sébastien, the practice of aboriginal law must be thoroughly imbued with commitment and social responsibility. “We are duty-bound to see to it that any powers devolving to this country’s Aboriginals are returned to them,” he declares, “and to make sure this is done within Canada’s legal system. As the Supreme Court of Canada decreed in the Beckman ruling, we’ve got to commit ourselves to protecting and preserving a constitutional space allowing Aboriginals to be Aboriginals.”

Although he regularly tries cases before the courts, Jean-Sébastien’s practice is not focused solely on constitutional debates, as might be assumed. He actually defines himself as a generalist for his Aboriginal clients. He can just as readily handle private law issues for corporations as public law issues for government bodies such as school boards or aboriginal police forces. Beyond his purely legal involvement, Jean-Sébastien is very gratified to work with the Cree community every year. In fact, his practice includes annual trips to northern Quebec for cases in communities such as Oujé-Bougoumou, Waswanipi and Nemaska.

Jean-Sébastien Clément has also been known to get up on the stage for a variety of good causes. For the last few years, in addition to playing the double bass for the annual benefit organized by Lawyers Without Borders Canada, he has been the event’s artistic director as well. His work with LWBC has been more than just musical, though. In June 2014, he took part in a mission to Jamaica, where he hosted a workshop in strategic litigation. “Strategic litigation,” he explains, “consists in selecting and presenting a case before the court and, wherever possible, working with the government to develop new orientations, using them to advance the law and society.” For him, LWBC is a sound, credible agency managed by serious people who have a stake in protecting the state of law—often with very limited means. “There are lawyers overseas who are threatened. In addition to providing an international presence, LWBC provides lawyers and their clients with the tools they need to confront their dire and often dangerous situations.” In that respect, Jean-Sébastien invites us all to the LWBC benefit show, which will take place at the Astral concert venue in Montreal on May 26, 2016.

We also had a chance to see Mtre Clément and his double bass at events held by the Bar of Montreal, notably the JAZZ des Fêtes concert, which benefited the Old Brewery Mission to the tune of $970, as well as ProBono Québec legal services and the Fondation PalliAmi in aid of palliative care at the Notre-Dame hospital.

Finding the balance among an associate practice in aboriginal law, a career in music and family life has never been easy, but despite everything, Jean-Sébastien Clément seems to keep his composure. He is of the opinion that the important thing in life is to do what you want, to live and let live. Whether behind the big double bass or the office desk, Jean-Sébastien remains firmly grounded and the personification of a pragmatic idealist.