Inclusive Leaders Showcase 2018

May is Asian Heritage Month. This month we’re excited to highlight the inclusive efforts made by pan-Asian Canadian lawyers in Ontario.

Inclusive Leaders

Thank you to everyone who participated in the nomination process when we sent out a call to hear the stories of inclusive leaders in the Ontario legal community.  Through the nominations we received, we learned of numerous lawyers of various years of call carrying out inclusive efforts within and outside of the legal community. 

Check this page often to read the stories of notable lawyers who have taken the lead in making others feel included in Canadian society.

 

#ToBeIncluded: Reflecting on Inclusion

To further inspire every person to be inclusive, throughout the month of May, we will post questions on social media related to inclusion. Follow us on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and Instagram to see the questions. Please take a few moments to reflect on the questions and share your answers with us on social media.

Every action taken, even if you think it’s small, matters to someone. We want to hear about your inclusive actions and those of others when you respond to the questions. Together we can move forward to achieve a more inclusive society.


Gary Yee
Megan Seto
André B. Bacchus
Justice Hafeez S. Amarshi
Rosel Kim
Vanisha Sukdeo
Henry Poon
Naiyna Sharma

 

 

 

 

 

Vince Wong
Rakhi Ruparelia
Helen Liu

 

 

 

 

 


Profiles

 

Gary Yee

Gary Yee

Year of Call: 1985
Location: Toronto
Role: Tribunal Chair and Advisor 
Practiced in: Administrative Law

 

Gary Yee has devoted over three decades of his legal career and community volunteerism to advancing equality and access to justice for Chinese and other racialized communities. He spearheaded the redress campaign for elderly Chinese Head Tax payers and widows. In his legal clinic and community work, he fought for social justice for marginalized communities. In fact, he is the founding executive director of Toronto’s Chinese and Southeast Asian Legal Clinic. As a lawyer, he has the distinction of having been appointed as chair of four tribunals (Board of Inquiry for police complaints, Social Benefits Tribunal, Licence Appeal Tribunal, and Toronto Licensing Tribunal). With his passionate, principled and inclusive approach, he has been at the forefront of the administrative justice community across Canada in advancing cultural competence, adjudicative excellence and access to justice.

Advancing inclusion in the legal community

Gary has been a leader in ensuring access to justice at many levels. In the tribunal world, he is known for his inclusive approach to management and training. He encourages everyone to contribute. He also raises awareness about issues of diversity and inclusion, whether it is in policies and practices, or in representation on tribunals, boards or conference panels. He advocates for proactive responses to the needs of diverse and unrepresented parties. Through training, he helps lawyers and adjudicators understand that cultural competence skills and attitudes are equally important for all aspects of personal and work life, such as empathy and mindfulness, comfort with ambiguity, implicit bias, and decision making styles.

As an experienced racialized leader in the public service and the administrative justice community, Gary has generously met individually with dozens of lawyers, law students and tribunal members from Asian and other diverse backgrounds to offer career advice and information.

Mindset of inclusive legal leaders

He has even leveraged his countless award recognitions, such as his speech for the Law Society Medal in 2017, to promote inclusion. In that particular speech, he shared the type of mindset inclusive legal leaders should have. “We are building empathetic tribunals. Let’s also build an empathetic legal profession. More empathy means more access to justice, more cultural competence, and better client service. Let’s value empathy, and not simply dismiss someone as ‘nice.’ Let’s understand diversity and practise inclusion, so we can confront our discomfort with ‘otherness.’ As immigrants, as racialized communities, as the ‘other,’ we are keenly aware of this quest to be understood, to be included, to belong. This defines the Canadian experience for many of us.”

What advice would you give to lawyers or law students on how to face barriers to inclusion?

“First, it must be emphasized that barriers to inclusion need to be addressed on a systemic basis. The legal profession, law firms, government and other institutions have the responsibility to take action and improve the situations of the individuals who are affected. As for these individuals, you can help yourselves and others by supporting the work of the community advocates, which includes FACL of course. You can find allies and be an ally yourself. As for working on your own, you can also increase your cultural competence. With increased empathy and self-awareness, you can gain insight into how others perceive you and how to respond most effectively to counteract negative or biased perceptions.”


Megan Seto

Megan Seto

Year of Call: 2014           
Location: Toronto
Role: Associate, Dentons Canada LLP
Practices in: Taxation

 

Megan is a bold mental health advocate in the Asian legal community. She speaks candidly about her own experience of depression as a racialized person, and inspires others to take everyday steps to encourage a more inclusive environment to combat mental health in the legal profession. In addition to regularly advising on topics relating to mental health in the legal profession, Megan is also involved with pro-bono work assisting those navigating the tax system as a litigant and taxpayer. Her work with artists, veterans, and charities has also been recognized by her peers.

Inclusion within and outside of the legal community

Megan’s published work on depression amongst law students and lawyers, Killing Ourselves: Depression as an Institutional, Workplace and Professionalism Problem, is nationally and internationally recognized as part of the movement to remove the stigma associated with mental illness.

Megan is also an enthusiastic mentor to young lawyers at her firm and in the community. As a peer mentor for those facing issues regarding race, gender and health, she is a demonstrated risk-taker by providing a voice for uncomfortable topics in the profession.

Using her social media presence, Megan is a thought leader during Bell Let’s Talk Day and recently, the #MeToo movement. For Bell Let’s Talk Day, she has covered topics on medication, burnout, addiction, the articling crisis, shame and abuse. Megan’s courage and boundless spirit to speak up about these issues is truly inspiring.

Finding the courage to speak up

“No one discussed it in those days. I was scared to speak up, but legal leaders like Adam Dodek and Ray Adlington encouraged me welcome uncomfortable and rough conversations with unambiguous action. After going through the illness and recovery experience with my parents and siblings at my side, their support allowed me to challenge the perception of depression within the Asian community. They are fearless, and that is contagious!”

What advice would Megan give to lawyers or to law students on how to face barriers to inclusion?

"Asking for help is so hard, but so necessary when fighting barriers. If allowed to be vulnerable, I am always impressed by the compassion and capacity of others willing to help within the legal profession."


André B. Bacchus

André B. Bacchus

Year of Call: 2002 (New York State Bar)
Location: Toronto
Role: Assistant Director, Law Practice Program (LPP), Work Placement Office, Ryerson University
Practices in: Professional Development

 

André is known for helping to spearhead Ryerson University's Law Practice Program (LPP) in his role as the Assistant Director for the Work Placement Office. Prior to joining the LPP, André was the Director of Professional Development at Heenan Blaikie LLP where he was responsible for all aspects of the Toronto office’s associate and student programs, as well as managing the office’s orientation, continuing legal education, mentoring, and review programs. Throughout his career, on Bay Street, Wall Street and in Academia, both in his professional capacity and through his volunteer activities, André has worked with racialized groups and other marginalized individuals in the legal community to provide assistance with career planning and encouragement.

Inclusion through the Law Practice Program (LPP)

In his most recent role, together with the LPP team, André has helped to create over 900 new opportunities for Law Society of Ontario (LSO) licensees from various backgrounds. Many of those licensees represent the diverse communities that make-up the population in the Province of Ontario. In recognition of their diversity and inclusions efforts, the LPP Team was recognized by the Government of the Province of Ontario (Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration) with the 2017 Champion of Diversity Award.

Turning challenges into opportunities

As a member of racialized and marginalized groups, André has overcome challenges within the legal community and encourages others to do the same. Over the years, in high school, undergrad, law school and in practice, whether it was working on large transactions, attending board meetings, or speaking on professional panels, André found himself to be the only openly gay legal professional of colour in the room. While this situation could make most individuals feel like an outsider or uncomfortable, André saw it is an opportunity to educate others and to demonstrate that all members of our diverse community should have a “seat” at the table.      

How can we embrace our racial identity?

André sees his diversity, and diversity in general, as an opportunity -- an opportunity to bring different perspectives to the conversation and the profession. By embracing our unique personal traits and experiences André believes we each have an opportunity to educate others, to contribute, to open doors and to “blaze” a trail that others can follow. While belonging to racialized and marginalized groups can pose many challenges it is really up to each of us to stand up and face those challenges both individually and together.


Justice Hafeez S. Amarshi

Justice Hafeez S. Amarshi

Year of Call: 2002
Location: Toronto
Role: Judge, Ontario Court of Justice

 

Justice Amarshi has led a diverse career, and his experiences have allowed him to appreciate diversity and inclusion in the legal profession. His early career was spent abroad working with the United Nations in Central Asia. There, he worked on a number of different projects, including law reform, elections, and rehabilitation programs for ex-combatants. His experience abroad gave him a deeper appreciation for Canadian legal traditions and the common law.

When he returned to Canada, he started practicing as a criminal defence lawyer. He later joined the Federal Crown’s office, where his practice largely focused on Charter litigation, especially search and seizure issues.

In February 2018, Justice Amarshi was appointed to the Ontario Court of Justice, a particularly important moment for him and his family.

Inclusion in the legal community

Justice Amarshi played an instrumental role in advocating for inclusion and diversity in his role as Past President of the South Asian Bar Association (SABA). SABA was an early and passionate supporter of the recommendations from the Racialized Licensees Working Group – a significant effort by the Law Society to develop strategies to confront systemic racism in the profession.

Throughout his practice, Justice Amarshi has continually recognized the importance of diversity and inclusion in the legal profession. He also emphasizes the meaningful impact of small gestures, such as taking a few moments to ensure that a name has been pronounced correctly in the courtroom as a means of creating a more inclusive and diverse working environment.

Source of inspiration

Justice Amarshi’s parents are his source of inspiration for incorporating inclusivity in his legal practice. Having immigrated to Canada in the 1970’s, Justice Amarshi’s parents embraced all things Canadian, while maintaining their Asian culture. In time, his parents appreciated all the benefits of living in Canada and had many friends from many different cultural backgrounds. Justice Amarshi’s family genuinely appreciated diversity through their experiences in Canada. The openness that his parents displayed and experienced made a lasting impression that shaped Justice Amarshi’s career and approach to his practice.

What quote has positively impacted you and why?

“I’ve heard this quote several times and it has always stuck with me: ‘Diversity is being invited to the party, inclusion is being asked to dance.’ In other words, it’s not enough to just be in the room – genuine inclusion means having a voice at the table.”


Rosel Kim

Rosel Kim

Year of Call: 2016
Location: Toronto
Role: Associate, Goodmans LLP
Practices in: Corporate and Commercial

 

Rosel is a passionate and dedicated young lawyer who has been committed to making the legal community more inclusive even before she began law school. She was a member of the Korean Canadian Lawyers Association (KCLA) executive team and is currently serving on KCLA’s Board of Directors. In her practice at Goodmans LLP, she believes that achieving greater diversity and inclusion in the legal profession is crucial, benefiting not only equity-seeking members, but the firm itself.

Inclusion within and outside the legal community

Rosel is a vocal and passionate member of the Goodmans Diversity and Inclusion Committee and is actively involved with student recruitment and mentorship. She always takes time to be a sounding board for racialized students and young lawyers.

Rosel organized and brought together the senior leaders of Roundtable of Diversity Associations with the Chair and other members of Goodmans for an honest and engaging discussion on inclusion and diversity, the benefits to, as well as the challenges in, the legal industry. She has been invited to speak about diversity in the legal profession at conferences such as the Asian Canadian Law Students Conference and Korean Canadian Lawyers Association – Student Society’s annual conference. Rosel also provides pro bono legal services to The Rose of Sharon, the only Korean-Canadian cultural nursing home in Toronto. She writes advice and lifestyle columns for Precedent magazine, where she has written on topics such as racialized law students in the job market, and opinion columns on the Law Society of Ontario’s Statement of Principles.

Rosel was selected as one of the 2017-2018 CivicAction DiverseCity Fellow, an award-winning inclusive leadership program for diverse rising leaders in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area. Through the DiverseCity Fellows program, Rosel was able to connect with other civic-minded rising leaders from diverse sectors in the GTHA region, while developing her leadership skills through individual coaching and mentoring sessions.  As part of her DiverseCity Fellowship’s group project component, Rosel co-organized and moderated a panel on Sanctuary Cities for 6 Degrees, a global forum exploring inclusion and citizenship in the 21st  century hosted by the Institute for Canadian Citizenship.

Impact of inclusion initiatives

Even as a young lawyer, Rosel has gained respect inside and outside of Goodmans LLP for her steadfast belief in the benefits of an inclusive workplace and profession. She has boldly shared her experience and contributed her viewpoints to diversity and inclusion initiatives within her firm. As a key member of the Goodmans Diversity and Inclusion Committee, the direction and initiatives of the committee have been positively influenced by Rosel’s experiences and leadership, including in educating and sharing amongst the firm of the wide array of unique cultures and knowledge of members from every part of the firm, as well as the active participation and engagement in numerous diversity and inclusive focused organizations and events.

She has also demonstrated her knowledge and skills through her pro bono work for the Rose of Sharon, helping the Korean community navigate the senior housing industry. Rosel's inclusive actions are meaningful for her and have made an incredibly positive impact on both her firm and many in the community. Rosel’s involvement with various inclusion initiatives have not only expanded her legal skills of connecting and communicating with clients, but also allowed her to put her legal skills in context where she could use her training and her privilege to effect dialogue and systemic change in her community.

What advice would Rosel give to lawyers or to law students on how to face barriers to inclusion?

“I think Audre Lorde said it best: ‘your silence will not protect you.’

Know that you are not alone; there are people who feel the way that you do and who get where you’re coming from. Remember that it’s okay – and sometimes crucial – to reach out and speak out. Take the necessary time to find your people and your community. There is strength and possibility for change in numbers.   

Understand that your success is not yours alone. You should not only work hard, but work together so that people coming after you have better opportunities and access to the necessary resources for success. If we do not ensure the success of the future generation, we are failing.”


Vanisha Sukdeo

Vanisha Sukdeo
Year of Call: 2007
Location: Toronto
Role: Course Instructor, Osgoode Hall Law School
Practices in: Research in corporate law, labour and employment law

 

Vanisha Sukdeo is a lawyer, course instructor, and Ph.D. candidate at Osgoode Hall Law School. She completed her articles at Ryder Wright Blair & Holmes LLP and the Ontario Public Services Employees Union (OPSEU) before obtaining her LL.M. from Osgoode Hall. Her current doctoral dissertation is entitled, “Regulating the Corporation from Within and Without: Corporate Governance and Workers’ Rights.” She will be publishing a book with Routledge in October 2018, entitled “Regulation and Inequality at Work.”

Inclusion in the legal community

Vanisha is a passionate instructor and invests deeply in the success of her students, by creating an inclusive and friendly learning environment, through what she calls a “pro-friendly approach.” She encourages healthy competition and participation in all classroom activities, ensuring that no one is left out or feels that their opinions do not matter. Vanisha’s approach to inclusion is noteworthy because she recognizes that many students may not feel comfortable participating in class due to aggregate factors such as gender, ethnicity, and language barriers. Vanisha is dedicated to teaching in a way that encourages students to feel welcomed and supported. Her students consistently speak highly of her and remember her teaching, even after they are well established in their practice. Vanisha has written a blog post on her teaching approach for the Canadian Association of Law Teachers (CALT), of which she is a Board Member, entitled, “Creating a Pro-Friendly Classroom.”

In addition, Vanisha takes time to go above and beyond by arranging for students to personally meet with mentors in their area of interest. She is deeply involved in her students’ professional development both inside and outside of the classroom.

Impact of inclusion initiatives

Vanisha’s inclusive teaching approach results in a long-term, positive impact on her students. Positive feedback from her students encourages Vanisha to think of new ways to make for an even better classroom experience. Vanisha stays in touch with her former students and supports their efforts to build their social networks as they advance in their careers.

What quote related to inclusion has positively impacted Vanisha and why?

As author Arundhati Roy notes, “we know of course there’s really no such thing as the ‘voiceless’. There are only the deliberately silenced, or the preferably unheard.” Whose voice is heard and whose voice is silenced? Who gets included and who is isolated? These are important questions surrounding the issues of diversity, and inclusion. I engage with these questions in my own research on worker voice and shareholder voice as well as discussions about "pro-friendly" classrooms.


Henry Poon

Henry Poon

Year of Call: 1993
Location: Toronto
Role: Assistant Crown Attorney, Ministry of the Attorney General
Practices in: Criminal Prosecutions

 

Henry is an experienced prosecutor who litigates complex criminal cases for the Ministry of the Attorney General (MAG). He has been deeply involved in Correctional Service of Canada as a member of the Regional Ethno-cultural Advisory Committee. The Committee advises the Deputy Minister of Corrections Canada on various issues of concern to offenders from ethno-cultural minority groups. Henry has contributed unique perspectives to the Committee both as a racial minority and a crown attorney. Furthermore, Henry has volunteered with the Hong Fook Mental Health Association, which promotes the mental health of people in the Cambodian, Chinese, Korean, and Vietnamese communities.

Inclusion in the community

Henry’s volunteer role at the Hong Fook Mental Health Association has provided him with a greater insight into the problems faced by the mentally ill within the justice system. In his role, Henry raises awareness on the limitations of the justice system in dealing with the mentally ill, especially when language and cultural issues are present. In order to support the mentally ill and their family members from the five East Asian communities within the Greater Toronto Area, Henry promotes mental health, diversity, and humane treatment of those afflicted through his involvement in the the Hong Fook Mental Health Association.

"As a participant in the Criminal Justice System, a crown attorney comes into almost daily contact with those afflicted with mental illness. The stigma of mental illness can often impede the fair exercise of discretion in a criminal court by officers of the court. By being cognizant of the underlying issues surrounding mental illness, and the array of support network available to those afflicted and their family members, a crown attorney is better able to deal with these cases in court."

Impact of inclusion initiatives

Henry’s significant involvement with the Hong Fook Mental Health Association has broadened both his personal and professional perspectives and enhanced his ability as a crown attorney to advocate for those afflicted with mental health issues. His involvement in the community has enabled him to be a more resourceful and inclusive public servant.

How can we better advocate for those afflicted with mental health issues?

"Mental illness does not discriminate. No race, gender, culture or creed is immune. However, cultural factors can often play a significant role in the progression and manifestation of the illness. Good advocacy should start with an understanding of the cultural background of those afflicted."


Naiyna Sharma

Naiyna Sharma

Year of Call: 2015
Location: Ottawa
Role: Legal Counsel, Justice Canada

Naiyna is the Co-Chair of Justice Canada’s Employment Equity Committee – the Advisory Committee on Women at Justice, a mentor in the National Mentoring Program for the Public Service, and a mentor in the Women’s Legal Mentorship Program – uOttawa Chapter (WLMP uOttawa Chapter). She is also the Creator and Director of the South Asian Women in the Law mentoring program. Naiyna believes in the power of mentorship and the importance of women working together to support one another in reclaiming their voice and seat at the table. She engages heavily on issues of diversity and inclusion by working to empower students and professionals to challenge systemic barriers and flourish.

Inclusion in the legal community

“Often people think in order to make a difference they have to be well established in their field, but new professionals also have something to bring.”

As a young lawyer, Naiyna recognized the lack of mentorship felt by many even well into their careers – a sentiment that is even more pronounced for racialized licensees. Having experienced the impact of these challenges and power dynamics herself, Naiyna was driven to create a free mentorship program for South Asian women studying to become, or working as paralegals and lawyers. Within 6 months, she paired over 100 women with targeted and concrete mentorship opportunities, leveraging the reach of social media. She has fostered a sense of inclusion for this segment of racialized licensees providing them with an opportunity to connect with someone familiar with their cultural background, pressures, and their time-to-time feelings of disconnectedness in the course of trying to belong and seamlessly blend their dual identities at work as both Canadian and South Asian.

As a mentor in both the Public Service’s National Mentoring program and the WLMP uOttawa Chapter, she has taken several students under her wing and spoken on panels about race, gender, and the challenges and opportunities faced by racialized licensees. She has also developed a speed mentoring event with diverse Justice professionals to support students in envisioning opportunities for success.

As Co-Chair of the Advisory Committee on Women at Justice, Naiyna brings diversity to the forefront of the Committee’s work by ensuring that activities reflect and provide representation, delve into matters from an intersectional perspective, and build synergies with other equity groups in the Department. She speaks frankly about her own challenges to help create a safe space where people can feel safe to do the same and learn and support one another. She works to ensure that everyone on the Committee don’t just have a seat at the table, but a voice as well, and that they feel respected, heard, and valued.

Source of inspiration

“Working on issues of diversity and inclusion, and with women and women of colour is dear to my heart. In finding outlets such as the mentoring programs and the Committee, I went from feeling the gap, and at times wondering if I would be swallowed up whole by it, to addressing it and working to fill it. I carry this sense of fulfillment over in to my day to day work life, my environment, and it boosts my overall engagement and interest in my field, and in making authentic connections that promote learning and growth and overall development. I find myself asking what more can I do with what I have, and how can I use it to make things better. Keeping that sense of purpose is invaluable, and when you are moving from that space, things seem to almost naturally align to help support you in achieving it”.

What advice would Naiyna give to lawyers or to law students on how to face barriers to inclusion?

“Do not shrink in the face of adversity and allow yourself to feel and be reduced to a checkmark against a diversity quota. For every rung of the ladder you climb, door you open, room you walk in to, and table you sit at where no one looks like you, you inspire countless other individuals who see themselves in you to follow suit, and provide representation to those who need it most. #whydiversitymatters”


Vince Wong

Vince Wong

Year of Call: 2014
Location: Toronto
Role: Staff Lawyer, Chinese and Southeast Asian Legal Clinic
Practices in: Poverty law

As a staff lawyer at the Chinese and Southeast Asian Legal Clinic, Vince advises low-income, non-English-speaking Chinese and Southeast Asian community members in the areas of immigration, citizenship, employment, landlord and tenant, and social assistance law. His work at the Clinic underscores the importance of the community legal clinic system as a whole and ethnolinguistic legal clinics in particular to achieving access to justice and the realization of equality before the law. Vince hopes to further his work in social justice as an LLM Human Rights Fellow at Columbia Law School this Fall.

Inclusion within and outside of the legal community

Vince advocates for solutions to systemic issues that limit the realization of rights of low-income racialized communities. Through the Colour of Poverty - Colour of Change Network, Vince participated in advocacy to establish Ontario's Anti-Racism Directorate and the Anti-Racism Act, 2017. He has presented on issues affecting Chinese and Southeast Asian communities before all levels of government at the domestic level, as well as at the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination and the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

To tackle systemic barriers within the legal community, Vince has provided mentorship and support for new calls and students. Vince has previously organized panels on building successful solo practices for new calls and has participated on panels advising young racialized lawyers and students on recruitment advice for social justice and legal aid positions.

Vince is a former FACL Ontario director. He founded FACL's Community Outreach Committee, which works with Asian communities and service organizations to improve public legal education and access to justice and to better connect the private Asian Canadian bar with pro bono community opportunities.  

Moreover, through his personal blog posts, articles with the Huffington Post, and publications and submissions presented in conjunction with community organizations, Vince brings fresh insights to the dialogue on inclusion of low-income racialized communities in society and keeps their needs on the forefront of the public’s consciousness.

Breaking down language barriers

"Language is one of the critical barriers that prevents the full inclusion and realization of many of our communities. Many people are unable to access basic services or enforce fundamental rights because of lack of interpretation or translation services. Further, many people feel emboldened exploiting or taking advantage of linguistic minorities knowing that they face difficulties understanding their rights or where to go for help. Having linguistically and culturally appropriate services (including legal services) is critical in empowering communities, bridging knowledge and resource gaps, and realizing inclusion on a deep and systemic level.

My Cantonese was actually very limited when I started out at the Clinic. I only really used it with my parents and was embarrassed speaking in Cantonese to others. Avvy (our Clinic director) and the Board really went out on a limb when they hired me! However, what I realized is that language skills could be learned. What was harder to find were people that genuinely cared about others in less fortunate positions and were courageous enough to speak out on their behalf. That is what I learned from the dedicated staff at our Clinic and from our former director Gary Yee - who also had very limited Chinese when he started!”

What quote related to inclusion has positively impacted Vince and why?

“Inclusion cannot begin without empathy and understanding. I remember in law school, I stumbled upon an amazing quote from Martin Luther King Jr that I try to take as seriously as I can, even today:

‘An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.’"


Rakhi Ruparelia

Rakhi Ruparelia

Year of Call: 2003
Location: Ottawa
Role: Associate Professor, University of Ottawa - Faculty of Law
Practices in: Anti-Racism and Social Justice Advocacy

Through her teaching, scholarship, and advocacy, Professor Ruparelia has dedicated herself to the advancement of racial justice and equality for women. She challenges students, lawyers, and members of the public to become aware of the pernicious ways that racism infects law as well as society more generally, and urges them to become agents of change.

Her passion for social justice, inspired also by her background in social work, brought her to Ohio before she returned to academia. In Cincinnati, she established and directed a community legal clinic to assist ex-prisoners with legal issues impeding their successful transition back to society.

Inclusion within and outside the legal community

As an educator, Professor Ruparelia inspires her students both inside and outside of the classroom to become socially aware and responsible, to examine their own biases, and to strategize creative ways to effect social change. She also acts as a mentor to many law students, especially young women and racialized students, providing countless hours of support in both formal and informal ways.

Moreover, Professor Ruparelia has translated her commitment to innovative and inclusive pedagogical practices into engaging and accessible scholarship, publishing an award-winning article on the challenges of teaching law students about racism that has been embraced in other faculties as well. She is also one of only a few legal scholars in Canada whose work focuses on racism.

Outside of the university, she has volunteered for community organizations as well as professional bodies. For example, she has served on the National Standing Committee on Equity of the Canadian Bar Association (CBA) and the National Steering Committee of the National Association of Women and the Law (NAWL). In addition, Professor Ruparelia has conducted judicial training on sexual assault law and intimate partner abuse, and has worked with the National Judicial Institute to organize anti-racism training for judges.

Impact of inclusion initiatives

“It is a tremendous gift personally and professionally to be able to do the work that I love and to be given an opportunity to make a meaningful impact through teaching, scholarship, and community involvement. Shaping the next generation of lawyers and watching them grow into thoughtful, informed, and responsible members of the legal profession is both a privilege and a joy.”

What quote related to inclusion has positively impacted Professor Ruparelia?

“I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own. And I am not free as long as one person of Colo[u]r remains chained. Nor is any one of you.” - Audre Lorde


Helen Liu

Helen Liu

Year of Call: 2014
Location: Toronto
Role: Associate Senior Counsel, Intact Financial Corporation 
Practices in: Corporate and Regulatory Insurance

 

Helen has been a diversity and inclusion influencer since she started her law career. She is Associate Senior Counsel at Intact Financial Corporation. Prior to joining Intact, Helen was counsel at another national insurance company and at the Ministry of the Attorney General, Financial Services Commission of Ontario. Helen is currently the Vice-Chair of the Canadian Corporate Counsel Association Ontario Chapter, a Section of the Ontario Bar Association. Helen received her B.C.L./LL.B. from McGill University and provides legal services in both English and French.

Fostering inclusion and diversity

As an executive member of the CCCA Ontario Chapter, Helen has taken on a number of diversity and inclusion initiatives within the in-house legal community. One prominent example occured in the Fall of 2017, where Helen organized a joint CCCA-FACL event -- the first time a Section of the OBA has partnered with an equity-seeking organization to produce a professional development session. Within the CCCA itself, Helen has also played an active role in encouraging her colleagues to attend and participate in events hosted by the Law Society's equity committee and by diversity forums (e.g. FACL, SABA, CABL).

Outside of her involvement with the CCCA, Helen authored an article, "In-House Influence: Demanding Diversity and Inclusion",  which was published in JUST magazine on December 18, 2017. Discussing the the need and ability for in-house departments to give effect to a meaningful cultural shift for diversity and inclusion, Helen has further exemplified her determination in fostering greater inclusion and diversity within the legal profession.  

Importance of sharing experiences

“I feel lucky to have always worked in legal departments that value diversity and inclusion. However, I recognize that there is still work that needs to be done to move the needle within the legal community generally, as outlined in the Law Society's report on racialized licensees. Rather than focusing on the negative experiences of visible minorities, my approach is to share with my network the positive experiences I've had working in legal teams that are diverse and that value inclusion, and to use these positive experiences as an incentive to move forward.”

What advice would Helen give to lawyers or to law students on how to face barriers to inclusion?

"Corporations and organizations know that, in this day and age, in order to succeed both as an industry leader that innovates and as a best employer that attracts top talent, they must not only be composed of a diverse workforce, but they must also be champions of diversity and inclusion, at all levels and across all departments, with senior management being role models. As a young lawyer, participate in your organization's diversity initiatives, volunteer with equity-seeking groups outside of your organization, and take on pro bono work (if possible) where you can advocate for those who have been the subject of discrimination. In short, be an inclusive leader and don't be shy to showcase your efforts!"