May is Asian Heritage Month. This month we’re excited to highlight the inclusive efforts made by pan-Asian Canadian lawyers in Ontario.
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.
Year of Call: 1985
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.”
Year of Call: 2014
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
Year of Call: 2002 (New York State Bar)
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
Year of Call: 2002
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.”
Year of Call: 2016
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.”
Year of Call: 2007
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.
Year of Call: 1993
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.”
Year of Call: 2015
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
Year of Call: 2014
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.’”
Year of Call: 2003
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
Year of Call: 2014
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!”
Year of Call: 2000
Role: Vice-Chairperson, Canadian Human Rights Tribunal
Practices in: Government; quasi-judicial law
Susheel has advocated for victims of crime from all backgrounds for over 20 years. He was one of the main voices behind the successful call for an inquiry into the bombing of Air India Flight 182, which killed 329 innocent individuals, including Susheel’s mother. Despite the adversity, he is now the Vice-Chairperson of the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal. He is also a recognized expert in computer crime, IT security threats, criminal law, human rights law, and privacy as a former advisor and counsel to the federal government.
Susheel believes that inclusion requires active thinking about other’s needs from their perspectives. With this mindset, Susheel volunteers his time nationally and internationally, teaching law enforcement agencies and governments the law with a focus on cultural sensitivity to victims of crime. He also strengthens the legal community through informal mentoring, by encouraging legal professionals to approach challenges with different lenses.
Susheel further collaborates with international victims rights’ organizations to create an environment where people from diverse backgrounds are comfortable to speak their views. Susheel speaks publicly about the experiences he had as a new immigrant to Canada and the challenges he and his family confronted over the years. Having gained respect within the criminal justice community as a lawyer and victim, Susheel uses his voice to engage with organizations, to improve their relationships with various cultural communities, and to move them outside of their silos towards greater collaboration.
What advice does Susheel have for lawyers to find the courage to speak up about inclusive challenges?
“As lawyers, we must remember that we are advocates and our role is to speak on behalf of those who may not have the power or knowledge or strength to do so. We have a responsibility to find the strength within ourselves to highlight what we see as wrong, what we see that excludes people and correct those wrongs. As lawyers we are all well positioned to try to be the voice to champion diversity and inclusion.”
Year of Call: 1996
Role: Principal Lawyer, Lee and Company
Practices in: Immigration litigation
Wennie firmly believes that the pursuit of a just and inclusive society is an essential pillar of our multicultural Canadian society. She is the recipient of the 2018 Outstanding Asian Canadian award from the Canadian Multicultural Council – Asians in Ontario (CMC). She is committed to maintaining the rule of law in all aspects of her Canadian immigration law practice. She started her legal career with a leading Bay street law firm but changed her course of practice when she was approached to help urgently stop a deportation. Having little experience in immigration enforcement law, she argued the motion before the Federal Court while the airplane was held at the gate with all the passengers on it. The judge granted the stay order and her clients were allowed to disembark. Since then she has never looked back and has practiced exclusively in immigration litigation.
Overcoming intercultural communication barriers
Wennie incorporates inclusion in all aspects of her practice. Her firm’s clients, staff, and business associates reflect the full spectrum of Canadian society. Moreover, her firm takes on many pro-bono cases for marginalized and racialized communities, including the Asian, African and Roma communities.
In her practice, Wennie often finds that her clients struggle to overcome barriers associated with intercultural communication. Wennie is attentive to the challenges that her clients face and is proactive in developing strategies to ensure that every client is understood and treated fairly. Wennie believes there is tremendous value in understanding the cultural subtexts that accompany each client, such as their background and the culturally imbibed preferences that influence their life choices. Effectively understanding an individual’s cultural context ensures that each client feels understood, especially since many of the firm’s clients have experienced marginalization or persecution and often struggle with feelings of being vulnerable and misunderstood.
Impact of inclusive initiatives
Wennie has tackled many difficult cases which have been described as being disruptive to the prevailing norms of the day. She often finds herself defending unpopular positions or standing up for clients that command limited public support. Despite the personal costs of doing so, Wennie remains convinced that certain positions are necessary to take in the service of a more just and inclusive world.
What quote related to inclusion has positively impacted Wennie and why?
The following quote from Margaret Mead reminds Wennie that each diverse human gift is deserving of a fitting place in our society, but we may have to fight for each to be woven into our social fabric: “If we are to achieve a richer culture, rich in contrasting values, we must recognize the whole gamut of human potentialities, and so weave a less arbitrary social fabric, one in which each diverse human gift will find a fitting place.”
Year of Call: 2011
Role: Lawyer at Fleet Street Law and Professor at Ryerson University
Practices in: Civil Litigation
Omar is a lawyer, an applied legal academic, a social media leader, and a mentor to legal professionals and students. He places inclusion and diversity at the forefront of his initiatives and goes great lengths to help others develop professionally and personally. He holds an LLM in Health Law from Osgoode and was named one of the top 12 social media influencers in 2011. In 2017, Omar received the Ted Rogers School of Management Teaching Award for Contract Lecturers at Ryerson University.
Creating inclusive spaces with a pay-it-forward attitude
Omar is engaged in the development and betterment of diversity in our profession and community. His involvement has allowed him to better connect with and create inclusive spaces for various communities. He has written about the Statement of Principles and participated in a workshop to explore the evolution of LGBTQ2 Inclusion, focusing on the upcoming decision by the Supreme Court of Canada in Trinity Western University, et al. v. Law Society of Upper Canada. In 2015, he received the OBA Foundation Award for exceptional contributions to improving the justice system and public legal education. He is the past Co-Chair of the Ontario Bar Association’s Young Lawyers Division (Toronto). Omar is also a member of the Self-Rep Navigators, a group dedicated to helping self-representatives. In 2012, he was awarded the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee medal for promoting access to justice and advocacy on behalf of marginalized and discriminated populations.
In the community, he has been recognized as a leader who immediately mobilizes to create opportunities to help others succeed. He actively volunteers to make youth, newcomers to Canada, and others feel like they belong. Recently, he helped organize a blood drive following the Toronto van attack, coinciding with the grand opening of a new permanent Canadian Blood Services clinic at the Hudson Bay Centre on May 4, 2018.
Source of inspiration
“A particularly inspiring individual has been Lee Akazaki, Past President of the Ontario Bar Association (OBA), who I first met while he was speaking at a FACL conference. He was speaking about the discriminatory challenges he faced earlier in his career, but did so without seeming angry, bitter, or resentful. I saw Lee there, as President of the largest legal organization in Ontario, and it told me that he was able to overcome those obstacles to achieve his professional goals. Lee helped ensure I was fully involved in in the OBA, an organization I have found to always be welcoming, inclusive, and supportive of my career. His support, and many of our peers in our profession, have demonstrated to me first-hand what collegiality, professionalism, and a dedication to fostering a community can have towards creating a sense of belonging.”
What is Omar’s advice to build inclusion?
“Inclusion is more than simply having diversity in representation. It requires that all stakeholders champion equity issues, and that only happens if they are fully included in the planning, implementation, and evaluation as well. The most important thing to do when building inclusion is to be careful not to create artificial barriers or exclusion of those not targeted by an equity measure. We want to have champions and allies across the spectrum in order to foster better engagement, not promote identity politics and generate further divisions or tribalism. The process for achieving the former is in fact very different, and requires deconstruction of identities and a collaborative approach for all those involved.”
Year of Call: 2016
Role: Associate, Stikeman Elliott LLP
Practices in: Commercial Real Estate
Alexandra is an advocate for diversity in law. She is a mentor and volunteer at the Women’s Law Association of Ontario (WLAO) Mentoring Program, responsible for matching female lawyer mentors to associate and student mentees. She also sits as a Member-at-Large at the Ontario Bar Association (OBA) Women’s Law Forum and the Real Property Law Section. Outside of work, she volunteers as a mentor to newcomer professionals through CultureLink Settlement & Community Services. These organizations assist women, young professionals, and newcomers to Canada.
The importance of mentorship and support
“At first, I was afraid of being outspoken about needing better representation and mentorship. I later realized that if I did great work, a great employer would want to support me and others like me. I have often done my volunteer work late in the evenings or between appointments because I know how important it can be to find a mentor you can turn to when you may not have access to similar people in your social circles. Through my work with the WLAO and through my personal experience, I have learned that a phone call or coffee with someone could be the catalyst someone needs to improve their circumstances. If someone is reaching out, they are ready to make a change.”
What inspired Alexandra to promote inclusion in the community?
“I am an immigrant, a first-generation lawyer, a woman, was born in Venezuela, and am ethnically Chinese, so I understand the struggle of feeling like you do not belong. Because I have often felt like the odd one out, I have felt it is important to share my experience so others know they are not the only ones suffering from ‘impostor syndrome’ and they have earned their accomplishments.”
What advice would Alexandra give to law students and professionals to be more inclusive mentors?
“Look back and recognize the support you have had and continue to have, then pay it forward. You can help by simply being someone a mentee can talk to so they do not feel they are facing those challenges alone. Many of us put on a brave face during law school, the job search, articling, and in private practice, but it does not mean that we did not have challenges to conquer. Although you may not meet someone exactly like you, you can often find common ground and give helpful advice.”
Year of Call: 2009
Role: Director, Compliance & Legal, Sym-Tech Dealer Services
Practices in: Corporate/Commercial
Jeffrey is a lawyer and entrepreneur who has dedicated his career to building connections amongst the Asian-Canadian legal community. He is a former FACL Director and has recently helped to launch FACL GTA North to continue bringing people together. After completing his articles, he worked at McMillan LLP before launching an online business in the legal industry. After spending some time in the business world, he returned to practice and moved in-house where he is able to take a more business-minded approach to law.
“To me, the most effective inclusive actions are those that disregard degrees, designations and/or labels, and provide people from groups that lack opportunities to shine to step up to the plate and show the world what they have to offer. I have been the beneficiary of the generosity of inclusive leaders and I hope to continue in their example. Whether it is working with students, colleagues searching for jobs or coworkers looking to excel, I want to help others succeed and build connections. Recently, I had the chance to organize the inaugural FACL GTA North event with Ron Trac and Vivian Li and we met a lot of amazing people – from senior partners to students in first year. After the event, I had a chance to connect further with some students and share career and life experiences. By meeting people from different backgrounds and life experiences, I have gained invaluable insight, professionally and personally.”
Source of inspiration
Daniel Mark, the late Crown Prosecutor and Counsel to Senior Management with the Ministry of the Attorney General, is Jeffrey’s source of inspiration. “[Daniel’s] generosity knew no bounds. He would meet with university students considering law school and encourage them to join the profession, spending hours over coffee about what he loved about it. He would support fledgling, non-profit organizations with his time, money and networks. He never judged and he always encouraged – he pulled you up and pushed you to succeed. Daniel Mark is my definition of the consummate inclusive leader.”
What is the benefit of, and how can one build, an inclusive and unconventional career path?
“Unconventional career paths help lawyers break out of their risk adverse nature and see the world from different perspectives. The more perspectives that we have in the legal community, the more likely we are to come to the right answers.
In my case, I believe that starting a business has given me an unique perspective on law. It has helped me to approach issues in a more business and solutions-oriented manner, and has helped me to better understand the perspective of business people.”
Jeffrey shared the following steps to build an inclusive and unconventional career path:
- “Develop a plan – sketch out what you want to achieve, what resources you require to get there, and who can help you get there.
- Build relationships and never burn bridges – the people you know will help you succeed with your unconventional path or they’ll help you back to the practice of law if you change your mind.
- Share your plan – first with your partner, but then your friends and your network. They will help you in ways you would never imagine.”
Year of Call: 1994
Role: National Director of Diversity and Inclusion, BLG
Practices in: Diversity and Inclusion
Laleh began her practice at BLG as a litigator focusing on health law. Afterwards she moved into talent management where her responsibilities included recruitment, mentoring, career development, performance management and continuing legal education. In her talent management role, Laleh had already openly shared her own experiences with the view to creating a safe space for others to share. Laleh is now the National Director of Diversity and Inclusion at BLG. In 2017 the Canadian Centre for Diversity and Inclusion (CCDI) named Laleh as the Diversity and Inclusion Practitioner of the Year. This award is designed to recognize individuals who have made a significant contribution to Diversity and Inclusion in Canada.
In Laleh’s role as National Director of Diversity and Inclusion, she has implemented initiatives that focus on inclusion, thereby, ensuring that all firm members can bring their true selves to work, are heard and have equal access to opportunities. For example, In the spring of 2016, Laleh implemented a national Trans Inclusivity and Accommodation policy and one year later, worked with and supported BLG’s first employee who underwent a gender transition on the job. Laleh speaks publicly about inclusion, and conducts training on bias and inclusion. She also creates a space for dialogue at the firm by inviting well known speakers, such as Hadiya Roderique, so firm members understand they are not alone.
Over the years Laleh has mentored many students and lawyers both inside and outside the firm. While mentors provide advice and support, Laleh goes beyond by being proactive and taking purposeful action. She takes a personal interest in people and brings her genuine warmth and commitment to everything that she does. People who have worked with Laleh describe her as an approachable, helpful and trustworthy person who advocates for inclusion at every opportunity and who provides a safe environment for lawyers to share.
What advice do you have for those who wish to support the inclusion of racialized students and lawyers?
“Listen to the experiences of those who are different from you with open minds and open hearts and don’t minimize their experiences and feelings.”
Henry J. Chang
Year of Call: 1992
Role: Partner, Blaney McMurtry LLP
Practices in: Corporate/Commercial and Corporate Immigration
Henry has long been a fierce proponent of racial inclusion and mentorship in the Canadian legal profession. His law practice focuses on cross-border legal issues, including business and mobility. He is licensed to practice law in the Province of Ontario and the State of California. Henry is consistently ranked as one of Canada’s top lawyers by the Canadian Legal Lexpert Directory, Who’s Who Legal, and Best Lawyers; he also holds an AV Preeminent rating with Martindale-Hubbell.
As a young lawyer starting his career during the early 1990s, Henry was part of a distinctly small minority of Asian-Canadian lawyers in Toronto. This dearth of racialized mentors in the Canadian legal profession had a significant impact on his professional career. He endured numerous hardships during the early years of his practice, which might have been avoided if senior members of the bar had been available to guide him.
Now a senior member of the bar himself, Henry seeks to help the newer generation of Asian-Canadian lawyers avoid the pitfalls that he encountered. He makes sure to set aside time each week to provide mentorship to young racialized lawyers, sharing his insights on career and business development, and supporting their advancement in the legal profession. He can also be found connecting with younger Pan-Asian lawyers at the various professional events in which he participates.
Importance of mentorship and support
“Helping younger racialized lawyers avoid the many mistakes that I made early in my career has given me a sense of purpose, knowing that in some small way I am helping many of them avoid the hardships that I suffered before ultimately achieving career success.”
What advice would Henry give to lawyers or to law students on how to face barriers to inclusion?
“Sometimes, the hardships that you encounter will have nothing to do with your own failings; they will be due to circumstances beyond your control. Barriers to inclusion are an example of this. However, the manner in which you deal with these hardships will determine how they affect you.
I am reminded of a well-known quote that is probably considered more of a cliché these days but it is still appropriate here: ‘When fate hands us a lemon, let’s try to make lemonade.’
If you encounter hardship, always try to find a way around it – a different way of achieving your objective. Even if you learn that there is no other way around, take comfort in knowing that you will eventually overcome it. Giving up only serves the interests of those who are trying to hold you back.”
Year of Call: 1993
Role: Partner, Osler, Hoskin & Harcourt LLP
Practices in: Intellectual Property
May Cheng is a partner at Osler and a Certified Specialist in Intellectual Property. She has practised on Bay Street while volunteering in the Chinese community. May served on both the national and Toronto chapters of the Chinese Canadian National Council (CCNC), and was instrumental in the launch of the Head Tax Redress litigation as Chair of the Redress Campaign. She fundraises for the Chinese community, including Yee Hong and Asian Community AIDS Services (ACAS). She has also advanced women in law by mentoring, and serving on the Justicia Project and other equity initiatives of the Law Society. Recently, as a committee member of the Diverse Champions for Diversity, she helped organize a pitching event for 30 companies and over 60 diverse lawyers to improve the diversity of external counsel.
Importance of inclusion
“If you look at history, each minority group has advanced rights for their group once they are allowed to participate. Kew Dock Yip, the first Asian Canadian lawyer, was instrumental in the repeal of the Chinese (Exclusion) Act. This is not a coincidence. It’s about representing the group in a broader context and in using mainstream means to achieve meaningful change. Improving the system from within and bringing your voice by sitting at the table. It’s always been more effective than demonstrating on the sidelines, although that also can draw attention to a cause.”
How inclusion plays a role in May’s work and working with colleagues
“I see so many promising young people from all backgrounds joining the profession and trying to break into mainstream law jobs on Bay Street. Many don’t get the chance because of factors that can include race and discrimination. Sometimes ‘fit’ may be about unconscious bias. As an Asian Canadian woman of mixed heritage, I am very sensitive to these issues and like to think that I contribute by not only being a role model but looking to promote and support young men and women from diverse backgrounds succeed in the profession. I take lots of coffee and lunch meetings with new calls looking for jobs, and associates looking to forge and plan their career paths. I see that as part of my payback to the community and for the privilege that I enjoy as one of the people who has made it to this point in my career.”
What inspired May to be inclusive in this way, and what can other lawyers do to be more inclusive?
“I honestly believe that inclusion brings the best and the brightest to the table, and makes us a better firm and a better profession. I also feel that inclusion can be rewarding for everyone. I have suffered the effects of feeling excluded myself, so I know how difficult it is for people to find their comfort zone. Inclusion is not about conformity, it’s about embracing differences and accepting people the way they are, with their perspectives. Selfishly, I want to see more women and visible minorities at the partnership level, because it’s so much better for all of us if there is more of us to share the load.
One simple thing you can do as a partner is spend a little time getting to know female and visible minority associates over coffee or lunch. This allows you to be a sounding board for their questions and make them feel valued. Take the time to participate in firm and client events, and invite them along, even if they are already invited. Sometimes people need a nudge to participate and feel welcomed. I also try to share stories of my own experiences whenever I can, because it makes associates relax and know they are not alone in their struggles. The perceived need to “fit in” can be daunting for anyone, until you learn that others can appreciate what you bring to the table, even if it’s offbeat.
Senior partners can also play a role by including associates at client lunches instead of dinners (where associates may have young families to get home to), and agreeing to host client events that don’t just involve drinking or sporting events like golf.
Finally, I think that associates also need to be proactive in finding mentors and not be afraid to sit at the table. Associates need to build their profile and not just depend on partners to “feed” work to them over time. The successful transition to partner requires building not just a skillset, but a practice with your own client base. Community involvement can also lead to great contacts for future work, giving you a sense of purpose and building your profile within the community.”
Year of Call: 1980
Role: Associate Professor, Osgoode Hall Law School
Practices in: Indigenous Rights, Human Rights, International Corporate Accountability
Professor Imai is currently a professor emeritus at Osgoode Hall Law School. He has had a wealth of experience practising in the field of human rights, Indigenous law and corporate accountability. This experience includes having worked at Keewaytinok Native Legal Services in Monsonee, started his own practice with a focus on immigration and human rights law after being called to the bar, and further developed Alternative Dispute Resolution programs and justice projects in Indigenous communities when he worked at the Ontario Ministry of the Attorney General.
Outside of academia, Professor Imai currently serves as the director of the Justice and Corporate Accountability Project. The Justice and Corporate Accountability Project is a volunteer-driven, community-based legal clinic that cultivates expertise in supporting Indigenous communities in the Americas and other communities in Africa.
Understanding community needs
Professor Imai is dedicated to inclusion through his community-focused approach to teaching social justice. He believes that the best way future lawyers can play a positive role in social justice work is to be sensitive and flexible to the different internal dynamics and social forces affecting community needs. For example, one of the exercises he uses is called “The Colour of God’s Shoes”. He asks students to write down the colour of God’s shoes. Of course, the question is non-sensical and students answer in a variety of ways, ranging from “God has no feet” to “God does not exist”, to “brown sandals.” The point of the exercise is to show that asking questions that make no sense gets you answers that make no sense. “You need to educate yourself about the community you are working in, even before you start asking questions.”
Professor Imai’s inclusive and community-based approach to teaching has been recognized by his faculty. He was awarded the Excellence in Teaching Award at Osgoode Hall in 2004 and 2007, as well as the University-wide Teaching Award in 2010.
His counter-pedagogical teaching style encourages young lawyers to look beyond skills that are taught in the mainstream curriculum including teaching young lawyers how to collaborate with the community by creating a collaborative teaching environment, rather than covering the topic in a single class. Through Professor Imai’s inclusive approach to teaching, his students learn how to acknowledge their own personal identity, race, and emotions, as well as how to take a community perspective on legal problems.
In order to create a safe place, he tells every class that each one has multiple identities, and he sets out how students should try to navigate their identities. First, letting people know that they may hurt other people’s feelings without even knowing it, and that the proper reaction is not to blame the person whose feelings were hurt, but rather to apologize and understand why their feelings were hurt. Second, if someone says something that hurts the student’s feelings, the proper reaction is not to accuse the speaker of racism or sexism, but to explain how the remark impacted the student.
What advice would Professor Imai give to lawyers and to law students on collaborating with a community to create a more inclusive environment?
“For Asian lawyers and children of immigrants in general (and I am one) there is pressure from your parents and from your community to show success. My mother always told me that I had to do better than the white kids in my class in order to be treated equal to them. Combine this with the competition for grades in law school, or the thrust and parry of litigating, it is easy to treat people you are dealing with as objectified barriers that need to be overcome in order for you to achieve your success. Objectifying the ‘other’, however, means objectifying yourself. Lawyers have a very high rate of addictions and suicides, and I relate this to the loss of humanity. So my advice to lawyers and law students about working with clients, communities and with each other is this: in order to keep your humanity, respect the humanity in others.”