Candidate bio description
I was Called to the Bar in 2012. Since my Call, I have practiced exclusively in the area of labour, employment and human rights law. I have worked in a variety of legal work settings, including in-house lawyer and sole-practitioner. I hold degrees in Biology, Political Science and Law from the University of Western Ontario, University of Toronto and University of Ottawa, respectively. I have also acted as an Adjudicator with the Ontario Licence Appeal Tribunal. I was recently the President of the Canadian Association of Somali Lawyers, and former council member of the Ontario Bar Association and I also served on the Board of Directors of the Centre for Equality Rights in Accommodation (CERA). I am also a member of the Canadian Association of Black Lawyers.
What inspired you to run for bencher this year?
I am running for Bencher because I want to add fresh, strong and new ideas to the Law Society of Ontario with respect to diversity and inclusion, transparency and financial accountability. Currently, there are no benchers who have less than 10 years of legal experience. As a result, junior lawyers and new calls are excluded from issues which directly affect us, including the articling shortage, early support regarding the business/practice of law and discrimination/respect/harassment issues. Also, there are current benchers and bencher candidates who have advocated for diversity and inclusion in the profession and yet practice law in almost all-white law firms. We need honest and genuine benchers with lived experience who are willing to speak truth to power on this issue.
What do you believe is the biggest issue facing the legal profession?
The biggest issue facing the legal profession is the systemic racism facing racialized lawyers. This issue directly affects the public interest since qualified lawyers are being excluded from opportunities within the legal profession. Following law school, a racialized colleague of mine felt compelled to change his name because he believed that he was being excluded from legal opportunities. Once he changed his name to an Anglicized name, he said that he started receiving calls for interviews from law firm and other legal employers. I have heard stories from colleagues who wear hijab and have been unable to secure legal opportunities despite their qualifications. There are stories from racialized lawyers who worked at law firms, including "social justice" law firms and have experienced discriminatory slurs and treatment from senior lawyers. These are small examples of the countless stories from racialized lawyers who have been excluded from opportunities and treated with indignity. This should not happen in 2019. Unfortunately, the Law Society's current measures addressing discrimination and racism in the legal profession are insufficient.
What would be your first priority upon election?
We need to strengthen the Law Society's tools to improve diversity and inclusion and combat racism and discrimination in the profession. I want to amend the By-Laws to provide the Harassment and Discrimination Counsel with the same powers as the Law Society's Investigation Counsel. Currently, the powers of the Harassment and Discrimination Counsel are relegated to advice. There is no reason why the Harassment and Discrimination Counsel cannot have the same investigatory powers as the Investigations Department. Discrimination and Harassment are professionalism and regulatory issues which deserve strong enforcement from the Law Society.
What do you hope to achieve over the next four years as a member of Convocation?
1) Diversity and Inclusion: Strengthening the powers of the Discrimination and Harassment Counsel to include the same investigatory powers as the Law Society’s Investigation Counsel; Including an anti-racism lens to the Rules of Professional Conduct and clearly addressing unconscious bias and systemic discrimination as professionalism issues. Practising law is a privilege, not a right. Therefore, the Law Society needs to treat discrimination as a serious professionalism and regulatory issue. Promoting name-blind recruitment practices for law firms to reduce conscious or unconscious bias. 2) Transparency: An independent bar should also be a transparent and accountable one. As Bencher, I will work towards making the Law Society’s activities more transparent and accountable. I believe the Law Society should be subject to provincial freedom of information legislation. As Bencher, I will commit to advocating the Government of Ontario for the inclusion of the Law Society under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act. Other law societies in Canada, including the Law Society of British Columbia, are currently subject to their respective provincial freedom of information legislation. There is no reason why the Law Society of Ontario cannot follow suit. 3) Financial Accountability: The Law Society should respect the annual fees collected from lawyers. There is no reason why the Law Society agreed to spend $1.2 million dollars on a marketing campaign following the Law Society’s recent name change to the Law Society of Ontario. As Bencher, I will commit to respecting and reducing the annual fees collected from lawyers. I will also advocate for responsible spending in order to provide additional practice supports and resources to lawyers including smaller firms, new calls and sole practitioners. Supports would include: practice review preparation, audit preparation, and expanded mental health supports.
What's the most pressing concern for the profession in your region of the province?
The Toronto Region is the most diverse region and contains most of the lawyers practicing in Ontario. However, that diversity is not reflective in Toronto law firms. As a result, many qualified lawyers from diverse backgrounds are excluded from opportunities in the profession. Lawyers should be provided with opportunities based on merit. Based on the findings from Law Society's Challenges Facing Racialized Licensees Report, there is no doubt that discrimination and racism is alive and well in the legal profession. As the regulator, the Law Society needs to take concrete and clear action to address this issue. The measures taken so far, including the Statement of Principles and the EDI requirement, are clearly insufficient. The Law Society needs to treat discrimination and racism as regulatory violations and take appropriate action.
Do you support the requirement to create and abide by a statement of principles?
Yes, but I feel the Statement of Principles does not go far enough. The fact that some privileged members of the profession are vigorously against the Statement of Principles is an embarrassment to our profession. Under the Rules of Professional Conduct, lawyers already have a special responsibility to abide by the Ontario Human Rights Code and not engage in discrimination and harassment. Also, lawyers already wear gowns, bow in Court, and also say "Your Honour/Your Worship" in court. This is not a "compelled speech" issue. The reality is that some compulsion on expression is already tolerated by lawyers yet the far less intrusive requirement to abide by the Statement of Principles is being vigorously opposed by some on academic and theoretical grounds. The Statement of Principles merely reflect the Ontario Human Rights Code and the anti-discrimination provisions of the Rules of Professional Conduct. It's also unfortunate that these lawyers are offering no solutions to address the systemic racism and discrimination which is plaguing the legal profession. We need benchers who will stand strong against this opposition. Anti-racism in the profession is non-negotiable.