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Isfahan Merali

City of Toronto Electoral Region
Isfahan Merali

Candidate bio description

Membership & Service
Bencher, Toronto Region, The Law Society of Ontario: Chair, Tribunal Committee; Vice-Chair, Equity & Aboriginal Issues Committee; Member, Priority and Planning Committee; Member, Implementation Task Force on Mental Health; Member, LL.D. & Awards Committee; Member, Indigenous Review Panel
Tribunal Member, Hearing & Appeal Division, Law Society Tribunal
Trustee, Law Foundation of Ontario
South Asian Bar Association of Toronto, Member & Mentor
Canadian Black Lawyers Association (CABL) Speed Mentoring Event, 2017
Volunteer Mock Trial Judge, Ontario Law Day Mock Trial, OBA/OJEN Mock Trial Programme for High School Students, April 2017
Volunteer Mock Trial Appeal Judge, Julius Alexander Isaac Diversity Moot, Black Law Students’ Association of Canada, February 2017
Panel Judge, Precedent Setter Award, 2016
Equity Advisory Group, Member, The Law Society of Upper Canada, 2009-2015
Osgoode Public Interest Program & The Advocate's Society, Mental Health Law Program, Former Mentor
Association of Law Officers of the Crown (ALOC), Member and Former Member of Bargaining Team (2007-2009) & ALOC Branch Representative (2006 to present)
Ministry of the Attorney General, Diversity Committee, Former Member
Ministry of the Attorney General, Mentoring Committee, Former Member
Society of Ontario Adjudicators and Regulators (SOAR), Member
Ontario Bar Association, Member (Administrative, Constitutional & Human Rights, Criminal, Family and Elder Law Section Member)
The Advocates Society, Member
Women’s Law Association of Ontario, Member
Federation of Asian Canadian Lawyers, Associate Member
Ronald MacDonald House, Sick Children’s Hospital, Former Volunteer
International Human Rights Programme/Women’s Human Rights Website (WHRR), Faculty of Law, Univ. of Toronto, Former Volunteer
Pro Bono Students Canada, Former Project Supervisor & Mentor
St. Albans Boy’s & Girls Club, Former Volunteer
Law in Action within Schools (LAWS), Former Volunteer
Action Canada for Population and Development, Former Board Director
Human Rights Internet, Former Board Director
Horizon Alternative Senior School, Former Co-Chair, School Advisory Council, 2010-2015

Practice Experience 
Tribunal Senior Counsel, Consent & Capacity Board, 2012-Present
Counsel & Deputy Registrar, Ontario Judicial Council & Justice of the Peace Review Council, (Office of the Chief Justice, Ontario Court of Justice), 2016-2017
Counsel, Ontario Human Rights Commission, 1997-2012                   
Equity Officer (Senior Position), University of Toronto, 2009-2010
Acting Director, International Human Rights Program, University of Toronto, 1999-2000

Certificate in Elder Law, Osgoode Hall Law Society, 2018
Certificate in Adjudication, Law Society Tribunal & Society of Ontario Adjudicators and Regulators, 2015
Effective Decisions Writing Certificate, Society of Adjudicators and Regulators, 2009.
Adjudicator Training Certificate, Society of Adjudicators and Regulators, 2009
Advanced Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) Certification, University of Windsor, 2009
Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) Certification, University of Windsor, 2006
Human Rights Fellow, Faculty of Law, University of Toronto, 1999-2000
International Human Rights Certification, Canadian Human Rights Foundation, 1997
Call to the Bar, The Law Society of Upper Canada, 1997
Bachelor of Laws, University of Toronto, 1995
Diploma in Spanish Language Studies, Honours Distinction, Official School of Languages, Barcelona, Spain, 1993
Advanced Diploma in French Studies, Université de Pau, Academie de Bordeaux, France, 1993
Bachelor of Arts with Distinction (Double Major in Canadian Studies & History,  Minor in East Asian Studies), University College,1990

Honours & Awards
Community Leader, Federation of Asian Canadian Leaders (FACL) Community Leaders Showcase, 2017
Recipient of Legal Award for Excellence & Leadership, South Asian Bar Association, 2015
Recipient of Trinity-Spadina Community Service Award, 2013

What inspired you to run for bencher this year?

I am inspired to run for re-election to continue the critical work that needs to continue on Equity and Inclusion, on Mental Health, on Access to Justice, on implementing the recommendations made by the Indigenous Review Panel, on addressing complex and critical issues facing the profession such as technology and AI, on the need to examine Entity Based Regulation, on the critical need to address the issue of retention of women in law, and to ensure that there is fairness in the licensing process.  I have worked hard on these issues and I would be honoured to have the opportunity to ensure that the work begun in my first term is implemented and further advanced in the next Bencher Term.  I am also inspired by my amazing running mate, Jayashree Goswami (see below):

A Recommendation for a New Bencher: Sponsoring New Voices
I am pleased to support Jayashree Goswami, an exceptional Senior In-House Counsel. She has served ably on the Equity Advisory Group and brings a fresh voice and proven track record on equity and inclusion issues. Her service and dedication on diverse issues make her an ideal candidate for Bencher.
For more information on each of us, and on our unique joint campaign, please see:

What do you believe is the biggest issue facing the legal profession?

Our profession faces significant and complex challenges: access to justice and to affordable and accessible legal services, articling and licensing, mental health, entity-based regulation, retention of women lawyers, new technologies and AI, amongst many others. The difficulties faced by sole practitioners, new calls, lawyers practicing in small towns, and equity-seeking lawyers are particularly notable. The LSO will need to act thoughtfully to positively represent the public interest. I have worked directly on these challenges and understand their interconnectedness. The profession requires Benchers who are dedicated to public service and to finding creative and effective ways to address these challenges, including greater supports in the profession and advancing mentoring and coaching initiatives. It is critical for our profession to include informed, progressive and diverse ideas on how to face the challenges ahead, and I remain committed to continuing this difficult but important work.

What would be your first priority upon election?

My first priority would be to address the need to clarify the LSO's role to facilitate Access to Justice, which is a pressing issue in the public interest.  While the core function and duty  of the LSO is the regulation and governance of the profession, it must do so in consideration of other goals such as facilitating access to justice, and advancing the cause of justice as stated in the Law Society Act:

Principles to be applied by the Society
In carrying out its functions, duties and powers under this Act, the Society shall have regard to the following principles:
1. The Society has a duty to maintain and advance the cause of justice and the rule of law.
2. The Society has a duty to act so as to facilitate access to justice for the people of Ontario.
3. The Society has a duty to protect the public interest.
4. The Society has a duty to act in a timely, open and efficient manner.
5. Standards of learning, professional competence and professional conduct for licensees and restrictions on who may provide particular legal services should be proportionate to the significance of the regulatory objectives sought to be realized.  2006, c. 21, Sched. C, s. 7.

I think that there are a number of things that the LSO can do to facilitate enhanced access to justice. These include (not an exhaustive list of course):
•  Positioning and supporting TAG (the Access to Justice Group) to be a access to justice hub for organizations across Ontario to connect, share ideas and research, model best practices and further dialogue across justice stakeholders.
•  Collaborating with the Law Foundation of Ontario (LFO) on access to justice initiatives.
•  Taking a strong leading role on discussions relating to legal aid and pro bono initiatives and needs.
•  Working with the Law Federation of Canada on facilitating broad based initiatives to improve A2J, particularly for vulnerable and marginalized communities, and to also advance work on reconciliation with Indigenous communities.
•  Canvassing whether licensees wish to support A2J projects directly through their licensing fees.
•  Facilitating continued strong knowledge and strategies to address new technologies in the legal context at the LSO and at the Federation of Law Societies. As noted earlier, this is important because the emergence of crypto currencies has the potential of significantly impacting the source of funds for the Law Foundation of Ontario (which provides critical support to access to justice funding).
•  I am open to exploring and discussing other ideas as Access to Justice is an issue that is deeply important to me (which is why I have sat as a Trustee on the Law Foundation of Ontario for the past 2 years).

What do you hope to achieve over the next four years as a member of Convocation?

I have advocated for progressive changes at the LSO. This includes :
•  my work on the Working Group on Challenges Facing Racialized Licensees;
•  my leadership as Vice- Chair of the Equity and Indigenous Affairs Committee;
•  my active role on the Indigenous Review Panel;
•  my commitment and work on the Mental Health Working Group and Task Forces;
•  and my role as Chair of the Tribunal Committee, which has successfully worked on developing and implementing initiatives to increase the independence and professionalism of the Tribunal.

I believe that my record demonstrates that I take a thoughtful and informed approach on LSO work and that I do this work in a collaborative and principled manner.  In the next term, I am committed to ensuring that:
-  the recommendations made by the Challenges Facing Racialized Licensees and of the Indigenous Review Panel are implemented.
-  that the Mental Health Working Group continue to advance our work on proactive mental health wellness initiatives.
-  that we advance on the issue of Retention of Women in law.
-  that access to justice initiatives are promoted and facilitated.
-  that greater supports are provided to licensees, particularly for soles and smalls and in rural and small town practice.
-  that new Tribunal Rules, which promote modern, flexible and fair processes, are approved and implemented.
-  that governance reforms continue to ensure greater efficiency, modernization and equity.
-  that licensing issues are fully and carefully addressed, given my concerns about the status quo.
-  that the LSO works on complex issues including Entity-Based regulation, technology, AI and crypto currencies in a collaborative, best practice manner with the public interest at the core of its work.

What's the most pressing concern for the profession in your region of the province?

There are many.  However, perhaps one of the most pressing concerns is the critical challenge facing the profession due to new technologies and AI.  We need to be ready as a regulator to address, in an informed manner and with the public interest at the core of any decision, new technologies, block chain and crypto currencies, AI and alternative forms of practicing law.  While these are pressing and challenging, I see this as an opportunity to potentially explore greater access to justice in the public interest.  We need to ensure that access to justice, confidence in legal services and the administration of justice is not negatively impacted through regulation and we need to do this work collaboratively. 

The LSO will require Benchers who are informed and knowledgeable, ready to learn new skills and practices and open to look beyond legal practice in Ontario to learn best practices.  As a regulator, it needs to be proactive and flexible as it addresses regulatory and licensee challenges in this complex area. I have attended every technology session offered to Benchers, understand these issues and are open to learning what is needed, and am committed to work collaboratively on this critical issue.

Do you support the requirement to create and abide by a statement of principles?

Yes, I do support the requirement to create and abide by a Statement of Principles.  The Statement of Principles forms part of 13 interconnected recommendations and I believe we should go even further to expand our work to eliminate systemic discrimination in the legal professions.  I advocated for that during my time on the Working Group and will continue to advocate for their implementation (and eventual expansion) as I am currently Vice Chair of the Equity and Indigenous Affairs Committee.  I am currently leading the policy work we are doing on implementing the inclusion index.

Poll Question

What do you see as the top issue that prospective benchers need to address if they are elected?