Candidate bio description
I am employed as Senior Counsel at Intact Financial Corporation, Toronto. I was called to the Bar in 2007 and worked as a litigator at a national law firm for several years before moving in-house. Aside from my day job as a commercial and insurance defence litigator, I bring 12 years of hands-on experience in social advocacy, governance and leadership gathered in the course of various volunteer initiatives within and outside the legal community. From my first days as a lawyer, I have worked closely with the Law Society of Ontario (“LSO”) on equity and diversity initiatives. As a new lawyer, I became the first representative of the South Asian Bar Association, Toronto on the Equity Advisory Group (“EAG”) at the LSO. Over the last decade, I have represented community bar associations at the EAG and the Treasurer’s Liaison Group at the LSO. I am currently a member of the Treasurer’s Roundtable of Corporate Counsel as well as The Action Group on Access to Justice (TAG) at the LSO. I have a strong record of public service and several years of experience working on volunteer organizations in leadership positions within and outside law. In 2014, I was awarded the Leading Women, Building Communities Award by the Government of Ontario recognising my volunteer work and leadership in law. My recent leadership experiences include the following: -Chair of the Roundtable of Diversity Associations (RODA) (2016-2018) -President of the South Asian Bar Association, Toronto (2013-2015) -Vice-Chair of the Ontario Bar Association’s Equality Committee (2016-2017) -Member of Council, Ontario Bar Association (2017-2018) -Director of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association (2015-2017). -Board member, Anti-Racism Strategic Plan Consultation Group of the Anti-Racism Directorate (2017-2018), appointed by the Government of Ontario I was born, raised and educated in Calcutta, India. I arrived in Canada as an undergraduate student and since then, have made Canada my home. I am fluent in three languages (English, Hindi and Bengali) and learning a fourth (Spanish). For more information about my campaign, please visit www.jayashreegoswami.com and follow me on twitter @jay_ashree.
What inspired you to run for bencher this year?
I am running for bencher because: (a) I represent a unique cross-section of historically excluded groups whose interests and insight must inform policy (b) I have substantial experience and expertise as a community leader and social advocate that will allow me to effectively represent and advocate on behalf of traditionally absent voices (c) having worked with the EAG, TAG, and other LSO committees, I understand how Convocation works and if elected, will be able to hit the ground running; (d) as in-house counsel, I am conversant with the principles and workings of good governance and will bring a collaborative, practical and solutions-oriented approach to Convocation. My campaign is founded on the principle that meaningful inclusion, without exception, is the bedrock of success in any milieu. My campaign as one of three in-house lawyers running fo bencher was recently featured by The Canadian Lawyer, "Corporate Counsel Candidates Bring Diverse Perspective to Election" : https://www.canadianlawyermag.com/legalfeeds/author/jennifer-brown/corporate-counsel-candidates-bring-diverse-perspective-to-election-16981/. Finally, since this question is about inspiration, I would be remiss if I did not mention my running mate, incumbent bencher, Isfahan Merali (www.isfahanmerali.com). Not only is Isfahan an outstanding bencher, she is a living example of a senior member of the bar inspiring, sponsoring and mentoring a younger colleague towards a path of leadership. Our joint campaign is based on our shared commitment to equity and diversity within and outside the legal profession.
What do you believe is the biggest issue facing the legal profession?
Access - access to justice and access to the profession are among the most pressing issues facing the legal profession today. The brunt of these issues is faced by members of marginalised and vulnerable groups. These issues must be viewed through a lens that contemplates and accounts for the existence and pervasiveness of systemic discrimination. Acceleration of a culture shift is as germane to any solution as are enhancement and allocation of resources. ACCESS TO JUSTICE According to the National Action Committee on Access to Justice in Civil and Family Matters, one in three people will experience at least one legal problem in a given three-year period; few will have the resources to solve them; members of poor and vulnerable groups are particularly prone to legal problems and the problems people have often multiply. Access to justice and access to legal services is a fundamental social determinant of citizen health, inclusion and engagement. Having served on The Action Group – Access to Justice (“TAG”) of the Law Society of Ontario, I appreciate the complexities underlying the issue. Our approach must be informed by: (1) an understanding of the intricate web of causes, such as historic patterns of overt and systemic discrimination and systemic inefficiencies that cost money and time; (2) input, advice and insight from community groups, grassroots legal organizations, and legal aid clinics that are at the forefront of serving at-risk communities and (3) a willingness on the part of the profession to embrace new ideas, technologies and efficiencies. ACCESS TO THE PROFESSION Access to the profession is characterised by inequality not just at the entry stage but at every stage. Climbing fees at law school and the articling crisis stultify careers of and limit options for junior members of the Bar, a disproportionate number of who belong to marginalised communities. The inequity persists as systemic bias becomes an invisible yet formidable impediment in the way of upward mobility within the profession. This is a self-fulfilling prophecy as the absence of inclusion at positions of influence engenders a deep-seated culture of exclusion. The result is a loss of talent and underutilization of our best resource - human resource. A legal profession that is more homogenous than the society it serves also raises access to justice concerns. To not have access to a lawyer, judge or court system that speaks your language or understands your culture is not only unsettling but also may result in mistaken conclusions, a lapse of justice and consequent failure of the legal system. It is essential to turn to all 5 strategies outlined in the Challenges to Racialized Licensees Report (accelerating a culture shift, measuring progress, educating for change, implementing supports and leading by example) to tackle these issues.
What would be your first priority upon election?
My first priority as bencher will be to remain purposively engaged with the community I serve in order to represent their views and concerns at Convocation with integrity. Anecdotal accounts and low voter turnouts suggest that lawyers are generally disengaged from the LSO and its initiatives. This raises a particularly serious concern for a self-regulated profession. A disconnect between the electorate and the elected not only results in uninformed policy but threatens the very basis of self-regulation, which is premised on the principles of representative democracy and meaningful inclusion. As bencher, it would be my foremost duty to strive to narrow the current chasm between LSO and licensees by (1) advocating for an inclusive culture at Convocation and (2) lead by example by actively liaising with different communities, educating myself of their concerns, seeking their counsel on solutions and being their ally and spokesperson at Convocation.
What do you hope to achieve over the next four years as a member of Convocation?
Convocation operates on the will of the majority. It would therefore be misleading to promise outcomes. The following is a personal wish list and issues I will be strongly advocating on at every opportunity if elected.
1. Implementation of all 5 strategies and all 13 recommendations outlined in the Challenges for Racialised Licensees Report as a priority with initiatives, targets and indicators reported upon and reviewed annually to assess efficacy and need for review.
2. Adoption of an anti-racism, equity and inclusion lens that will universally inform initiatives, policies and activities of the LSO.
3. An active role undertaken by the LSO to remedy the historic exclusion of indigenous law and indigenous perspectives from Canadian legal studies and legal culture and in particular, contemplate the requirement for all lawyers to be trained in the fundamentals of indigenous law notwithstanding one's area of practice or vintage.
4. A proactive role undertaken by LSO to petition all levels of government to revise eligibility and funding of Legal Aid.
5. Facilitate a robust partnership with the Ministry of the Attorney General on technology innovations to demystify and simplify court processes for self-represented parties and a burgeoning group of alternate legal services providers such as legal consultants, social workers, etc.
6. Advocate in favour of experiential learning as a necessary component of law school curricula such that when licensing options are discussed in future, the abolishment of articles is an available option for consideration.
What's the most pressing concern for the profession in your region of the province?
Access to justice and access to the profession.
Do you support the requirement to create and abide by a statement of principles?
I unequivocally support the requirement for all lawyers and paralegals to create and abide by a Statement of Principles. The Statement of Principles is a curtain raiser. It has been implemented as a first step to addressing longstanding historical and institutional inequity in the legal profession and in society at large. It serves as a firm reminder to members of the profession that: (1) we serve one of the most diverse communities in the world and our profession does not reflect this diversity; (2) a homogenous bar cannot properly serve a heterogenous society; and (3) promoting diversity is essential for the health of our community and efficient delivery of legal services. Convocation has extensively discussed and debated the propriety of the Statement of Principles and the limits of its jurisdiction twice already. Both times, members of the profession and public were invited to weigh in. Further, the very question is currently before the courts. Under the circumstances, I am of the view that the Statement of Principles should not be made an election issue.