New Canadian Media
Thursday, 22 September 2016 15:01

Ending Systemic Racism in Legal Profession

 TORONTO: The Law Society of Upper Canada’s Challenges Faced by Racialized Licensees Working Group on Thursday released a report proposing 13 recommendations to address issues of systemic racism in the legal professions.

The report is the culmination of thorough study and province-wide consultations, showing that racialized lawyers and paralegals face longstanding and significant challenges at all stages […]

Indo-Canadian Voice

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Published in National

by Samaah Jaffer in Vancouver

Five months after Harper’s Conservatives made a pre-elections pledge to establish a controversial "barbaric cultural practices" tip line, a group of lawyers and legal organizations in Vancouver have launched a different kind of phone line — a hotline offering free legal advice for victims of Islamophobia.

“The Islamophobia Legal Assistance Hotline is a free and confidential number that people who experience Islamophobia, or hate crimes related to Islamophobia — whether you’re Muslim or perceived to be Muslim — can call,” explains lawyer and activist Hasan Alam.

The concept for the Islamophobia Legal Assistance Hotline, launched on March 9, emerged from what a group of local lawyers observed as a “significant increase” in Islamophobia in Canada.

Alam defined Islamophobia as, “the fear of and hatred toward Muslims or people who are perceived to be Muslim.”

“Especially under the Harper government,” says Alam, “we noticed that there was very specific fear mongering happening, that utilized Islamophobia to justify Harper’s policies, such as Bill C-51, and all of that translated into an increase in hate crimes.”

In response to a question on the anti-terrorism legislation, Harper implied last fall there was an opportunity for radicalization in mosques: "It doesn't matter what the age of the person is, or whether they're in a basement, or whether they're in a mosque or somewhere else."  

The statement was followed by an increase in anti-Muslim rhetoric leading up to the elections, with the niqab being lauded by the former Prime Minister as a primary concern in relation to gender equality and Canadian values.

Rise in incidences of violence

The National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM), a human rights and civil liberties advocacy group that endorsed the project, has been tracking anti-Muslim incidents across Canada since 2013. They have recorded a rise in alleged incidents corresponding to events where Muslims have been portrayed negatively in the media.

Vancouver-based lawyer and chair of NCCM’s Board of Directors, Kashif Ahmed, spoke to the significance of this new resource in B.C.: “We had 61 anti-Muslim incidents reported in 2015, and already had 12 reported in 2016.”

Ahmed identified a number of different forms of Islamophobia-related hate crimes, including “cases of people who are being assaulted on the street, victimized in their workplace and denied promotions, verbally abused, verbally harassed, mosques being vandalized, cases of schools not providing anti-bullying services to Muslim students or allowing bullying to continue, or even teachers being the ones doing the bullying.”

“We had 61 anti-Muslim incidents reported in 2015."

Local incidents include a pepper spray attack on a group of Syrian refugees and vandalism of a Coquitlam mosque, yet many attacks motivated by Islamophobia go unreported.

The hotline is operated by Access Pro Bono, an organization committed to providing “access to justice” in BC for individuals and non-profits unable to afford legal fees. Their volunteers are currently able to assist callers in seven different languages — English, French, Farsi, Indonesian, Arabic, Swahili, Punjabi, and Urdu.

“In a lot of instances people who experience Islamophobia are new immigrants, they don’t speak much English, they don’t know where to turn to for legal advice, or help in general, and they’re scared to turn to law enforcement agencies a lot of the time because of their precarious legal status,” says Alam.  

Personal experiences of Islamophobia

Alam has a personal investment in the initiative, as a Muslim and a lawyer who has actively advocated against Islamophobia.

“I get calls from people, a lot, saying that they have experienced Islamophobia, and that they need help. Oftentimes, I myself can’t help them. I don’t have the area of expertise in that specific instance that I can give them legal advice,” he explains.

Alam spoke to the first time he experienced Islamophobia himself.

“I remember being the president of my Muslim Students Association (MSA) at Simon Fraser University, and getting a call from a government agency, who left a message for us at the interfaith centre.”

"That fear or hatred can translate to physical assault, negative comments, attitude, discrimination, or prejudice."

The message was from a woman requesting to meet with him, “to better understand the needs of your community.”

Eager to discuss the needs of the MSA, Alam agreed to meet the woman at a Starbucks. After he arrived, shook her hand, and allowed her to buy him a coffee, the woman revealed that she was a Canadian Security Intelligent Services (CSIS) agent who had questions about the activities of the MSA and his community.

Although the questions were not targeting him personally, Alam expresses, “For me, that was Islamophobia, and it was coming from the government. Why was I subjected to being interrogated by CSIS agents, simply on the basis that I was a Muslim and involved with a Muslim student group?”

Usefulness in lobbying efforts

Alam explained that another important element of the project is the recording of Islamophobic hate crimes.

“Being able to use that information to better advocate to government, and to lobby government to do more about Islamophobia and racism in general [. . .] and pushing the government to do more about that, and more advocacy, and having people’s voices heard is something that is really important for me.”

Alam hopes the Islamophobia hotline will send out a clear message to those who perpetuate Islamophobia that there are repercussions for their actions, while at the same time making those who appear to be Muslim feel safe.

“I think we’re still living in a fairytale world, thinking ‘this is Canada, not the United States, these things doesn’t happen here,’ and I think a big part of this is recognizing that Islamophobia and racism are real," he says.

This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca


Published in Top Stories

LEGAL groups on Wednesday will be announcing the Islamophobia Legal Assistance Hotline to assist individuals who have experienced discrimination to connect with free legal assistance. This follows a nationwide increase in reported incidents of racial and faith-related discrimination against Muslims in recent months. The groups are the Community Legal Assistance Society, BC Public Interest […]

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Indo-Canadian Voice

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Published in National

By Tony Bee, Sydney, Australia.
The legal profession in Sierra Leone used to be the finest and perhaps the most admirable when graduates from the UK, Ireland and other Commonwealth countries dominated it.
But today, with the advent of home grown graduates from Fourah Bay College (FBC) there have been signs of bickering, belligerence, factionalization, intrigues and even tribalism rearing their ugly heads which has vilified this once noble profession. Lawyers in the past were like the (...)

- Opinion

The Patriotic Vangaurd

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Published in Africa

 LEXBASE, Canada’s leading immigration publication under well-known lawyer Richard Kurland, reported this week that artificially conceived kids born in India have caused a legal dilemma for the authorities. In an email obtained by Lexbase, the immigration program manager in New Delhi to Canadian authorities under the title “- “Sensitive Case Report – Proof of citizenship […]

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Published in India

by our Toronto Editor Ranjit Bhaskar (@ranjit17)

The need for diversity in the legal profession was the flavour of the evening at the South Asian Bar Association of Toronto’s (SABA) awards gala on Thursday.

Diversity on legal benches boosts public confidence in the administration of justice, said federal Liberal leader Justin Trudeau, who was the keynote speaker at the event. Justice is best served "when the public sees itself reflected on legal bars,” said Trudeau, weighing in on the topic of judicial appointments that has been in the news this week.

“Achieving diversity on the bench becomes ever more challenging when government refuses to collect and share the data needed to assess progress. Securing public trust in the judiciary is similarly compromised when the selection process is shrouded in secrecy.”

Trudeau was weighing in on the appointment earlier in the day of Suzanne Côté to the Supreme Court of Canada that brought the number of women judges on the highest court to four. The court had earlier rejected Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s choice of Marc Nadon, saying he didn’t meet its eligibility criteria.

“I unreservedly congratulate Suzanne Côté’s appointment … to replace Justice [Louis] LeBel, but the process was unnecessarily opaque,” Trudeau said. “Mr. Harper appointed an excellent justice and finally restored the gender balance in the court that existed under the Liberal government. The result is excellent, the process is flawed."

No lip service, please

Trudeau said that at a time “when we can track in real time the number of people watching cat videos on YouTube the fact we know so little about those selected to administer justice is absurd.” He said each year courts in the United Kingdom publish a complete breakdown of judicial diversity statistics including gender, ethnicity and age. “This isn’t a secret document only those who know how to execute freedom of information requests can acquire. It’s posted every year on their web site.”

The opaque process Trudeau referred to tracks only gender. While we know that as of November 1, 2014 female judges account for 381 out of 1,110 federal judges, the Office of the Commissioner for Federal Judicial Affairs does not track the numbers of visible minority appointees. The Canadian Bar Association, in an assessment of the procedures for the appointment of judges, has identified the lack of data about representation of visible minorities in the judiciary as a major barrier to progress.

In her address, Jayashree Goswami, SABA president, called for meaningful diversity in the legal sector that was not about tokenism. “Lip service is no longer acceptable,” and there is an urgent need to level the playing field and erase the stereotype that diverse candidates lack merit, said Goswami. On the often heard defence that selection has to be merit-based, she said such arguments imply that “merit rests largely with a particular race and gender.”

On the often heard defence that selection has to be merit-based, Jayashree Goswami said such arguments imply that “merit rests largely with a particular race and gender.”

Systemic change

In her closing remarks, Janet E. Minor, treasurer of the Law Society of Upper Canada, said SABA gave her organization priceless advice in the writing of its consultation paper on Developing Strategies for Change: Addressing Challenges Faced by Racialized Licensees.

The paper provides comprehensive information and describes the statistical data, research results and anecdotal evidence that the Law Society has gathered and received as part of its ongoing efforts to promote equity, diversity and inclusiveness in Ontario’s legal profession.

“By studying and addressing the realities faced by racialized licensees, the Law Society is leading the way for systemic change that will help the legal profession better reflect the diverse public it serves,” said Minor.

The Law Society paper show that, despite the significant increase in the number of racialized licensees in the last 20 years, racialized lawyers and paralegals continue to face challenges — many of which are distinct from the challenges faced by their non-racialized peers. For many, discrimination is also a feature of daily life.

...despite the significant increase in the number of racialized licensees in the last 20 years, racialized lawyers and paralegals continue to face challenges — many of which are distinct from the challenges faced by their non-racialized peers.

“We are taking the findings from this extensive research very seriously and that is why we have included several detailed questions in the consultation paper for further discussion and input,” she said. “We want to fully engage the professions and the public in considering options to address the challenges faced by racialized licensees.”

Award winners

On a more positive note, Ranjan Agarwal, a partner at Bennet Jones LLP and a director at SABA, has been quoted as saying that the legal profession is beginning to treat diversity as a serious issue. “Law firms themselves have realized why diversity is important,” he said. “It creates better teams and ensures that they can recruit the best and the brightest.”

A reflection of this change was evident when BMO Financial Group’s General Counsel Simon Fish was awarded SABA’s inaugural Diversity Award for demonstrating exemplary commitment to the promotion and recognition of diversity in the legal profession.

Four South Asian lawyers who have achieved excellence in their areas of practice or have exceptionally contributed to the profession were also recognised at the event. They are: Bindu Cudjoe, BMO Financial Group; Sanjeev Dhawan, Hydro One Networks; Sunil Mathai, Ministry of the Attorney General; and Awanish Sinha, McCarthy Tetrault LLP.


 

This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

Published in Top Stories

SURREY – A Surrey Indo-Canadian woman fighting her ex-husband’s vacation plans to take their children to India has won a legal precedent of getting legal aid for her legal fight.
In the wake of the B.C. Supreme Court [...]

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Forum provides much for OAS to consider

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Published in Commentary

 For separating couples, it’s confusing enough to try to distinguish between shared custody and split custody in plain English. For people who must rely on, say, a Tamil interpreter to explain legal terms like those, it’s an even bigger struggle, fraught with the possibility... View Article

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  TORONTO – An anti-immigration flyer that sparked outrage for singling out the Sikh community when it was distributed in Brampton last month [...]

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