Forming a South Asian Lawyers Association in Canada
Speech made by Jay Chauhan, on 4 November 2006, gathering of about 60 South Asian Lawyers at Howard Johnson Hotel on formation of the South Asian Lawyer’s Association.
South Asians have been in Canada since about 1896. The earliest settlers came in 1896 and settled in British Columbia area. The numbers grew very slowly. At that time Canada as a British Colony was more keen on settling British population rather than other groups in Canada. When the population of South Asians and Chinese grew there were serious concerns about their numbers becoming large and a one stop rule was created so that only the ships that could come in a single journey to Canada could allow its passengers to land and settle here.
In about 1914 Indians from India hired a Japanese vessel by the name of Komatagamaru and sailed from Calcutta and arrived in the harbor of Victoria in compliance with the one journey rule. There was considerable commotion in the BC and Federal parliaments and after the debate the Canadian Navy forced the tired and hungry passengers to return to India.
Landmark 1947- Voting Rights
The East Indians had no right of vote in Canada until about 1947. They could not become lawyers and could not have argued the case of Komatagamaru in court as lawyers. It was in 1967 that the doors were opened to non European migration by Pierre Elliot Trudeau, French Canadian prime minister of Canada at that time.
South Asian Lawyers Group
South Asian Lawyer’s Association was formed in about 1992. At that I was appointed Deputy Judge and it was felt in the South Asian Legal community that we should get together and move forward. Mr. Iqbal Dewji arranged with the support of Indo-Canada Chamber of Commerce a gathering of about 60 lawyers at Osgoode Hall. The meeting was attended by then Treasurer of the Law Society, Mr. Alan Rock. Mr. Stien Lall who was a Deputy Minister in the Ontario Government addressed the meeting.
The momentum of SALA continued for about 4 years. A number of meetings were organized, including picnics and a Gala Dinner. This dinner was attended by again Rt. Hon. Alan Rock who by that time was Attorney General of Canada. Unfortunately, no elections or meetings have been called in the last 10 years, except that in about the year 2000 a brochure showing the names of some South Asian Lawyers was published.
South Asians in the Profession in 1970’s
In about the early seventies there were about 20 to 30 lawyers of South Asian origin in the Toronto area. South Asians would include Indian, Bangladeshi, Sri Lankan, Pakistani and people from that region including those having that cultural background but raised in East Africa, West Indies, Guyana, Fiji, South Africa and other parts of the world. It is very important that we make this organization an inclusive one where we include lawyers of different geographic areas of South East Asia.
This number grew steadily in eighties and nineties and today I would estimate that there are about 400 lawyers of South Asian Origin in Ontario, mostly in the Toronto area, and another about 400 lawyers across Canada, making a total of about 800 South Asian Lawyers across Canada. There is therefore a very good potential for these lawyers to share their common heritage and background and work together and achieve much more than what each one can do on his own.
Image building -Vern Krishna
The image of South Asians has improved considerably in the larger Canadian community and along with that the image of South Asian Lawyers also has improved. This is substantially assisted by the advancements of Indian economy and image that India created around the world, specially the western world. South Asians now occupy many key positions in Canadian Society and by and large are very integrated and accomplished a group in Canada.
The image of South Asian Lawyer’s is considerably better today than it ever was over the last 35 years, but not quite yet what it should be. In about year 2000 Mr. Vern Krishna, a professor of law became the Treasurer of Law Society. This boosted the image of South Asian lawyers considerably. The image has also been helped by the efforts of the Law Society through the Equity Department of the Law Society.
History of Law Society
The existence of the Law Society of Upper Canada goes back to over 200 years. The Law Society Membership has also undergone many changes in the past 40 years. From a group of predominantly lawyers of Anglo Saxon origin and mostly male, there are now lawyers from both genders and many different nationalities who are practicing members of the profession. The most profound change in the attitude of the law society administration happened in 1996 when Susan Elliot was elected as the Treasurer of the Law Society of Upper Canada. She was the first woman Treasurer in the history of the Ontario Law Society. This was a historic change. A report was prepared at that time and the Law Society undertook measures to make the law society more open and inclusive of the minorities.
Equity in the Profession
The equity department of the Law Society was established in the later nineties. The equity and diversity department seeks to bring more minorities into the profession. The current head of that department is Jose Bouchard who was a professor of law in Ottawa. A number of functions are held by the equity department to promote the equity and diversity in the legal profession in Ontario. In the month of May each year the Law Society along with the South Asian Legal Clinic of Ontario celebrate South Asian Heritage month.
South Asian legal community and specially its younger members are very enthusiastic about creating an organization of South Asian Lawyers. Many of these lawyers are called the bar in the last 10 years and with the changes in attitude of large law firms, they can now aspire to become part of the legal establishment, something that was not seen in the past. One of this group’s is South Asian Barristers Association which is a part of a larger South Asian Lawyers organization of United States and Canada. SABA has formed a chapter in Toronto which has been active in the last about 2 years. There are three chapters in Canada and many in United States.
On 4 November 2006 about 60 lawyers met at the Howard Johnson Hotel and formed a Steering Committee to start a National Canadian Organization of South Asian Lawyers. It would make sense to start an organization in the Greater Toronto Area including Mississauga as these areas have the largest number of South Asians and South Asian lawyers.
This organization aims at putting together lawyers of different South Asian backgrounds across the country with chapters in major Canadian cities. The South Asian Lawyers aim to work together to serve their community of about a million South Asians across Canada and also promote their common interests and comment on legislation that affects them. There are only about 4 South Asian Lawyers who have been promoted to the bench which is a much smaller number considering the size of their population and the organization aims at promoting their members to the bench and other key positions such as Deputy Ministers and chairs of boards and commissions.
The objectives of the Organization include seminars, website, social gatherings, referral of work, supporting pro-bono work of SALCO, encouraging appointment of South Asians key positions and generally enjoying camaraderie of fellow professionals.