Counsel, City of Toronto
Called to the bar in 2005
Law school: University of Toronto
Omo Akintan moved to Toronto from Nigeria almost two decades ago — and she can still remember how hard it was to be an outsider in Canada. In time, though, Akintan found her place. At 36, she is a top labour lawyer at the City of Toronto and, alongside her partner Jean Carter, has two young children. But she knows it’s still hard for people on the margins to find a sense of belonging. Which is why, in the past 20 years, Akintan has worked tirelessly to build communities for people who sit on the fringes of the social fabric.
In law school at the University of Toronto, for instance, Akintan co-founded Students of Law for the Advancement of Minorities. A few years later, she launched a running group for members of the black gay community — a demographic she found to be notably absent from running events across the city. (Now in its 10th year, the group attracts close to 40 runners every spring.) And, this February, she organized a Family Day event — featuring steel-pan drums and board games — that drew more than 50 families of colour, affording young black children an occasion to see families that look like their own. “If something is keeping me up at night,” says Akintan, “and I can do something about it, then I will.”
In conversation, Akintan is warm and deeply solicitous, smiling constantly and listening intently. Today, she works out of a paper-strewn office in Metro Hall, where she represents the City — including bureaucrats, the police and the fire department — when it faces internal complaints.
“I can be really frank,” she says of her in-house role and the close relationship she has with the City. “When I think we’ve done something wrong, I can say, ‘You know what? We’ve dropped the ball here.’” She also gets to be an activist at work. Last year, she helped overhaul the City’s human- rights policy, and this summer she’ll organize events for Pride Week. Looking back on almost a decade in the public sector, Akintan remarks: “It’s been a great fit.”