Erin Simpson

2019 Precedent Setter Award Winner: Erin Simpson

Meet the lawyer who helps refugees start a new life
Erin Simpson

Erin Simpson

Principal, The Law Office of Erin Simpson
Called to the bar in 2014

Earlier this year, Erin Simpson went to the arrival gate at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport. The immigration and refugee lawyer was there to meet a client, a woman she had helped bring to Canada. It was emotional. Simpson watched the woman run tearfully into the arms of her children, who had already settled in the country. “It was so special,” says the 40-year-old. “To see parents reunited with their children keeps me going. It’s optimism fuel.”

Erin Simpson

Simpson’s legal career began in 2013 at the Supreme Court of Canada, where she clerked for Justices Andromache Karakatsanis and Morris Fish. One year later, she joined Goldblatt Partners LLP, a top human-rights firm in Toronto. And in 2016, she launched her own practice.

Her core job is to represent refugees seeking safety in Canada. But over the past two years, she’s spent most of her time on one major project. Three human-rights organizations — Amnesty International, the Canadian Council for Refugees and the Canadian Council of Churches — have hired her to challenge the Safe Third Country Agreement.

According to this law, asylum seekers who arrive in the United States before coming to Canada must file their claim in the U.S. If they then show up at an official U.S.- Canada land-border crossing, they will most likely be turned back. Simpson argues that, after the election of Donald Trump, this law is no longer tenable: we cannot trust the U.S to offer refuge to people fleeing persecution abroad.

In refugee law, the stakes are high. But so are the rewards. One successful case can increase the fortune of an entire family. This means that Simpson and her husband, Aaron — along with their eight-year-old son — field more brunch invitations from former clients than they’re able to accept. “This work can change the direction of someone’s life,” says Simpson. “I had a client turn to me after her hearing last year and she said, ‘This is the most important moment of my life.’”

Don’t forget to read about our other amazing winners.

This story is from our Summer 2019 Issue.

Photography by Luis Mora, hair and makeup by Michelle Calleja.