Precedent Setter Awards 2023: Imran Kamal

Kamal has devoted a large portion of his legal career to improving the child-welfare system
Portrait of Imran Kamal

In 2014, a year after being called to the bar, Imran Kamal, now 33, took a position at the Catholic Children’s Aid Society of Hamilton. His job was straightforward. If a CCAS social worker believed a child needed some form of protection—like foster care, which requires a judge’s order—he’d appear in court to make the social worker’s case. At the same time, Kamal understood that the sector has a troubling history. Indigenous children, he notes, have long been overrepresented in the system, sometimes for dubious reasons, such as being poor.

Portrait of Imran Kamal

Imran Kamal

Counsel, Ministry of the Attorney General
Year of call: 2013

In 2017, in collaboration with the Hamilton Regional Indian Centre (HRIC), a local non-profit, Kamal co-founded the Indigenous Child Welfare Collaborative. The ICWC forges partnerships between child-protection agencies and local Indigenous-led services—including counselling centres and youth-mentorship organizations—so social workers can refer children to culturally appropriate services. The ICWC also offers training for children’s-aid workers and judges in subjects like Indigenous history and the legacy of residential schools. And it has brought on a representative from the HRIC to accompany social workers on visits to Indigenous families. “The ultimate goal,” says Kamal, “is for the child-welfare sector to give up some of its power and empower Indigenous people instead.”

Audrey Davis, the executive director of the HRIC, considers Kamal more than just an ally. He’s the guy in the room with the imagination and know-how to get things done. “He’s a principled, compassionate person,” she says, “and he’s very much a go-getter.”

In 2021, Kamal left the CCAS to work as counsel with the Ministry of the Attorney General. Now based in Toronto, he represents the government on a range of civil matters, mainly related to Indigenous law. But he continues to throw himself into community-minded ventures. He has helped develop training materials, for instance, at Pro Bono Students Canada. He’s also designed a course on children in the law, which he teaches at Toronto Metropolitan University’s Lincoln Alexander School of Law.

Child protection is such a passion that when he met his fiancé, Colin Elsby, a realtor and paralegal, their first date was attending an Every Child Matters march. “Children in the system are the most vulnerable people in our society,” says Kamal. “We have a duty to do right by them.” 

This story is from our Spring 2023 Issue.

Photography by Daniel Ehrenworth. Hair and makeup by Jasmine Merinsky.