2010 Precedent Setter Award Winner: Waikwa Wanyoike

Introducing Waikwa Wanyoike, a lawyer who stands out

Waikwa Wanyoike: the humanitarian
Barrister & Solicitor, Immigration & Criminal Law
Called to the bar 2003

  • Started own law practice immediately after articling
  • Co-founder, Kenya University Students’ Organization which campaigned against political oppression
  • Winner, 2009 Kenyan Community of Ontario Contribution Award
  • Supervising lawyer, Parkdale Community Legal Services
  • Works pro bono for low-income refugees and immigrants

Waikwa Wanyoike’s client is nervous about his Immigration and Refugee Board hearing. He’s also worried about appearing nervous. “It’s okay,” Wanyoike tells him. “If you’re not nervous you have a problem.” The client laughs and suddenly seems more at ease.

The sole practitioner often offers his services pro bono. His calm and confident manner steadies those who are understandably apprehensive about a process that will determine the rest of their lives.

Wanyoike knows exactly what is at stake. He arrived in Canada in 1997 as a refugee from Kenya, after government agents there threatened his life for fighting political oppression. His experience as a refugee remains the driving force behind his practice. “I remember my cases more for the people than the issues,” says Wanyoike.

He cites the case of an elderly man who was fleeing political persecution in Western Africa. He had 16 children — some of his own and some adopted — whom he hoped to sponsor to bring to Canada. Wanyoike recalls how, when the man learned he’d been granted refugee status, he sang to the board member, “I am grateful to you, not so much because you accepted me here, because that’s your work, but because you listened to me as a human being.” Wanyoike knew just what he meant.

Waikwa’s 5 Ways to Keep the Glass Half Full

1. Remember that clients are people and that everybody has an intrinsic element of human goodness in them, and if you focus on that it will give you the passion to fight for them.

2. Seek and accept the support others offer you. You wouldn’t believe the support I’ve gotten from lawyers and other professionals. That’s how I was able to establish my practice and how I am able to sustain it.

3. Get involved in the community. Clients come from communities. Community work helps you understand what’s going on in the outside world. It gives you a different perspective and allows you to see more than just the legal processes and the law.

4. Make time to get involved in other things outside of your practice that you have a passion for. For example, one of the things I really enjoy is being able to get involved in the Kenyan political and legal debates. Writing opinions, talking to policy makers and occasionally, when I’m in Kenya, attending and speaking at human rights conferences and seminars.”

5. Travel.