Justin Trudeau calls for gender and racial diversity on the bench

In a speech before the South Asian Bar Association, the Liberal Leader says a diverse judiciary leads to better decisions
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Justin Trudeau Saba Gala

What: The 2014 South Asian Bar Association Gala
Where: The Fairmont Royal York Hotel
When: Thursday, November 27, 2014

Improving gender and racial diversity in the federal judiciary will lead to better decisions, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau told more than 450 lawyers at the annual South Asian Bar Association Awards Gala last night. 

“I don’t think anyone’s going to argue that we should compromise on the quality of judges we appoint,” he said at the event, held at the Fairmont Royal York in Toronto. “But there is value in giving consideration to the full range of perspectives and experiences prospective judges bring to the bench — whether those perspectives are informed by gender, ethnicity or another characteristic.” 

Diversity on the federal bench will also help inspire young people from a range of backgrounds to enter the legal profession in the first place, he told Precedent in an interview following his speech. “People need to feel like they recognize themselves and their identity in the legal community as a whole.” 

To illustrate this fact, he pointed to the appointment of Bora Laskin, in 1973, as the first Jewish Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. “That had never happened before,” he said. “There were no role models.” 

Trudeau also called for more transparency in the way that judges are appointed. “At a time when we can track, in real time, the number of people watching cat videos on Youtube, the fact that we know so little about those selected to administer justice is absurd.” 

Earlier in the evening, Jayashree Goswami, president of SABA and litigation counsel at Zurich Canada, said that diversity is an equally important objective in the makeup of law firms themselves. “Meaningful diversity is not about having a token person of colour in an otherwise homogeneous law firm.” 

Goswami added that, albeit slowly, a cultural shift is under way: “Lip service to the cause of diversity, ladies and gentlemen, is no longer acceptable.” 

At the gala, SABA also gave out its first ever diversity award to Simon Fish, general counsel at Bank of Montreal, who has made diversity a major priority at the bank. Four South Asian lawyers in the Toronto legal community — Bindu Cudjoe, Sanjeev Dhawan, Sunil Mathai and Awanish Sinha — also received legal excellence awards.

Photography by Yvonne Bambrick