The photo changed everything. You saw it. Everybody saw it. The photo of the tiny, lifeless body of three-year-old Alan Kurdi, washed up on the beach on September 2. It was almost too much to take — Alan’s shoes were still on. And we all seemed to think the same thing at once: he should have been playing on that beach instead of lying dead on it.
Suddenly, finally, people took notice of what was happening in Syria. The civil war has displaced millions, triggering the largest humanitarian crisis since the Second World War. And yet, until the photo, many people were not aware of what was happening or how they could help.
Now is the time to help. That’s what we do — lawyers help people. Despite being the butt of tired jokes and having a public reputation just above that of used car salesmen, the reality is that lawyers are warriors of justice.
Our profession boasts a rich history of men and women who go out of their way to help those in need. It is woven into our DNA. There are the grand examples: Lawyers Without Borders, Canadian Lawyers Abroad and Amnesty International. But there are smaller, everyday examples too. I have witnessed some of these myself.
Since July, my law-school friend, Jerry Topolski, of Goodmans LLP, and I have been trying to sponsor a Syrian family to come to Toronto. When the photo of Alan made its way around the world, I tweeted my frustration with Canada’s cumbersome process to bring over refugee families in need. A reporter from the Globe and Mail reached out to interview us about our experience. When the article was published, a flood of offers came in from lawyers — offers to contribute to the cost of sponsorship and to provide free immigration legal services. Other colleagues asked how they too could sponsor a family to come to Canada.
Then I saw other lawyers stepping up to help. Goldblatt Partners LLP committed to sponsoring a family from Syria themselves. McCarthy Tétrault LLP raised more than $100,000 over the course of a few days to assist those in Syria. Ottawa lawyer Jennifer Bond helped create the Refugee Sponsorship Support Program, which offers free legal advice to Canadians who want to sponsor Syrian refugees.
Let’s not stop there. We can do more, on an individual level.
Volunteer at a shelter to help complete forms for refugees that have just arrived. Lend your legal expertise to the Refugee Sponsorship Support Program, which works in partnership with the Canadian Bar Association. The Christie Refugee Welcome Centre and the Red Door Family Shelter also need your help.
Donate to the children of Syria what you spend on a night out for dinner. Islamic Relief Canada, the United Nations Refugee Agency and the Canadian Red Cross can all use your cash — and the Canadian government will match your donation until December 31, 2015.
Organize your firm to do something large and impactful. Or even sponsor a family to come to Canada. Lifelinesyria.ca can help connect you.
We are uniquely equipped with the skills and tools to make a difference. We can decipher legalese on application forms. We can appear before tribunals and advocate for those who simply do not understand the process. Because of our legal education and our developed communication skills, we are often best-positioned to assist those who need to manoeuvre through the mazes of red tape and unjust decisions. Lawyers can help in many ways. The important thing is just to help. After all — it’s what we do.
Rebecca Durcan is a partner at Steinecke Maciura LeBlanc. She and Goodmans LLP lawyer Jerry Topolski are waiting to be matched with a family.
This story is from our Winter 2015 issue.
Illustration by Pete Ryan