Precedent Setter Awards 2016: Sunil Gurmukh

Sunil Gurmukh

Counsel, Ontario Human Rights Commission
Called to the bar in 2009

In 2010, the year after Sunil Gurmukh was called to the bar, a devastating case landed on his desk. Black teenager. Male. Arrested three years earlier. Tasered twice by police. The teen had filed a complaint with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario. And the African Canadian Legal Clinic, where Gurmukh was working, had agreed to represent him. “Nothing is more passionate,” says Gurmukh, “than holding the hands of a young black man and his mother while they tell you about how, while in handcuffs, he was tasered twice.”

As a law student, he never felt a calling to any practice area. But after working on a few cases like this one, he knew: it was human-rights work. By 2011, Gurmukh had moved to the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC). The next year, he married his wife, Monica, and now, at 33 years old, he’s the key lawyer in the OHRC’s campaign against the police’s use of racial profiling and carding. “He’s very calm, thoughtful and persuasive under pressure,” says Renu Mandhane, the OHRC’s chief commissioner. “I’m so glad he’s on our team.”

Lawyer, Sunil Gurmukh, Ontario Human Rights CommissionOutside the courtroom, Gurmukh often meets with advocacy groups in Toronto’s black communities to find out what’s happening on the ground with respect to racial profiling and the police. He also provides free legal education to racialized youth. These are fitting tasks for an easy-mannered lawyer who can warmly introduce himself to every person in a room.

Though he’s never been on the receiving end of police misconduct, the work can hit close to home for Gurmukh, the son of Indian immigrants. “I’m racialized, so I can sympathize,” he says. “The colour of your skin isn’t something you can change.” The work can be wearing. “I’ve seen some changes, but I want to be clear: there’s a long way to go.”

 

 


Precedent Setter Awards 2016Don’t forget to read about our other amazing winners.

 

 


Photography by Ian Patterson, hair and makeup by Jessica Haisinger, shot on location at Cluny Bistro & Boulangerie.

Precedent Setter Awards 2016: Jacqueline Swaisland

Jacqueline Swaisland

Associate, Lorne Waldman Professional Corporation
Called to bar in 2008

When the heartbreaking photo of three-year-old Syrian boy Alan Kurdi surfaced last summer in the midst of his country’s refugee crisis, friends and colleagues turned to Jacqueline Swaisland to find out how they could help. “I didn’t know,” admits the 35-year-old immigration and refugee lawyer. “My husband said, ‘If anybody can step up here, it’s you.’”

He was right. By October, Swaisland had co-founded the Refugee Sponsorship Support Program, now a nationwide network of 1,200 lawyers ready to help any Canadian who wants to sponsor a refugee to come to the country — all pro bono. In Toronto alone, they’ve helped more than 1,000 refugees.

Swaisland joined Lorne Waldman Professional Corporation, a top immigration firm known for its commitment to pro bono work, in 2009. “She’s brilliant,” says founding partner Lorne Waldman. “Jackie had lots of other opportunities and she chose to work in a field where the remuneration is not nearly as high as it might have been given her skill set.” After all, she is a Fulbright scholar with a master’s degree from Harvard.Jackie Swaisland

For Swaisland, helping those in need has always been a top priority. “Refugees don’t come with bags of money,” she says. “If they’re able to secure a job, they’re often in cleaning positions at minimum wage.” Close to 40 percent of her work is pro bono — even all six Supreme Court appearances.

The work can also be draining. Clients come from war-torn countries where seeing family members shot or blown up is common. “I can’t not be affected,” says Swaisland. But going home to her two-year-old daughter — who adorably yells “running!” whenever she bolts away from her mother — is a reliable remedy. “It’s very joyful to be with her and hear her giggle.”

 


Precedent Setter Awards 2016Don’t forget to read about our other amazing winners.

 

 


Photography by Ian Patterson, hair and makeup by Jessica Haisinger, shot on location at Cluny Bistro & Boulangerie.