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.”
Outside 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.”