SABA Toronto will continue countering anti-EDI narrative in year ahead, says president Devin Persaud

'Very happy' with LSO election, will also focus on pro-bono work and 2024 conference

SABA Toronto will continue countering anti-EDI narrative in year ahead, says president Devin Persaud
Devin Persaud, president of the South Asian Bar Association of Toronto

Over the next year, a primary focus for the South Asian Bar Association of Toronto (SABA Toronto) will be enhancing the organization’s pro-bono work, preparing for the 2024 SABA conference, and continuing to counter the narrative that the profession is overemphasizing diversity, says SABA Toronto president Devin Persaud.

The 2023 Law Society of Ontario Bencher election played a large role in SABA Toronto’s public advocacy over the last year. The election was mostly a competition between the Good Governance Coalition and the FullStop slate, and SABA Toronto was an early backer of the former. They endorsed candidates from the South Asian community, rallied the vote among the membership, and organized an event when voting kicked off in partnership with the Federation of Asian Canadian Lawyers and the Canadian Association of Black Lawyers.

Initially, the Good Governance Coalition took all 20 outside-Toronto positions, all 20 inside-Toronto positions, and all five paralegal positions. But judicial appointments of coalition members and the vacancy left by the appointment of the treasurer invited four FullSTOP members into Convocation for the term.

“Needless to say, we were very happy with the result,” says Persaud, an associate in the competition and foreign investment group at Goodmans. “It was something that was a big win for us – not only as an organization but as a community. I was really proud of not only the Toronto lawyers but all of the Ontario lawyers for coming together and realizing that we needed good governance back at the law society.”

Facing SABA Toronto, and other diverse bar associations, is the sense among some that the profession is focussing too much on diversity, he says.

“We're trying to combat that. A real issue is that we don't have data from law firms or from other legal employers to show whether diversity is an issue in the profession or not.”

“We've actually been working with other groups to figure out how we get more accurate data, and then show that diversity is, in fact, an issue… At the upper echelons of corporate Canada, in law firms, and other organizations, I feel that we’re an underrepresented group. Especially given our representation of the populace.”

In the past, SABA Toronto partnered with Pro Bono Ontario and various other community organizations to promote pro-bono work among its members. Persaud says the organization will emphasize this aspect of its operations in the following year.

“We really want to make sure this year that we have an avenue where our members who want to volunteer their time towards bettering South Asians can do that in a kind of direct and grassroots manner.”

SABA Toronto has also been working on a National Accreditation Association manual for foreign-qualified lawyers to navigate the path to becoming licensed in Ontario, he says. SABA Toronto has carried out this project in partnership with the Internationally Trained Lawyers Network.

“More than ever, especially post-pandemic, we've seen a surge in foreign-trained lawyers become part of our membership,” says Persaud. “It's our job to help support them.”

SABA Toronto held its annual general meeting on July 26. The organization elected eight new board members and a new executive team and revealed the names of three recipients of the annual Student Recognition Awards. In addition to Persaud’s re-election to the presidency, SABA Toronto elected Mohena Singh as vice-president and Richa Sandill as secretary.

SABA Toronto is the local chapter of the South Asian Bar Association of North America; it includes more than 1,000 members from law firms, corporate legal departments, and government; and is a member of the Ontario Bar Association Council, the Roundtable of Diversity Associations, and the Law Society of Ontario’s Equity Advisory Group.

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