Diversity as Strength

The Federation of Asian Canadian Lawyers (FACL) is one of the largest legal professional associations in Canada focused on diversity. It began in Ontario in 2007 and chapters have since started in BC, Alberta, Quebec, and the Atlantic region. BC’s chapter began in 2011 with a modest 30 lawyers meeting in a downtown Vancouver restaurant but has quickly grown to about 200 members. According to Jennifer Lau (LLB ’08) Director of Career Services at the Allard School of Law and former FACL President, FACL has been critical in helping to build community and support systems for Asian Canadian lawyers and law students.

“I think an organization like FACL is important for networking and community building; to connect with people who have had similar experiences; and to advocate for equality.” says Lau. “For students, it can be particularly important because everyone in law school already has imposter syndrome. Then you layer on the historical and current underrepresentation of racialized peoples in the law. You look around for inspirational role models for your own career development, and yet there are so few judges, law firm partners, and organizational leaders of Asian descent.”

This lack of Asian representation in the upper echelons of the legal system is most likely due to the fact that Canada has only had two generations of Asian Canadian lawyers so far.  Chinese and South Asian Canadians were denied the right to vote until 1947 and Japanese Canadians until 1949, which meant that they were also not allowed to practice law. Allard Law alumnus Justice Randall Wong (LLB ’66) made history in 1974 when he became the first Chinese-Canadian federally-appointed judge. At the time, visible minorities made up fewer than approximately 5% of Canada’s population [1]. Times have changed. Today, approximately 20% of the general population is visible minorities [2]. In Metro Toronto and Vancouver, this figure approaches or exceeds 50% [3]. But when Justice Wong retired from the bench in 2016, fewer than approximately 1% of federally-appointed judges on provincial superior courts were visible minorities [4].

Allard School of Law alumnus, Steven Ngo (JD ’14) started the Alberta chapter of FACL, FACL Western, which has grown to include four cities, Calgary, Edmonton, Saskatoon, and Winnipeg and has almost 400 members.

“FACL is an organization that is near and dear to me,” says Ngo. “I first got involved when I was a student at the Allard School of Law. My dad was a refugee from Vietnam and my mom was a new immigrant from China. Neither of them knew anyone in law and I was the first in my family to pursue law as a career. Thankfully, FACL was around during my student days. I couldn’t have reached where I am today without the various mentors and people that I met through the organization.”

On November 2, the BC Chapter of Federation of Asian Canadian Lawyers (FACL BC) hosted their sixth annual gala to raise money to support the organization, as well as other philanthropic ventures.

Besides going toward FACL BC events and operations, proceeds from last year’s gala supported the Vancouver Asian Canadian Theatre (as selected by the gala’s keynote speaker), and the Islamophobia Legal Assistance Hotline, which connects individuals who have experienced discrimination, harassment, or violence because they are Muslim or are perceived to be Muslims with lawyers offering free confidential legal advice. The Allard School of Law has supported FACL BC by purchasing a table at their annual gala since 2013 and by supporting the involvement of faculty, staff, and students in FACL BC.

“This year, FACL BC will continue to focus on our mentorship program and work to enhance the voice of our members in the legal community, as well as initiating and continuing the dialogue on diversity,” explains current President and Allard Law alumna Maria Kim-Bautista (JD ’13). Proceeds from the gala are integral to continuing FACL BC’s work in building a more diverse and representative legal profession.

Like Ngo, Kim-Bautista got involved with FACL BC during her time as a student at the Allard School of Law and she says it was vital to her developing a sense of community and connections within the BC law community. “It was really encouraging to see that there were so many Asian-Canadian legal professionals in the community. The more I spoke with Asian-Canadian law students and lawyers alike, the more I realized many of us shared similar experiences and unique challenges in law school and beyond,” she said. “The lawyers I met through FACL spent countless hours mentoring me throughout my law school and articling years and as I began my career, which motivated me to get more involved with FACL BC in the hopes of giving back to this community.”

While the representation of Asian Canadians in the field of law is improving, finding where you fit can still be a struggle. “In my first year of law school in 2005, I was the only woman of colour in my small group of 25 people,” Lau says. “Our JD class has gotten more and more ethnically diverse over the years. But if you’re a current student and not sure where your place is or how you fit, come talk to me. Our experiences may not be identical, but I – and others – can help you find a community of people to support you and to help you work to your strengths. And yes, your diversity is a strength.”

To learn more about FACL BC and how to get involved, visit their website at faclbc.ca.

You can reach Jennifer Lau, Director of Career Services, at lau@allard.ubc.ca.

 


[1] Figure is an approximation, extrapolated from Statistics Canada’s 1971 Census data. Here, “visible minority” includes “Asiatic” and “Other Origin” but excludes “Native Indian and Inuit” and “Not Stated”.

[2] Figure is an approximation, extrapolated from Statistics Canada's 2011 National Household Survey. The Employment Equity Act defines as visible minorities 'persons, other than Aboriginal persons, who are non-Caucasian in race or non-white in colour.' The visible minority population consists mainly of the following groups: South Asian, Chinese, Black, Filipino, Latin American, Arab, Southeast Asian, West Asian, Korean and Japanese.

[3] Figure is an approximation, extrapolated from Statistics Canada's 2011 National Household Survey. The Employment Equity Act defines as visible minorities 'persons, other than Aboriginal persons, who are non-Caucasian in race or non-white in colour.' The visible minority population consists mainly of the following groups: South Asian, Chinese, Black, Filipino, Latin American, Arab, Southeast Asian, West Asian, Korean and Japanese.

[4] Extracted from: Andrew Griffith, “We need a baseline of information about diversity in judicial appointments, in order to evaluate the government’s promises”, Policy Options, May 4, 2016, available online: Policy Options <http://policyoptions.irpp.org/2016/05/04/diversity-among-federal-provincial-judges/>