Interview with Immigrant Newline.28 December, 2013

Page # 6 Community News/Interview


‘South Asian lawyers are improving their image within community’

An interesting and frank conversation between Lalit Soni, Indrakant Patel with GTA’s prominent lawyer, Mr. Jay Chauhan also known as Jayant Chauhan.

Q. How long have you practiced as a lawyer?

A. I was called to the bar at Lincoln’s Inn in 1965, in England, 1972 in Ontario and 1982 in Gujarat India. I have practiced 40 years in Ontario.

Q:1982 in Gujarat means you practiced there since 1982 and 1972 to 1982 in Canada. Is it so?

A: No, no. You misunderstood me. From 1965 to 1967 I was in Berlin studying for Master’s degree in Economic Development and obtained a degree in Germany. Then I came to Canada in 1967 to Guelph where I had a assistance professor’s teaching position. I declined it to study LL.B. here to be called to the bar here in Ontario. After call to bar in Ontario  in 1972 I have been practicing here in Richmond Hill, Ontario.

Q. What has your experience been as a lawyer in this country?

A. I had a successful practice but it has been very difficult to launch a practice in this country.

Q. Why is that so?

A. Because we as South Asians still carry that image of being new in the country and the image of immigrants, and the clients want security and trust to engage you as a lawyer in difficult cases.

Q. How can that be changed?

A. Our position as lawyers in this society has changed a lot in the last 40 years, and is changing by the day. We need to work to change our image in main stream communities. WE have succeeded in the last 40 YEARS IN IMPROVING our self-image within our community.

Q. How can that be done?

A. The public and South Asians in particular need to understand and acknowledge that we have lawyers with ability in our community and they have experience and expertise. Time was needed for us to have enough lawyers, and some of them will outperform others.

Q. What about the main stream community?

A. The professional bodies will recognize over time that we have good professionals in our community.

Q. What about lawyers?

A. The image of big law firms inToronto is strong and our lawyers are in small practices. It is not easy to match their expertise and resources. But we are moving in the right direction. We have many lawyers now, and two lawyer’s associations, SABA and CASAL and there are many good lawyers in our community.

Q. Where did you graduate?

A. I graduated in law first at Lincoln’s Inn in England and then in Ontario with LL.B. and J.D. from Osgoode Hall Law School at York University.

Q. Did you have to do your degree again in Ontario?

A. yes, I did LL.B. here. I was exempted from only first year and had to do 2 years of full time studies.

Q. Do you think that Ontario professional bodies make it difficult for foreign graduate to qualify here?

A. Yes, I think that some parts of the restrictions are based on need to understand the professional skills of Canada but there is also an element of making it difficult unnecessarily. In law it has been relaxed and now you can do NCA examinations without attending full time at university and there is a very large number of Indian community who are graduating in Ontario and England. Those who graduate in England must do additional examinations in subjects like evidence, constitutional law which are different in Canada.

Q. You are also a Deputy Judge? Can you be a judge and a lawyer at the same time?

A. I have been a Deputy Judge for the last 20 years. In the early eighties the government experimented with lawyers helping as deputy judges to bring the case load up to date and now it is a key feature of the Ontario judiciary in the Small Claims Court. When a lawyer acting as a deputy judge is presiding he cannot hear the cases of clients he is serving as a lawyer and this avoids the conflict of interest. The standards are high in Canada and the integrity of the professionals helps this dual role to function. I have sat as a Deputy Judge for 20 years and have never seen any problem arising.

Q. There are very few South Asian Judges. Why is that the case?

A. There are very few judges of South Asian origin. I am to my knowledge the only Gujarati speaking Judge in Canada. In my view the government is slow to recognize that we have many lawyers with 10 years experience and excellent reputation who can be appointed on the bench. Canadian Association of South Asian lawyers and other organizations are working towards getting this imbalance rectified. South Asian communities have to be more active to put pressure on their local M.P.s and also the government to have more South Asian appointments made on the bench.

Q. What is the current judicial appointments process?

A. The appointments process is gradually moving from cabinet appointing the judges to a evaluation committee recommending names. We are in transition. Historically the judicial appointments were made by the attorney general with the consent of the Cabinet and now about 85 % of the new appointments are through the recommendation of the Judicial Appointments advisory committee. In my observation the process is not as open as it should be. It is unlike US where it is very open.

Q:How Judicial advisory appointment committee is formed and from where the members picked up?

A: The Judicial advisory committee is appointed by cabinet and has diverse community members, but there is not a single south Asian on that committee.

Q. What other activities have you been involved in?

A. I am one of the founding members of the Indo Canada Chamber of Commerce, which is a very successful organization now with Prime Ministers and Premiers addressing meetings. In Richmond Hill I had founded the Richmond Hill Multicultural Association which is referred to in the wikipaedia. I also have a mentorship group of lawyers, law students and paralegals in which I am mentoring.

Q. I understand that you are also starting a charitable group?

A. Yes. This group will meet once a month and we will have dinner meetings and socialize but also arrange events to raise funds.

Q. Why start a new group for charity?

A. This group will be multicultural, so people of different backgrounds get to be comfortable with each other across the cultural lines and work together on a charitable front.

Q. Which charities are you targeting?

A. Both locally here in Richmond Hill for homeless as well as abroad for children and the needy. We will have someone directly connected with the charity and give a slide show or video and have a person who is responsible for the funds to be used without heavy administration costs that are usually paid to do foreign charities.

Q:What does it mean abroad?

A: Tanzania, India, Guayana.

Mr. Chauhan Sir, thank you so much for talking

with us.