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Asian Star- Sania Chaudhry

Asian Star- Sania Chaudhry

Native Village/Country parent’s background

My parents are from Karachi, Pakistan, being of Muhajir origin with my late mother’s family being originally from Patna, Bihar and my father’s family being originally from Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh. 

Your Early Education

I went to elementary and high school in Vancouver, BC after which I did my Bachelors of Law, double majoring in Psychology and Sociology with Class I Distinction, at the University of British Columbia and then I completed my Juris Doctor (Law Degree) with a Social Justice Specialization at the Peter A. Allard School of Law also at the University of British Columbia. I then moved to Calgary, Alberta. I currently am doing my Masters of Law part-time at the University of Calgary, while also practicing full-time as a Lawyer, focusing on critical race theory and administrative law. 

When & Why You came to Canada

I was born and raised in Vancouver, BC. My mother immigrated to Canada in the late 1980s with her family to join her sister in Canada. My father immigrated to Canada as a refugee in the early 1990s. Both viewed Canada as the ideal place to raise a family and have a fulfilling future both in the realm of education, career, and human rights. My parents strongly valued education. My mother was a teacher in Pakistan and completed early childhood education courses in Canada to have a career as a Childcare provider and Nanny, while my dad had his BA in Pakistan but then when he arrived in Canada he re-educated himself in the Canadian School System from Grade 11 onwards (despite being married and soon being a father) and went on to become a Registered Professional Accountant in North Vancouver, BC. 

Your career advancement initiatives, volunteer work and present occupation

I am a lawyer with Forte Workplace Law offering services to employers and employees in Employment, Labour and Human Rights matters, as well as conducting workplace investigations and respectful workplace training for clients in both Alberta and BC. Prior to that, I was Conduct Counsel at the Real Estate Council of Alberta practicing in Administrative & Regulatory prosecutions in the professional discipline context, prior to which I practiced in Family, Employment and Immigration law. I am also a current part-time student at the University of Calgary, Faculty of Law in their Masters of Law program, with my research focusing on critical race theory and Administrative Law in the context of reasonable apprehension of bias. I am also a current Canadian Bar Association (CBA) Alberta Board Director, Board Liaison and Past Chair of the CBA Alberta Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Committee, Member of the CBA National Equality Subcommittee, President of the Federation of Asian Canadian Lawyers – Western Chapter, Practice Group Leader and Secretary of The Advocates’ Society Regulatory & Administrative Law Group,  Past Member of the Law Society of Alberta Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Committee, Board Director of the Centre for Sexuality, and Chair and Founder of the Alberta Chapter of the Canadian Muslim Lawyers Association. I am also a Member-at-Large of the CBA National Administrative Law section and a Board member of the Young Advocates Standing Committee of the Advocates’ Society. 

My op-ed highlighting intersectionality and mental health in the Legal Profession was published in the Globe and Mail in 2022 and I have published other articles on equity, diversity, inclusion and anti-racism issues in the profession elsewhere as well over the years. I was a speaker on gendered Islamophobia at the Legal Education and Action Fund (LEAF) Edmonton Equality Breakfast in April 2022.  I was recognized in 2022 as a Top 30 Under 30 by the Alberta Council of Global Cooperation. Also in 2022, I was the recipient of the Women Who Inspire Award by the Canadian Council of Muslim Women and the Community Crusader Award by the South Asian Inspiration Awards. I was also recently appointed in 2022 onto the Alberta Anti-Racism Advisory Council. 

Your Regret in Life

My biggest regret in my life was not actively attempting to strike a work-life balance in the early portions of my Legal career. During my articles (after you graduate Law School, you have to do a one-year practicum called “articling”), my late mother came to visit me in Calgary for a month from Vancouver where she resided. I was pregnant at the time with my daughter, so my mind was focused on working as hard as I can to bill as many hours I could before I had to take maternity leave. So I actually did not take any real time off to be with my mother, but rather kept working from home when I wasn’t in the office while she simply was there and we spent time at home together. I wish I had taken time off and fully unplugged during that time to spend true quality time with her, as that actually ended up being her last ever visit to me before she passed away. Still during articles, I gave birth to my daughter. At first, I was trying to work as much as possible throughout the pregnancy and the plan was that I would continue doing my Bar admission course assignments after she was born so that I have my said course completed during my maternity leave. Then, reality hit when my daughter was born a week early and one of my assignments was due a week after that. I realized in that sleep-deprived state that you cannot overdo it and even if you have a delay due to a blessing such as this, that does not impact your career in the long run. Therefore, I asked to defer that one assignment.

However, even then I planned to complete the next assignment, which was due 6 weeks later. Then, unfortunately, when my daughter was only 21 days old, I found out that my mom, who lived in Vancouver, was in the hospital. I didn’t think twice. I dropped everything and flew to Vancouver with my daughter and husband. Even during that time, I thought I could complete the assignment during my mom’s hospital stay on my laptop. My mom was in the hospital for 5 weeks and I was there with her during the days and with my newborn daughter during the nights. Unfortunately, my mom passed away on January 25, 2019. I then realized that I had to slow down. I deferred my Bar admission course assignments by an extra six months and focused on taking care of my mom’s final affairs, grieving, and being with family during that time.

What I learned from these experiences was that we have to have a work-life balance. Now I strive to have that balance while juggling an energetic beautiful toddler and a rewarding but demanding career. In fact, I think it makes us better Lawyers if we take a break from our professional life at certain points in our lives. I really regret not realizing that sooner, especially during my mom’s last visit to Calgary.

Pick Any One of Your Best Achievements

One of the highest points in my career was obtaining two reported decisions during my Immigration practice from the Federal Court where I won due to my advocacy and determination to better the lives of my clients. In Perez v. Canada (Citizenship and Immigration), 2020 FC 1171, my client lost his status in Canada from a hearing that had been held in his absence. The Court found it a breach of procedural fairness and a denial of natural justice in this case to take away my client’s status without giving him an opportunity to be heard. The Court also noted that issues of procedural fairness are outside the standard of review and that contextual evidence not before the administrative decision-maker can be considered at judicial review in such cases. This was a challenging and rewarding first Federal Court win for me, and a deserving one for my client.

In Garcia v. Canada (Citizenship and Immigration), 2021 FC 14, my client’s PR application had been refused due to her husband being found criminally inadmissible in a foreign country despite his charges having been dropped by that foreign country. In this case, I was able to advocate using the Law and really going into detail into the record to get a positive result for my client due to the Visa Officer having not taken a proper criminal equivalency analysis but also due to the procedural unfairness of relying on the Officer’s general views that things in the particular foreign country would be resolved via settlement without actually putting this to my client to respond.

Outside of client advocacy, the highest points in my career have been furthering my equity, diversity and inclusion efforts by fostering collaborations between different organizations serving Lawyers to provide networking events and professional development on reasonable apprehension of bias, anti-racism training, bystander intervention, power dynamics & mental health, and ally ship.

Were You Ever Discriminated?

Discrimination unfortunately is a normal experience for those with intersecting historically marginalized identities. I am a Muslim, racialized woman from a lower socio-economic background. I have experienced overt discrimination, but also subtle discrimination in the form of micro aggressions which have always been a part of my life. The micro aggressions, racism, sexism, and Islamophobia became worse in higher education. I had to work twice as hard to prove myself.

I remember that in a Sociology class about Health during my Undergraduate Bachelors degree, we were having a discussion about Doctors needing cultural competency, a classmate piped up that he was really concerned about cultural relativism because “when a Muslim father sees that his wife has had a daughter, his first instinct is to the kill the baby.” Dumbfounded, I stared at him. 

Nobody in my class spoke up. After class, my friend told me the look on my face said it all. But, that cut me.

After graduating with my Bachelors, I navigated Law School always feeling like the only one from a lower-income background and constantly racially bothered. I was once told I must have gotten in on a “quota” despite having a 4.33 GPA. People often commented with surprise that I was “well-spoken” or “well-articulated,” demeaning my credentials.

After my JD degree, in 2018, I articled with a small, supportive firm that stood up for me when a potential client said he didn’t want a consultation because of my race. But, I was unable to ask for the help I needed while facing micro aggressions and personal trauma, as there were no mentors with similar intersectional identities to me at the firm. There is a stigma in the legal profession, especially while articling and hoping to get hired on, for asking for mental health support for fear that you will be judged as not being able to handle being a lawyer. 

I faced my first direct Islamophobic incident that same year on Canada Day. My mother-in-law, my late mother, and I were in an elevator with two other men at the Core Shopping Centre in Downtown Calgary. One of the men, seeing my mother-in-law’s hijab, began loudly swearing, saying we need to go back where we came from and punching the wall of the elevator. The other stared into space, ignoring the aggressor. We looked at the floor, praying silently that he would not hit us. Thankfully, he didn’t. The elevator opened and he continued grumbling as he exited.

Volunteering with organizations serving diverse Lawyers, as well as the Canadian Bar Association – Alberta Branch and the Federation of Asian Canadian Lawyers – Western Chapter, helped free me from the feelings of isolation and allowed me to connect with other racialized and female-identifying Lawyers. I began working on advancing equity, diversity and inclusion in the Legal profession and last year I founded the Alberta Chapter of the Canadian Muslim Lawyers Association.

Are You Happy in Canada?

Canada is home, Canada is my life, and not only am I happy in Canada, I am passionate about making Canada a better place through meaningful works towards furthering anti-racism, equity, diversity and inclusion with an intersectional focus. 

Any Comments on Canada’s Culture

Canada’s commitment to human rights and equality is an important ideal. We have to work hard to actually achieve this ideal – to move beyond formal equality to true substantive equity and to educate ourselves on our points of privilege that blind us to the inequities differing historically marginalized groups in our society face.

Any Comments on Canada’s Weather

I grew up in this weather and I love it!

What Brought You Success in Canada?

Hard work, mentors and allies that were willing to take time to lift me up in the Legal profession, and the values instilled in me by both my parents. 

Are You Willing to Help New Immigrants and How?

I have always been happy to help new immigrants. I did so first through my clients in my Immigration practice and I continue to do through mentoring of internationally trained Lawyers who have immigrated to Canada. I also hope to continue to give back to new immigrants through my Employment and Human Rights Legal practice. 

I think it is important for me to give back to my community through my work at Forte Workplace Law – we offer advice to Employers and Employees on everything from hiring, being hired, firing, and being fired and all the complex issues within that, such as payment of severance upon being laid off and other workplace issues. We also help in regards to Human Rights issues, such as discrimination and harassment at work, which I know members of our community face. I think I offer a valuable insight since I understand my ethnic community, speak the language, and have cultural competency to see where cultural factors play a role in these issues and I am passionate about helping my community in this regard. Our firm is very passionate about giving back to the community. I am also active in volunteering in the community to foster access to justice and equality for our community and amplify and raise the voices of Asian Canadians in the Legal profession and the wider community. 

Your Message for Canadians of Asian Origin

We need to lift up all the voices in our Asian Canadian community to provide role models for our younger generation and to help others succeed in their various fields and pursuits. 

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