Isfahan Merali is joining the Law Foundation of Ontario as a member of its board of trustees, adding her depth of experience to the organization tasked with improving access to justice.
The Law Foundation of Ontario is a non-profit organization that funds other groups so they can provide initiatives that improve and educate people on access to justice.
As the first female South Asian bencher of the Law Society of Upper Canada, Merali has been a trailblazer as a human rights advocate.
“I’m deeply honoured,” says Merali who is also counsel and deputy registrar at the Ontario Judicial Council. “I’m excited to be able to add another voice on issues of access to justice and barriers that diverse communities face.”
As a legal professional who has practiced mental health law, and as a racialized licensee, she says that she has a lived experience of some of the issues faced by groups funded by the law foundation, which helps her to understand some of the barriers and challenges these groups must overcome when they try to access justice.
“We put out specific calls for marginalized and vulnerable communities, so that includes indigenous peoples, racialized communities, linguistic minorities, and so I hope that myself, coming from the South Asian community, will add to the perspective and the voice and the analysis that the law foundation trustees bring to looking at grant applications,” says Merali.
When it comes to upcoming projects that she’d like to pursue during her time on the board, Merali says she would like to focus on working with indigenous communities, especially since the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report was released, bringing greater interest in looking more carefully and more holistically at the problems this group faces, and on looking at “unique and innovative” projects and solutions coming from youth on access to justice.
“I don’t think there’s only one community that’s grossly underserved,” she says, adding that many groups are underserved and that family law in Ontario is also a sector in crisis.
There’s also the issue of diversity — it’s improving, but there’s still a lot of work to do, she says. Merali believes that the legal community should be as diverse as the people it serves in Ontario, and work needs to be done toward making a “much more inclusive and equitable legal community.”
With intentions of bringing these issues to light, Merali believes that providing tools, education and addressing issues that people face in a holistic and affordable way are keys for improving access to justice within the legal system.
“[Access to justice] is so multi-faceted,” she says. “It means understanding the legal education system and how to access it to get the help people need.”