Launching the Filipino Canadian Lawyers Network

In-house counsel should celebrate identity and inclusion in organizations, writes Barbara De Dios

Barbara De Dios

Canada is currently home to approximately one million residents of Filipino origin. Considering the impacts of the Filipino community on Canada’s economic and social landscape, June was declared Filipino Heritage Month in Canada through a motion passed by Parliament in 2018.

More recently, on June 1, 2021, members of Canada’s legal community gathered to celebrate two special occasions, (i) the annual celebration of Filipino Heritage Month, recognizing the importance of the legal community in vocalizing support for equity-seeking groups across Canada, and (ii) to launch the Filipino Canadian Lawyers Network - Réseau des avocats philippino-canadiens (FCLN), an equity-seeking association and legal affinity group recently formed to bring awareness to legal issues and barriers affecting the Filipino community across Canada.

As the event touched on several current issues – the contributions of the Filipino community on the healthcare sector in the fight against COVID-19, and the timing of the FCLN’s launch following the rise of anti-Asian racism during the COVID-19 pandemic, to name a few – the event centred around the themes of championing community, identity, and practical strategies to support the communities that equity-seeking groups have mandated to protect. 

On community, identity, and the ‘how’ of scaling diversity initiatives

The FCLN’s launch was presented as an online event, with attendees across Canada and the United States.

As a legal association dedicated to addressing legal issues and barriers encountered by Filipino-Canadians, support for the FCLN’s underlying mandate was abundantly clear throughout the remarks presented by its guest speakers – particularly as they recognized the importance of building spaces to share, strategize, and deliver equity-seeking mandates in practical form.

“Here in Winnipeg…. Tagalog has been the second most spoken language after English,” Brad Regehr, President of the Canadian Bar Association, remarked, “Groups [like the FCLN] create a space where shared experiences break down barriers to communication and understanding. They also allow those long excluded in the [legal] profession to build community and support one another.”

As the FCLN’s guest speakers and attendees paused to reflect on strategies for community support and approaches to championing identity, truth, and reconciliation in Canada, the messaging was clear: the legal community’s both understanding and support are valuable tools when considering the advancement and application of practical solutions to issues of inclusivity and equality in the legal profession.

“Identities are powerful. They are also complex and multi faceted,” Gerald Chan, president of the Federation of Asian Canadian Lawyers, remarked, “[championing identities] enhance all voices when it comes to advocating for equality, justice… for all communities more broadly who have been marginalized throughout history. That is a powerful thing. There is power in identity and there is power in community.”

The event challenged attendees to understand the underlying value of equity-seeking associations and affinity groups and the broader application of its ideas. Importantly, how can we apply practical solutions and strategies not just to the legal profession, but to our organizations (with practical in-house application), law firms, community groups?

Launching the Filipino Canadian Lawyers Network - Réseau des avocats philippino-canadiens (FCLN)

“We owe a debt of gratitude to the Filipino community (and many other communities) for your contributions throughout the pandemic,” The Honourable Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, Marco Mendicino, remarked at the FCLN’s launch, “We see Filipino-Canadians stepping up as living proof that newcomers to Canada give back with compassion and dedication.”

FCLN is dedicated to Identifying and bringing awareness to legal issues, barriers and concerns affecting the Filipino-Canadian community. It also seeks to promote, support, develop, network and collaborate with Filipino-Canadian legal professionals (including lawyers, paralegals, law clerks) and seeks to encourage the Filipino-Canadian community to enter into legal careers by providing education, resources, mentorship, internship and other opportunities. While the FCLN continues to dedicate itself to supporting the Filipino-Canadian community, it is also open to collaborating with other legal organizations to recognize individuals or groups who need further support.

The in-house perspective: Opportunities to celebrate identity and inclusion within our own organizations

The underlying themes of events such as these begs the question of its application to our own organizations and firms.

As in-house counsel (and lawyers generally), we hold a responsibility to uphold professional, ethical standards in our practice.  This responsibility intersects with our responsibilities as leaders in our organizations, as members of management teams, as members of in-house legal departments, potentially contributing to key governance decisions that impact inclusivity, such as inclusive hiring policies, equitable wage reviews, decisions on leadership and management, representation in leadership positions, among other pertinent and pressing governance issues.

“There was a time when our conversations about these issues centered on ‘why’ – why is it important to have a diverse bar?” Charlene Theodore, President of the Ontario Bar Association, remarked during the launch. “We’ve now reached the ‘how’… How to advance meaningful and measurable ways to equality. I see things are changing in our workplaces... A culture shift is underway which can unlock opportunities for aspiring lawyers from all walks of life.”

As we reflect on the FCLN’s event themes, the ‘how’ and the practicalities required to foster inclusivity are certainly key takeaways and considerations as we contemplate its application to our own day-to-day decision-making and contributions as in-house counsel.

While events such as these leave attendees with a great vision and optimism, these themes leave a lasting, practical thought: there are certainly practical strategies to implement inclusivity within our organizations. While the recognition that diversity is essential to service excellence and strategy is recognized, the actual application of these strategies within our companies requires steps, process, engagement, leadership, and substantive action.

The FCLN’s founding Board of Directors consists of:

  • Alicia Natividad as President (the first Filipino woman called to the bar in Ontario)
  • Rachel Sachs as Vice-President
  • Richel Castaneda as Secretary
  • Barbara De Dios as Treasurer
  • Lou Janssen Dangazlan as Membership & Outreach
  • Carina DelFrate as Governance & Compliance

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