Lawyers speaking for the ignored during the pandemic

Refugees and religious minorities are just two groups impacted that most Canadians choose to ignore

Lawyers speaking for the ignored during the pandemic

While the many negative impacts of the pandemic are obvious, including lives and livelihoods lost, others are not as visible. In this issue, we spoke with a few lawyers who are working to change that.

In our April issue cover story, we look at how the pandemic has impacted our immigration system. While the economic impacts of closing our borders may be obvious, other long-term effects are less visible.

Immigration lawyer Warda Shazadi Meighen says that, by closing its borders to refugees, Canada is not upholding its commitment under the United Nations Refugee Convention. With proper precautions for COVID-19, she says, Canada can continue to protect those vulnerable people.

The invisibility of those refugees, who are still abroad but are hoping to flee to Canada for safety, makes it easy for Canadians to ignore the impact of closing our borders during the pandemic. Yet lawyers such as Shazadi Meighen continue to speak on refugees’ behalf, hoping that Canada can safely bring them here as we did before the pandemic.

In a completely different context, Lisa Bildy, the staff lawyer at the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms, speaks about her advocacy work. While her role in the StopSOP campaign to get benchers elected in Ontario who felt a required statement of principles on diversity and inclusion should be reversed will be controversial for some readers, she also spoke about her current work challenging pandemic lockdown requirements at the JCCF.

This includes challenging restrictions for religious minorities such as rules against drive-in religious services that the JCCF successfully argued were overly onerous.

“I am of the view . . . from a historical perspective, that the fabric of society is very delicate,” Bildy says. “And if you are going to try and shut down a complex society, the way that has been done, and not expect there to be repercussions that are extremely damaging and extremely long-lasting, I think [it] is crazy.”

While Bildy and Shazadi Meighen are very different lawyers, they do share one trait. Both are working to highlight the effects of the pandemic that most Canadians choose to ignore. For that, they should be commended.

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