South Asian Bar Association links community at home and abroad

Becoming a lawyer wasn’t a childhood dream for Mandeep Dhaliwal, but he hopes that today’s South Asian youth will know how rewarding a career in law can be. Three years ago, Dhaliwal co-founded the South Asian Bar Association of British Columbia (SABABC) with this goal in mind.

“Many of our members, including myself, are first generation Canadians and growing up we didn’t have a lot of role models in our community who were lawyers,” says Dhaliwal, President of SABABC and Director of the North American South Asian Bar Association. “SABABC can really help provide that mentorship so that going to law school is on the radar for South Asian youth.”

SABABC, the first Canadian chapter of the North American South Asian Bar Association, brings together a diverse community of 40 South Asian and non-South Asian lawyers, including law students, junior and senior lawyers and judges. In addition to offering a student mentorship program with students from the University of BC and University of Victoria and plans to expand to high schools, the bar association offers networking opportunities and community outreach to address issues facing the South Asian community.

On the networking front, SABABC hosted its second annual gala dinner on February 16 with 180 people in attendance, including Senator Mobina Jaffer, QC, the first South Asian woman called to the Bar in BC, Attorney General Wally Oppal, QC, Chief Justice Lance Finch, Law Society President Anna Fung, QC and Bencher Art Vertlieb, QC, who is a member of SABABC.

The bar association has already begun delivering legal education seminars to help the South Asian community better understand the Canadian justice system. In November, SABABC hosted the first of this series — a Punjabi language wills and estates seminar presented in partnership with the Surrey Progressive Intercultural Community Services Society.

“Through our organization we can collectively identify ways to address the needs of the South Asian community, says Jaia Rai, Vice President, Special Events. “For example, we’d like to play a role in improving access to legal education and increasing representation on the judiciary.”

In addition to legal education, SABABC is looking at ways to address domestic violence and gang violence, which impact the South Asian community at large and create unique challenges in delivering legal services.

The bar association has also defined a role as a media watchdog on these issues to ensure the South Asian community is not portrayed in a negative light. To date, SABABC hasn’t felt the need to step in, but the organization is prepared to do so if necessary.

“We are a relatively new organization, and there are many ways that our work can benefit South Asian lawyers, the South Asian community and the community at large,” says Rai. “My hope is that the organization will one day be strong enough in terms of membership and support that our presence will make a difference.”

Dhaliwal sees international opportunities on the horizon. “We’d like to develop international links that will generate work for our members. India’s economy is growing rapidly, and I think our lawyers are very well positioned to work with Canadian companies entering the Indian market and Indian companies interested in investing in Canada.”

For more information about SABABC, visit sababc.com or contact Mandeep Dhaliwal at mdhaliwal@lawsonlundell.com.