Experts discuss human rights in pluralistic society

A group of expertsA group of experts gathered at Osgoode Hall on May 10 to debate the need for a new framework for discussing human rights in a pluralistic society. The event, held to celebrate Asian and South Asian Heritage Month, was presented by the Law Society in partnership with the Federation of Asian Canadian Lawyers, the Metro Toronto Chinese and Southeast Asian Legal Clinic, the South Asian Bar Association of Toronto and the South Asian Legal Clinic of Ontario.

Experts discussed recent issues that have re-ignited debates involving multiculturalism, discrimination, and the accommodation of difference in an increasingly diverse Canadian society.

Michael T. Doi, counsel, Constitutional Law Branch, Ministry of the Attorney General of Ontario, chaired the panel discussion, which concluded with a robust question-and-answer session with the audience. The first panellist to present, Marie Chen, legal advisor and senior investigator, Office of the Ombudsman, City of Toronto, contended that there is a deep-seated denial of the existence of racism within Canada and that Canada’s emphasis on multiculturalism propagates this denial.

Haroon Siddiqui, editorial page editor emeritus for the Toronto Star took a different stance, stressing the importance of popular opinion: "Just because the Charter of Rights and Freedoms says we are all equal does not translate into reality. We, as citizens, have to translate it into reality."

The third panellist, Sonia Lawrence, associate professor, Osgoode Hall Law School, examined the issue of cultural intolerance, noting that "race is culturally structured rather than genetic."

At the reception after the panel discussion, Professor Vern Krishna, bencher and former Treasurer of the Law Society of Upper Canada, shared his experience as an early racialized lawyer and bencher.

DIYAS Arts and Entertainment then gave a lively and entertaining Bollywood Fusion dance performance. Sharon Lee, violinist, and Soohyun Nam, cellist, provided music throughout the reception.

The Asian and South Asian Heritage Month event is held annually and is part of the Law Society’s Public Education Equality Series.