As the daughter of Afghan refugees growing up in Toronto’s economically deprived St. James Town neighbourhood, Maryam Hassan developed a yearning for social justice early in life.
As the Osgoode Hall Law School graduate grew older, she pursued that goal through her passions for the law and visual arts. And now her work has been recognized with the 2022 Justice Rosalie Silberman Abella Prize, making her the law school’s first recipient of the distinguished award.
Hassan is among the inaugural winners of the $1,000 prize, which the Royal Society of Canada presents annually to one graduating law student at each of Canada’s 23 law schools. The award’s name pays tribute to former Supreme Court of Canada justice Rosalie Silberman Abella, who was the first Jewish woman and refugee to serve on the federal bench. She retired from that role in 2021.
Hassan, who plans to pursue criminal defence work, will begin articling in spring 2022 with the prominent Toronto-based litigation boutique, Henein Hutchison LLP.
“This recognition further strengthens my commitment to continue my hard work and fight for social justice throughout my legal career,” she said. “It’s an honour to receive this award in Justice Abella’s name, as she has made a tremendous impact in advancing equity and social justice across Canadian society and beyond.”
Hassan’s desire to make a difference drove her in 2014 to co-found Serendipity Visual Arts, a youth-led, visual arts organization dedicated to increasing access to quality visual arts programming for racialized and low-income youth in the St. James Town community.
During law school, she partnered with Toronto Community Housing Corporation to provide creative legal education workshops in St. James Town. Among other things, she explained, racialized youth “learned more about their legal rights in police encounters and made mixed media collages about how to take collective action towards community violence reduction.”
Her interest in community advocacy also prompted her to seek experience with Osgoode’s Neighbourhood Legal Services community legal clinic. In the summer of 2021, she volunteered with the Sentencing and Parole Project (SPP), conducting research on anti-Black racism in the criminal justice system with support from Osgoode’s Ian Scott Public Interest Internship Program.
In her third year at Osgoode, Hassan also served as the equity officer for the law school’s chapter of Pro Bono Students Canada, director of communications for Osgoode’s Muslim Law Students’ Association and an advocacy committee member with the Women’s Law Association of Ontario.
“I am determined to use my law degree to meaningfully continue this critical equity-focused work within Canadian society,” she said. “By practicing criminal defence, I hope to continue to protect the liberty and human rights of individuals from the abuse of police and state powers, especially the rights of individuals who are most marginalized in the criminal justice system.”