The Canadian Bar Association (CBA) has named Professor Faisal Bhabha as the recipient of its 2023 Touchstone Award, which celebrates the accomplishments of an individual or an organization who has excelled in promoting equality in the legal profession, the judiciary or the legal community in Canada.
The prestigious honour is one of six national CBA Awards of Excellence presented every year to individuals whose outstanding achievements have made significant contributions to the association, the legal profession and to society. They were presented by CBA President Steeves Bujold during the annual CBA President’s Dinner at Ottawa’s Chateau Laurier Hotel on the evening of June 21. The Ottawa-based organization represents about 36,000 lawyers, judges, notaries, law teachers and law students from across Canada.
In a CBA news release, Bhabha was cited for “his excellent work advancing equality in the legal profession, including his exceptional contributions to legal academia, his volunteer work for various equality-driven organizations and his precedent-setting pro bono work.”
“I can only express heartfelt gratitude to you for having selected me for this most distinguished and humbling recognition,” Bhabha said in his acceptance speech, singling out for special thanks his family, his Osgoode colleagues and his law firm associates at Toronto-based PooranLaw.
“The promotion of equality under the law is something I take very personally,” he added, recalling how, as a law student, he watched in horror as two airplanes flew into New York City’s World Trade Centre in September 2001. But in the ensuing months and years, he said, he was equally perplexed by how Canada sacrificed the rights and freedoms of Canadian Muslims with vague justification, making them carry the burden of suspicion.
“In the cases I’ve been involved in over the years,” he said, “I’ve been struck by the plight of people struggling for simple recognition – as subjects in a liberal society who are deserving of equality – in the face of near insurmountable stereotypes and obstacles.
“My hope for the future,” he concluded, “is that the guarantee of equality be realized more broadly for all those members of marginalized communities who still await its promise.”
Osgoode Dean Mary Condon celebrated the CBA’s announcement. “As a recipient of the Touchstone Award, Professor Bhabha follows in the footsteps of some of Canada’s most accomplished legal minds and some of our staunchest defenders of human rights,” she said. “The Osgoode community is very proud of his achievement.”
Previous recipients of the Touchstone Award include Madam Justice Rosalie Abella, Madam Justice Claire L’Heureux-Dubé, Professor Kathleen Mahoney, Chief Justice Catherine Fraser and Professor Laverne Jacobs.
Bhabha, a former vice-chair of the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario, teaches constitutional law, human rights, legal ethics and appellate advocacy at Osgoode. He also maintains a varied public and private law practice and has appeared before administrative boards and tribunals and at all levels of court, including the Supreme Court of Canada. He also serves as faculty director for Osgoode Professional Development’s professional LLM in Constitutional Law program.