SomaRay-Ellis, 44, was the lead counsel for Air India, rep- resenting the airline at the public inquiry into the June 23, 1985 bombing of Flight 182, Kanishka. As the only woman lead counsel at the national inquiry, she says she saw it “as an incredible opportunity to understand the connection between law, politics, the media and international relations. It involved the relationship between public law, aviation law, con- tract law, human rights law, personal injury law and the interrelationship was quite complicated because it was played out in such a public way.”
She is co-chair of the employment group at Himelfarb Proszanski LLP, a premiere downtown Toronto law firm. Her Air India experience makes her one of the few Canadian lawyers with knowledge of the legal and geopolitical issues involving terrorism. “Terrorism is not about national borders as it can strike anyone anywhere,” she says, pointing out the November 2008 attack on Mumbai by Pakistani terrorists. “To stop terrorism at its roots, we all have to play a role. Being wealthy or educated will not protect anyone from terrorism. It is the new form of warfare,” she says. Despite being a lawyer dealing with cold facts, the way the 329 Air India victims’ families’ plight has moved her. “I have a great deal of respect and awe for the family members who have lobbied for over two decades so that the whole picture could be revealed,” she says. She says she is aware of the enormity of the task before the Inquiry Commissioner John Major and the Commission. “The commission has worked tirelessly to piece together the whole story from every possible angle which is reflected in the voluminous materials presented at the inquiry,” she says.
The Air India tragedy, Canadians learnt during the inquiry, could have been averted. The bomb-laden suitcase was put on the flight despite no passenger boarding with that piece of luggage checked-in a clear violation of international airline safety rules. Other than her work with the Air India inquiry, Ray-Ellis is a prominent employment lawyer. She’s the author of Halsbury’s Laws of Canada, and the volume on Discrimination and Human Rights (April 2008) — which took her two years to write — now as the Bible on human rights law. She was widely quot- ed in the national media on recent changes to Ontario’s Human Rights Code. As an expert in employment and human rights, she has been involved in numerous cases of wrongful dismissal, human rights, pay equity, occupational health and safety, workers compensation, and employment standards. Her profile extends beyond Canada’s borders. She was recently invited by the Vienna, Austria-based Center for International Legal Studies to speak in Johannesburg, South Africa, at an international conference of lawyers. This was fol- lowed by an invitation from the American Bar Association to speak on human rights law in Rome, Italy.
Honors and awards keep coming her way. Last year, she was awarded Lawyer of the Year (Female) by the South Asian Bar Association of Toronto at its inaugural awards ceremony; in 2004, the Women Entrepreneurs of Canada conferred her the Champion Award for Business Leadership in celebration of Women Entrepreneurs Day. She is also the winner of sever- al academic awards including the Osgoode Hall Prize in Municipal Law and was the first South Asian woman lawyer to hold a clerkship at Ontario’s Superior Court of Justice with former Chief Justice Roy McMurtry. Ray-Ellis believes that her experience at the Air India inquiry has made her “a far better lawyer today.”
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