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Getting to know Ranjan Agarwal

The winner of this year’s CBA Young Lawyers Pro Bono Award, Ranjan Agarwal has been described as a “thought leader” when it comes to a lawyer’s duty to advance the cause of access to justice. He is the past president of the South Asian Bar Association of Toronto and a partner at Bennett Jones LLP.

Photo of Ranjan Agarwal

N: Who has had the biggest influence on you and why?

RA: My parents – they immigrated to Canada with almost nothing, all so their children could have a future where merit not birthright decided your destiny. Eric Hoaken – the best lawyer I know, and my mentor and champion, both as a lawyer and father. Justice Russell Juriansz – the first South Asian on the Ontario Court of Appeal, and lion of the human rights bar.

N: What would you do if you could take a year off?

RA: My wife Sunita and I always wanted to volunteer in India with our daughters. We want them to be connected to their Indian heritage. My MA thesis examined public interest litigation as a tool to combat child labour in South Asia – I would love the opportunity to put that theoretical work into practice.

N: Name three books that influenced you and tell us why

RA: Fifth Business by Roberston Davies. Its exploration of good and evil through the eyes of a boy from Deptford is classically Canadian.

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck. It’s the American counterpart to Fifth Business because of the religious imagery. My heart breaks for the Joads every time I read it.

The Bridge by David Remnick. Obama is a great storyteller, but Remnick may have told Obama’s story better than Obama himself could have. Obama is a real hero of mine, more so now than ever.

N: What advice would you give your younger self?

RA: Go slow! I can be impatient both with myself and others, but I have learned that the law demands self-control.

N: What new skill would you like to learn and why?

RA: RVing. My children are desperate for us to rent a mobile home and go camping. But I need to know how to drive a camper van first. And build a fire.

N: If you could change one thing about the practice of law what would it be?

RA: We must do more to make the profession more reflective of our communities. This isn’t just about the representation. It’s an access to justice issue – how can new Canadians and visible minorities have confidence in their justice system if it looks nothing like their schools, temples and community centres? Osgoode Hall is not Toronto. Brar’s Sweets in Brampton, Pacific Mall, Caribana – that is the real Toronto, and our justice system should look like those places.