Skip to Content

Putting passion into practice

Award winner Afifa Hashimi feels privileged to have a voice as a lawyer and uses it to speak up against discrimination and advocate for human rights.

Afifa Hashimi
Submitted Photo

From the time she was 16 and starting to learn about injustice and human rights violations, Afifa Hashimi decided she would do something about it.

“I felt called to pursue this path. Advocating for people's rights as a lawyer really appealed to me,” she says.

“I learned that law is a powerful tool. It can offer avenues for people to seek remedies and human rights protections. Equality can also be established through the law.”

For putting her passion into practice, Hashimi is this year’s winner of the CBA’s Douglas Miller Rising Star Award.

Gender-based discrimination, in particular, called to her. Her dad is from Afghanistan, and she grew up watching what was happening in that part of the world and feeling strongly about how women were treated there. For Hashimi, human rights were never something in the abstract — she’s seen what’s at stake.

The more she learned, however, the more she realized gender-based discrimination is an issue around the world, including here in Canada. It also became evident that all forms of discrimination and oppression are very much connected.

Hashimi is Afghan-Canadian, Indo-Canadian and Muslim. While she feels very privileged at this point in her life, she has experienced racism and Islamophobia. Growing up, she was called a terrorist at school.

“It’s something I've just been very aware of my whole life,” she says. “Aware of being perceived as different, as other, as less than. That stuck with me.”

This lived experience, and that of her family, has underpinned her call to this profession. While studying at the University of Victoria, she decided to pursue a practice that included labour law and human rights.

Upon graduating in 2020, Hashimi articled at Moore Edgar Lyster LLP, a boutique human rights and labour law firm in Vancouver. She’s now an associate there, and feels strongly about representing unions and advocating for workers’ rights.

“Work is a huge part of many people's lives, and it's so important for workers to be treated fairly and equitably, and to have good working conditions, compensation, a working environment free of harassment and discrimination,” she says.

It’s an area very much connected to gender-based discrimination, with labour demands at the forefront of so many important human rights and equality issues.

“I feel like the work I do in labour and human rights law really aligns with my values, as well as representing my clients and getting good outcomes for them. It drives me,” Hashimi says.

Those values are among the reasons Samrah Mian, a friend and lawyer with BC’s Ministry of Attorney General, nominated Hashimi for the award.

“Afifa probably has more integrity than anybody that I know. She has stayed true to her convictions and her values. She doesn't compromise on any of that. And she's managed to work hard and end up in a place where she gets to do the work she loves.”

Mian also stresses how kind Hashimi is and says it permeates her practice.

“She has a deep level of compassion and understanding for human beings.”

Hashimi says one of the assets she brings to the legal profession is empathy. It’s something she thinks is particularly important in human rights law when you’re representing people who have already gone through so much.

“I try to practice in a trauma-informed, culturally sensitive way,” she says, to make the experience less awful for people.

She believes that equity, diversity, and inclusion are so important in the legal profession because people from different cultures bring their lived experiences to their work.

“Knowing what it's like to be from a community that might experience discrimination in certain ways, I think it makes it a better experience to be able to empathize with others,” Hashimi says.

Unsurprisingly, most of her activities seek to increase diversity within the legal profession. In addition to her legal practice, Hashimi has been involved with the South Asian Legal Clinic of BC, the Federation of Canadian Lawyers of BC, the Canadian Muslim Lawyers Association, and West Coast LEAF.

That’s also true of her work with the Federation of Asian Canadian Lawyers (British Columbia), including her role as associate producer of the documentary But I Look Like a Lawyer.

“I am really grateful for that experience and all the attention the documentary got because I think it's really important to practice what we preach within the legal profession,” Hashimi says.

“How can you help others if we also have these issues within our profession?”

She’s currently the co-chair of the Human Rights Law Section at CBA BC and a member of the National CBA Constitutional and Human Rights Law Section executive. Hashimi says the CBA’s work is critical to influencing government laws and policies and shaping society to be more inclusive and equitable.

She also often speaks at continuing legal education events, including the CLE BC Human Rights Law Conference in 2023, where she and Sonya Sabet-Rasekh, presented their paper on the importance of using an intersectional framework in BC human rights law.

“I feel very privileged to have a voice, especially practicing in these areas of law,” Hashimi says. “I think it’s important to be able to use it.”

Given her knowledge of equity and diversity initiatives, she was appointed to the Law Foundation of BC’s advisory committee, where she adjudicated applications for racial justice grants.

Mian says Hashimi is involved in every equity and diversity initiative in Vancouver, given her “willingness to put in the time and effort and connect people.” It’s to the point her friends have told her she has to learn to say ‘no.’

“I don’t know too many lawyers her age and year of call doing as much as she is. She’s involved in so much. I can’t go anywhere with her without people recognizing her and saying hi.”

Somewhere in the throes of it all, Hashimi finds the time to mentor first-generation law school and articling students. As a first-generation lawyer, she says she didn’t know any lawyers before deciding to become one. However, through school and during the first few years of her career, she’s benefitted from the guidance and mentorship of other lawyers.

“I think it's just so essential,” Hashimi says.

“I feel like all of my success is the collective success of all of the people who have helped me and taught me what I know.”