Badari receives Honourable Cecilia Johnstone Equality Award

Addressing inequality through unconventional means-Adam Badari receives the Honourable Cecilia Johnstone Equality Award.

Katherine Thompson - 09 May 2011

Congratulations to Adam Badari, recipient of the Honourable Cecilia Johnstone Equality Award. The award is bestowed upon a student graduating from the LLB degree program who has demonstrated a passion for fairness, compassion for those in need and a proven commitment of excellence and leadership in equality issues.

"Receiving this award is a huge honour and it means a lot to me," says Badari, "both personally and professionally. Wanting to help disadvantaged people is why I enrolled in law school, and it's nice to be recognized considering the somewhat unconventional methods that I use to go about pursuing equality."

Over time, Badari's views on the most effective means of addressing inequality have evolved dramatically. "I have come to believe that conventional methods of pursuing equality through non-profit organizations tend not to produce broad changes that actually improve the life chances of marginalized communities," he says. "In part, I have come to this conclusion because non-profit organizations usually depend upon donations from wealthy individuals and are run by individuals who have had access to education and other resources that are inaccessible to the most disadvantaged individuals in society."

Badari believes that the work of non-profit organizations tends to focus on minor exchanges to existing structures, rather than demanding fundamental changes to the existing systems of oppression. "This, I have come to realize, is not surprising given that the donors and leaders have benefitted from the existing systems and thus tend not to recognize the inequalities they perpetuate," he says. "As well, non-profit societies tend to focus single-issue politics, which is problematic for individuals who experience a variety of forms of oppression."

Ultimately, Badari's volunteer work has moved away from conventional non-profit work to focus on self-education, peer education, networking, and building coalitions between various communities.

While attending the University of Victoria, Badari and four friends founded the Island Kidz Harm Reduction Society in response to media reports of the dangers associated with after-hours night clubs. The non-profit organization provides unbiased information about the effects and risks associated with various drugs, on-site adulterant screening of ecstasy tablets and distributes free condoms and ear plugs. Although Badari left the organization when he moved to Edmonton, Island Kidz Harm Reduction Society is still providing a variety of services in Victoria.

While in his third year of law school Badari became involved in OUTlaw, a group that serves to provide visibility and support for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) law students by planning social functions, organizing fund raising events and bringing guest speakers to the law school.

Badari notes that he originally became involved with OUTlaw after the group brought in guest speaker Dean Spade-a lawyer, civil rights activist and writer who founded the Sylvia Rivera Law Project, a non-profit law collective in New York City that provides free legal services to transgender, intersex and gender non-conforming people who are low-income and/or people of colour.

"Dean Spade really inspired me and made me want to become involved in OUTlaw and give back to the community and the law school," says Badari. "Once I became involved in OUTlaw I felt that there was a group of people that I could immediately connect with and I felt more comfortable."

After he completes his articling in 2012, Badari would like to continue to help disadvantaged people. He notes that eventually he would love to found a Canadian version of the Sylvia Rivera Law Project that would provide free legal services to poor or people of coloured who are transgendered. "I want to help fix the underlying problems affecting people by connecting them to other groups in activism and make their healing a community effort," he says.

The Honourable Cecilia Johnstone Equality Award was established in 2009 and is endowed by the family, friends and colleagues of Madam Justice Cecilia Johnstone, a Faculty of Law alumna, who spent much of her legal career fighting for women's rights in a male dominated profession. Justice Johnstone, who passed away in 2006 after a long battle with cancer, was a strong proponent of equal rights for those working in the justice system and for those who come before it.