Aspires to work and serve Guyana
By Frederick Halley
WHEN Rafeena Bacchus left Guyana in 1979, she was just a toddler and had no choice as to her new destination. Today, she boasts of being a proud independent woman whose meteoric rise in the legal field has been quite startling.
In an exclusive interview with the Pepperpot Magazine, Rafeena, who is currently an Adjunct Professor at Lincoln Alexander School of Law (Toronto Metropolitan University), explained that her dad, who hails from Grove, East Bank Demerara, where he had a chicken farm, left Guyana to attend school in the USA with the intention of sponsoring herself and mom later on.
“My mom, who was from Diamond, also on the East Bank, refused to wait and hopped on a flight a month and a half later with a toddler in tow and never turned back,” Rafeena explained during an interview with the Pepperpot Magazine.
She pointed out that the family didn’t have any status at the time and eventually sponsored themselves with the help of a kind immigration lawyer. “This story has always inspired me to become a lawyer and the impact of small acts of kindness.”
After attempting to lay roots in New York City, the family moved to Montreal before settling in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
Rafeena has over 15 years of experience in civil litigation. She started her legal practice by being recognised as the first woman of colour called to the Bar in Prince Edward Island after having clerked for the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Prince Edward Island. She has also been called to the Bar in Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and Ontario.
Rafeena, who visited her homeland, Guyana, last October, pointed out that she’s inspired to work and serve the country, “using my legal expertise working with the government or in the legal system to impact positive change as we enter this new era for the country.”
Her career has been balanced between acting on behalf of insurance companies and working on behalf of the under-represented in human rights and social justice.
Rafeena disclosed that she was a partner at a prominent insurance defence firm that she called home for over a decade and has been involved in thousands of insurance matters as counsel for her insurance clients, including complex tort MVA, occupier liability, product liability, property damage, and oil-spill matters. She has successfully argued before various levels of court and attended numerous out-of-province matters representing her insurer clients.
In terms of social justice and human rights, in the role of Programme Director and Senior Legal Counsel, Rafeena has dedicated three years to developing and overseeing a collaborative health justice programme with Osgoode Law School’s student legal clinic, a community legal clinic to provide legal services and representation to those experiencing mental health crises.
She has represented her clients at various administrative tribunals, including but not limited to the Human Rights Tribunal, Social Justice Tribunal, Landlord Tenant Board, and in workplace disputes. There was also a one-year sabbatical volunteering overseas as the Director of a Human Rights organisation in Cameroon, Africa. While in Cameroon, Rafeena directed a Centre for Mediation programme wherein international law students would resolve disputes between local Cameroonian litigants.
An Adjunct Professor at the Lincoln Alexander School of Law (Toronto Metropolitan University), Rafeena teaches civil procedure and practice. This law school is recognised as one of the most progressive in Canada and it is built on four Key Pillars: innovation and entrepreneurship; increasing access to justice; equity, diversity, and inclusion, and sound academic grounding with innovative pedagogy.
Touching on her role at Lincoln Alexander School of Law, Rafeena said, “I am delighted to be part of this progressive faculty which aims at educating bright legal minds, using methods and ideas that do not fit into the square box of the past, but looks [sic]to ignite the fire of the future.”.
The legal professional pointed out that she is also the founder/mediator at her own firm, Bacchus Legal P.C., where she provides legal counsel and litigation expertise to external law firms.
Additionally, she has been appointed by Order in Council by the Province of Ontario as a Vice Chair and Adjudicator at the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario. In this role, she adjudicates and decides legal matters concerning the human rights of individuals and groups throughout the province.
Rafeena is also a board member of the Guyana Community House not-for-profit. The mission of this organisation is to create the first and only community centre for the Guyanese community in Ontario, Canada.
She is also a certified yoga teacher (trained in Bali, Indonesia) and is very passionate about meditation and mindfulness.
Rafeena has an undergraduate degree from the University of Western Ontario (Hons) B.A. in Business and Commercial Studies and an Honours Standing in Sociology. She also attended law school at Dalhousie University with a specialisation in Criminal Law.