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Omar Ha-Redeye: The Making of a Powerful Activist Voice In Toronto

07/13/2013 04:31 EDT | Updated 09/12/2013 05:12 EDT

To call Omar Ha-Redeye an ambitious activist is an understatement. The proud Toronto lawyer who lives by the "principles of social justice" is using his legal studies as well as youthful energy to live a fulfilled activist journey here at home and abroad.

You are an executive with the Ontario Bar Association where you are the Co-Chair of the Young Lawyers Division (Central). Tell us about that?

Through my involvement in the Ontario Bar Association, I've been able to weigh in on several public interest working groups, including an articling student task force and human rights tribunal review.

We highly value activities that foster interest in the legal profession among the youth. In preparation for Law Day earlier this year, the OBA held a legal competition (called a "moot") at several high schools.

I was invited to judge one of the regional finals at Community Hebrew Academy of Toronto (CHAT) in York Region. Although all the competitors were quite impressive, the home team from CHAT took home the prize. I saw high school students demonstrate advocacy skills that surpass even that of practicing lawyers I've encountered.

You recently spoke to high school students at Middlefield Collegiate Institute on why Law is a great career choice. Share with us some of your reasons.

This high school is largely populated by visible minority students, well in excess of 90%, and primarily of South Asian background. What I focused on was that just as there are bullies in high school, there are bullies in life. A law degree allows you to take a stand against those bullies and push back. The legal system is the institution that civilizations have developed for non-violent conflict resolution. I consider a law degree to be indispensable to properly fight for you.

As a student at the University of Western Ontario (now called Western University), you founded the Western Law Review Association. How did that come about?

UWO was the only English common-law school in Canada that didn't have a student-run law review. Many students before me tried to change this, but there's a three-year cycle for law school and it's tough to get things accomplished in that short window.

As I approached the end of my 3rd year in law school I realized that all my efforts to set up a student law review, including the negotiations with the administration, were about to vanish. So I did what no other student attempting this had done before, and created a student club with the sole purpose of establishing a law review.

This allowed us to pass on our institutional knowledge and formally delegate our continuing negotiations with stakeholders to a next generation of law students who would eventually carry on and accomplish the goal. I'm very proud of what they've done, and I played a very small role in making it happen.

There are many adults who may consider on going back to school yet feel they maybe too old to do so. You went back to school as a mature student. Share with us your experience.

It's not easy to go back to school. I had a successful career -- actually several -- and was making a good living. The decision to go to law school was not about making more money or not enjoying what I was doing. But it may have been one of the best decisions of my life, because it has allowed me to give back to society in ways I never even imagined.

Older students do have to worry about balancing other responsibilities and often have different priorities than younger students. But if used the right way I think this can also be a strategic advantage, because work experience outside of law allows us to maintain realistic expectations about what the legal profession can and should demand of us. For many students going to law school at a later stage there is also less debt involved, and that can create a greater sense of financial freedom that opens up entirely different career options.

It probably doesn't come as a surprise to those who knew me, but I'm currently doing my Masters in Law part-time at Osgoode Hall in Toronto.

Give us an example of an initiative you have been involved in recent years?

I don't believe in reinventing the wheel, so one of the most efficient ways I've found to be involved is to join existing organizations and ongoing initiatives. But sometimes there just isn't the organization present to push for a public interest issue, so you have to create one yourself.

During the last provincial election I founded Lawyers for Fair Taxation, inspired by the creation of a similar organization of physicians. We pushed for a more progressive taxation system, indicating that as professionals we believe our tax money from higher tax brackets can be effectively used to improve society.

We've seen this become a central issue in the budget discussions, and the provincial Liberals have provided some concessions in the budget bill (Bill 55) and the related Bill 114 which create a new tax bracket for high earners. Lawyers wield incredible amounts of influence in society, and it's important to remember that we can have an impact on things when we raise our voices.