Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Book cover: Say please and thank you and stand in line
(photo courtesy of Sutherland House Books)

In a dedication that includes, “to everyone who has made Canada so special,” University of Toronto Faculty of Law alumnus Dany Assaf (LLB 1994), has penned a personal story on what he believes makes Canada special – and how we ought to keep it that way.

By day, Assaf is a partner at Torys LLP and co-chair of the firm's Competition and Foreign Investment Review Practice.

U of T Law asked Assaf to share a few thoughts on his new book:

What inspired you to write this memoir?

Like other Canadians, I see divisive tensions potentially threatening what we hold dear and sharing our stories to reaffirm the things that unite us is the best way to resist those forces. As lawyers we can use our words to wage these battles.

You write that Canada is nowhere near perfect, including its history of colonialism and treatment of Indigenous peoples, but that it remains a special place in a messy world. How so? 

I continue to believe the fundamental framework of Canada and much of our history remains largely to seek to embrace others. It embraced my great-grandfather, and other early Muslim immigrants, when he came from Lebanon in the early 1900s and they built that first mosque in Canada in Edmonton in 1938.

However, every day we learn more about ourselves and our imperfections and injustices like the horrors that occurred in the Residential Schools. These are reminders our Canadian project is always a work in progress and of the role we have to confront and try to rectify past wrongs to contribute to building a Canada that is always striving towards a more and more just and inclusive meritocracy.

As a multigenerational Albertan, you and your family have experienced racism and otherness. How have you remained proudly Canadian in the face of such hardships? 

I continue to believe that the vast majority of Canadians value the Canadian way of respect and fairness in how we treat one another. A small and even violent minority never get to define us no matter how loud they scream or tweet. So many of us and our families also have a lived experience of the opportunity and welcome that Canada has given us and, with open eyes, that is the story we want to dominate and build upon for future generations. 

You work with many domestic and international clients in areas of competition law, foreign investment and national security reviews. How does the “Canadian spirit” inform your legal practice? 

Our Canadian middle power perspective allows us to see the other side and to seek to partner rather than dominate which is a competitive advantage to build strong relationships with multiple allies in a never more connected world. 

You grew up playing hockey and dreaming of playing in the NHL. Would you still trade law for skates? 

Yes, …and who says I still don’t have a shot!

Law and the wonderful opportunities and experiences it has provided me have been beyond my expectations. It has taken me around the world and allowed me to work on amazing projects with extraordinary people to learn from. It also serves to remind me of what makes free and democratic societies endure and always appreciate the blessings of Canada in a messy world.

In my travels I have seen many countries and forms of government and in the end our craft and the rule of law with independent courts remain the foundation of a free society because, if a country has a place where the peasant can contest the king and the peasant can prevail, you can have democracy.

Our most recent cohort of JD students reported that 79% are the first in their family to attend law school and 60% of students’ parents/guardians were born outside of Canada. Do you have any advice for incoming law students? 

That past and the fact you may be the first person in your family to attend law school should never make you feel you are lacking in any way – your path is solely yours to forge. Always look ahead and believe the best this profession has to offer is available to you and never let anyone ever tell you otherwise – ever!

Why should Canadians continue to say please and thank you and stand in line?

Because life is much more pleasant and civilized if we extend those courtesies to one another. It also shows we live in a society where everyone of us both respects and expects to be respected and that is the cornerstone of equality in a society.

Read Assaf's op-ed in the Toronto Star: Our next Canadian frontier: Will we get lost in our divisions, or find our consensus?