Change From Within

Reflecting on the vision for an inclusive workplace

“I have the luxury at this time in my life — and at this moment in my legal practice — to think about not only how we make things better for people right now but also how we plant the seeds of real change to ensure we are making things better for everyone down the road. I get to collaborate with leaders in the EDI space who teach me every time I work with them. Our discussions oftentimes challenge my world view and I embrace the glorious discomfort associated with that. This role is an opportunity, without constraints, to create a vision of what it means to be part of a workplace where people feel like they belong and matter — a place where they are included, heard, and valued. That is arguably the most important duty you could have in any workplace.”

Tami Prince
General Counsel & Former Chief EDI Officer

Committees and Affinity Groups

Inclusion & Diversity Committee

The Inclusion & Diversity Committee (IDC) was established by the firm’s Executive Committee in 2013 to support and promote the firm’s commitment to advancing diversity within the firm, with our clients, and in the community as a whole. Since its inception, the IDC has been actively involved in a variety of inclusion and diversity-focussed events, partnerships, and organizations such as:

The IDC also shares best practices with the other 25+ local and national firms who are members of the Law Firm Diversity and Inclusion Network and attends joint events with the Legal Leaders for Diversity — a group of 90+ general counsel at leading Canadian companies who are committed to inclusion and diversity.

ARDY MOHAJER
Chair

SAMANTHEA saMUELS
chief EDI offiCER

Women’s Advancement, Voices and Equity Committee

Assuming the mandate of the former Women’s Practice Development Committee, the Women’s Advancement, Voices and Equity Committee recognizes that female lawyers continue to face unique challenges at all levels of their legal careers and that their compensation, advancement, and business development opportunities continue to lag behind those of their male counterparts. From practice management skills and mentorship to training and networking opportunities, the Committee provides insights, tools, and support to facilitate women’s professional and business development successes and overall advancement within the firm and the broader legal community.

Melissa Winch
Chair

2SLGBTQ+ Affinity Group

The 2SLGBTQ+ Affinity Group is committed to ensuring that the firm has created and continues to foster an environment where all 2SLGBTQ+ members are enabled and motivated to succeed to their maximum potential while being comfortable bringing their full and complete selves to work. The group also supports recruiting, retaining, and promoting 2SLGBTQ+ talent to and within the firm. All firm members who identify as 2SLGBTQ+ and allies are welcome to attend the group’s monthly meetings and events to support one another’s career development and discuss issues particular to the 2SLGBTQ+ community.

In February 2023, in collaboration with the Black Affinity Group, the group was very honoured to host Dr. OmiSoore Dryden to speak to firm members at an event entitled “Black Queer and Trans Lives Matter: Queering Black History Month” to discuss the important nexus between Black history and queer history. In October 2023, the group hosted a Drag Storytime Event hosted by drag stars Fay Slift and Fluffy Soufflé. Lawyers, members of the firm, and clients brought their children to listen to culturally diverse books and songs in a supportive and inclusive learning environment. In April 2024, the group ran a clothing drive to support the important work of Friends of Ruby. This drop-in youth center provides free counselling, housing, and social services to two-spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, asexual, and all gender non-conforming youth. 

The group is excited to plan and participate in more incredible events and looks forward to another great year. 

Steven Kennedy
Co-Chair

DAKOTA BUNDY
CO-CHAIR

Sam DiGiuseppe
Co-Chair

Asian Affinity Group

The Asian Affinity Group provides education and support to the firm’s Asian members and allies and acts as a resource for all firm members. The Group plays a role in highlighting the prevalence of anti-Asian racism and in discussing ways to address same. The Group is an annual sponsor of Ascend Canada, a pan-Asian networking group focused on increasing the presence, visibility, and influence of current and future pan-Asian business leaders. The Group also maintains a calendar of ethnic and cultural holidays celebrated by pan-Asians. Meeting at least bi-monthly, the Group encourages all firm members to attend its events and participate in dialogue that impacts the Asian community.

In February 2021, the Group hosted a virtual potsticker (Asian dumpling) cooking class in celebration of Lunar New Year with chef Renée Chan, the founder of True Nosh. In response to increased anti-Asian racism in Canada as a consequence of the pandemic, the Group hosted a Q&A-style discussion in May 2021 with Amy Go, the President of the Chinese Canadian National Council for Social Justice. The Group and the IDC kicked off the firm’s Express Unity Initiative in November 2021 by partnering with the not-for-profit organization Hollaback! to host two Bystander Intervention sessions for firm members and clients – Bystander Intervention in Public Spaces and Bystander Intervention in the Workplace.

Angela He
Co-Chair

Manny Mukkar
Co-Chair

Black Affinity Group

A resource to all members of the firm, the Black Affinity Group offers education and support to the firm’s Black community members and allies, and encourages participation in events and dialogue that impact the Black community. The Group hosts a virtual “media club” that is similar in format to a book club. Readings and audio-visual and visual works based around themes about the Black experience are shared with participating firm members and are discussed at regularly scheduled meetings. The Group encourages all firm members to participate in its meetings and initiatives, including several programs that are offered annually through the IDC in celebration of Black History Month.

Speaker, spoken word practitioner and Ontario’s first Poet Laureate, Randell Adjei, has joined the Group for the launch of Black History Month every year since 2018. In 2021, Randell joined guest speakers Tracey Kayy and Shahaddah Jack for the Group’s virtual kickoff event. The Group also hosted a virtual Black History Month “Story of the Day” contest and held a virtual event entitled, “Diversity: The Secret Power Behind High Performing Teams” with guest speaker Anthony McLean. Students from the “Fifty for Free Youth Community Initiative and Helping Hands” program attended the firm’s offices in 2021 and spoke with lawyers and other employees about their experiences working at a law firm.

Bethany McKoy
Co-Chair

Krystina Norman
Co-Chair

Jewish Affinity Group

The Jewish Affinity Group is committed to (among other initiatives) promoting and supporting the recruitment, retention, and career advancement of Jewish members of Cassels; increasing awareness and visibility of diversity issues; providing mentorship and guidance; and encouraging participation in events and dialogue that impact the Jewish community. The Group’s mentorship program pairs younger Jewish firm members with Jewish partners or senior associates who act as a resource year round. The Group annually circulates a calendar listing all of the Jewish holidays and works with the firm’s marketing team to circulate a holiday card for the High Holidays.

For Yom HaShoah in 2021, the Group was very honoured to host a conversation with Max Eisen, Holocaust survivor and author of By Chance Alone, a poignant memoir of courage and determination at the Auschwitz death camp. Max shared his story of perseverance, survival, and hope in the face of evil. The event was open to all firm members, Cassels clients, and alumni, and all guests of the event received a complementary copy of Eisen’s book. For Hanukkah 2021, the Group hosted “Sufganiyot in the Park.” Group members met at a local park and enjoyed sufganiyot (Jewish jelly doughnuts, fried in oil and topped with powdered sugar), warm beverages, and each other’s company.

Monique Sassi
Co-Chair

Jackie Karbi
Co-Chair

Reflecting on Opportunities for Success

“We have inclusion programming in place that is meant to ensure that everybody, regardless of their personal characteristics or background, has an equal opportunity to succeed at Cassels. Our Affinity Group policy encourages and establishes parameters around the formation of Affinity Groups for those sharing the same personal characteristics or backgrounds. Affinity Groups provide mentorship and championship opportunities amongst their members, advice from senior leadership on issues discrete to the membership, shared business and professional development opportunities, and so on.”

Ardy Mohajer, Co-Chair, IDC

Indigenous Reconciliation Group

The Indigenous Affinity Group provides education and support for Indigenous firm members and allies. In conjunction with the 2SLGBTQ2+ Affinity Group, the Indigenous Affinity Group co-hosted a virtual session with Anthony Johnson and Dr. James Makokis in 2021. The couple shared some of their experiences in becoming the first Indigenous, two-spirit, married couple in the world to win “The Amazing Race” television series. They talked about what that achievement meant for the Indigenous and two-spirit communities, and about their work in addressing mental health disparities amongst two-spirit youth by developing “Two-Spirit Rites of Passage” based on Indigenous teachings.

The Group has prepared and circulated educational materials addressing reconciliation matters to assist firm members struggling with the ongoing discoveries of graves at residential school sites. The Group also hosted a discussion to commemorate the inaugural National Day of Truth and Reconciliation in Canada. The Co-Chairs of the Indigenous Affinity Group reflected on the colonial legacy of residential schools in Canada and discussed the ongoing work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. President McCallum of the Métis Nation of Saskatchewan also spoke about the Truth and Reconciliation Calls to Action.

Emilie Lahaie
Co-Chair

Mackenzie Hayden
Co-Chair

Melissa Montana
Co-Chair

Mental Wellness Affinity Group

The Mental Wellness Affinity Group provides education and supports the mental wellness of all firm members. The Group meets at least bi-monthly and all firm members are welcome to attend. The goal of the Group is to create a space where firm members can connect and speak candidly about mental health and wellness, and to normalize and reduce the stigma typically faced by individuals when they are experiencing mental health and wellness challenges. The Group regularly reviews and updates the firm’s mental wellness intranet page to ensure that the firm’s mental health resources are readily accessible to all firm members.

Since the onset of the pandemic, the Group has replaced its “Let’s Walk” events with regular “Let’s Move” events across all three offices to encourage everyone to take a break and connect with colleagues. These events include home exercise and yoga to help build community and promote physical activity. In 2021, the Group hosted a Pet Costume Contest for Halloween, awarding prizes in various categories, and a virtual Pet Talent Show, as a way to stay connected as a community during the pandemic and to share some happiness. The proceeds from the sale of a 2021 Cassels Pet Calendar that was created by the Group were donated to the Stephen Lewis Foundation, a charity fighting the HIV and AIDS epidemic in Africa.

Tanya Pereira
Co-Chair

Stephanie Voudouris
Co-Chair

Parents of Young Families Affinity Group

The Parents of Young Families Affinity Group provides a forum for working parents at Cassels to share ideas and experiences about raising kids. The Group’s events include speakers, discussion groups, and workshops, and are typically organized around a theme or issue that members have faced or will face as parents of young families. The Group also provides an advocacy role at the firm to support the careers of parents and to provide input on various initiatives and policies to make working life more comfortable for parents.

In 2021, the Group held a series of virtual events and meetings, including a virtual Q&A session with Jacqui Steer. A retired school principal from the Durham District School Board who has led anti-racism training for teachers, Jacqui talked about how to discuss and navigate issues around racism with your kids and in your community. The Group also hosted a virtual Q&A session with Dr. Jill Shuster, Clinical and School Psychologist. The topic of the session was how to get kids and parents through the pandemic. Bi-monthly virtual meet-ups offer an opportunity for attendees to share ideas and strategies for parenting during the pandemic.

The Parents of Young Families Affinity Group ran an art contest, the theme of which was “parents working from home.” The story was submitted by Alyssa (age 9) and the photo was submitted by Gia (age 4). Alyssa and Gia are children of members of the Group.

Nicole Teehan
Co-Chair

Ben Leith
Co-Chair

Ukrainian Affinity Group

The Ukrainian Affinity Group provides a forum for people of Ukrainian descent and allies concerned about the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine to discuss their concerns and the ways in which they and other members of the firm can support those living in Ukraine, recent refugees from Ukraine living in Canada and overseas, and people with relatives living in Ukraine. The Group also promotes awareness and provides general education about Ukrainian culture and customs, and the mistreatment of and discrimination against Ukrainian people. In addition, the Group aims to counter the misinformation being spread about the current situation in Ukraine.

Robert Lysy
Co-Chair

Inna Rasitsan
Co-Chair

Women’s Affinity Group

The Women’s Affinity Group provides support and a forum for women (both lawyers and non-lawyers) and their allies at the firm to discuss the issues faced by women working in the legal profession. Working in conjunction with the Women’s Advancement, Voices and Equity Committee, the Group seeks to increase awareness and visibility of gender-related issues through firm engagement and initiatives.

Stephanie Mills
Co-Chair

Melissa Winch
Co-Chair