Prominent human rights lawyer and activist Prakash Diar recognized by the Law Society of Ontario

Photo credit: Alexis Goettsch Photograph

The Law Society’s 2023 Human Rights Award recipient is Prakash Diar whose human rights work — and the obstacles he has faced — have led to an inspiring career that reflects the highest ideals of the legal profession and merits honouring by the Law Society.

As a human rights lawyer, Mr. Diar exposed the unjust system of apartheid in his native South Africa where he defended many political prisoners. While fearlessly fighting for justice and exposing the perversion of the rule of law, he was arrested at court and detained in solitary confinement for a month without charge.

As a result of his work, Mr. Diar’s life was threatened by the state. Canada’s minister of foreign affairs facilitated his safe passage to Canada in 1989.

“The Human Rights Award is granted for devotion to the advancement of human rights and the rule of law over a long-term or for a single outstanding act of service,” said Treasurer Jacqueline Horvat, Law Society of Ontario. “Mr. Diar’s lived experience and harrowing background as a human rights activist and lawyer make him a most deserving candidate of this award.”

Mr. Diar received a fellowship at the Human Rights Research and Education Centre at Ottawa University’s Faculty of Law, where he researched and wrote his book The Sharpeville Six, the South African Trial that Shocked the World, published by McClelland & Stewart, Toronto, 1990.

His first job after being called to the Ontario Bar in 1993 was at the Canadian Human Rights Commission as legal counsel where he litigated precedent-setting cases involving racial and systemic discrimination.

After joining the Department of Justice in 2000, Mr. Diar focused on Indigenous issues including the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement. In 2017, Mr. Diar was recruited by the minister of justice and attorney general of Canada to work on reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples, one of the most pressing issues facing Canada today.

From 2018 to 2021, he developed and delivered training to more than 2,000 Ministry of Justice employees regarding reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples. He also worked on developing Canada’s Indigenous Justice Strategy to address systemic discrimination and the over-representation of Indigenous and Black Peoples in the criminal justice system.

Mr. Diar left the Department of Justice in April 2022 to start his own consultancy. Since December of that year, he has been delivering a training program for all federal public prosecutors across Canada on the overrepresentation of Indigenous Peoples in the criminal legal system.

Mr. Diar and his family’s inspiring story is at an advanced stage of development for a full-length feature movie.

The Human Rights Award will be presented to Mr. Diar at the 2024 Law Society Awards ceremony on May 22, 2024.

Article originally published in Law Society of Ontario on 18 August 2023.