Geetha Philipupillai wins FACL award
We are very proud to announce that GP’s Geetha Philipupillai was presented with the Young Lawyer of the Year Award 2022 by the Federation of Asian Canadian Lawyers (Ontario) this past weekend.
As set out in her nomination, Geetha’s achievements as a litigator, particularly her work on landmark public interest legal challenges and her commitment to anti-racist causes, distinguish her as an exceptional young advocate and a deserving recipient of this award. Her first major case was the constitutional challenge to Bill 5 in which Ontario cut in half the number of municipal wards in the City of Toronto on the eve of the 2018 election. In a matter of days after this legislation was enacted, Geetha helped assemble a powerful evidentiary record documenting the harms the Act would have on the freedom of expression of city councilcandidates, particularly racialized women. Geetha’s work as part of the Applicants’ legal team was instrumental in persuading Justice Belobaba to strike down the Act in City of Toronto v Ontario.
In the next three years. that case progressed to the Supreme Court of Canada. Although the original applicants were no longer involved, Geetha was retained by the Canadian Civil Liberties Association as co-counsel with Steven Barrett and made oral submissions before the Supreme Court. This was a full circle moment for Geetha – from building the evidentiary record of the case to arguing the Charter issues at the Supreme Court – all within the first three years of her career.
In Canadian Federation of Students v Ontario, Geetha was a key member of the applicants’ legal team in another landmark case against Ontario. A provincial policy called the “Student Choice Initiative” overrode the democratic fee structures of self-governing student unions and student groups at universities and colleges across the province. On behalf of the Canadian Federation of Students and York Federation of Students, Geetha helped mount a novel challenge arguing the policy was unlawful. A unanimous Divisional Court agreed and quashed the policy. Geetha made oral submissions at the Court of Appeal, which upheld the decision.
Before law school, Geetha completed a Master’s in sociology and equity studies at the University of Toronto. Her thesis examined “The Marking of Tamil Youth as Terrorists and the Making of Canada as a White Settler Society”. Geetha has carried forward a commitment to equity and anti-racism in her legal practice. In addition to R v Morris, Geetha has represented the Black Legal Action Centre (BLAC) in a number of matters, including Sanctuary et al v City of Toronto, a Charter application on behalf of a coalition of shelter advocates to ensure physical distancing in Toronto homeless shelters during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Geetha also has experience defending the constitutionality of legislation. She currently acts as co-counsel to the National Council of Canadian Tamils seeking to uphold the constitutionality of the Tamil Genocide Education Week Act, 2021 against a Charter challenge. In addition to her public interest work, Geetha maintains an active class actions practice where she currently represents:
- Ontario inmates challenging the rates charged for prison phone calls by the province and
- Starbucks managers seeking remuneration for unpaid overtime; and
- Innocent subjects of a DNA sweep by police in Granger v Ontario, the first certified
class action in Canada to deal with unlawful search and seizure under s. 8 of the Charter.
As an employment lawyer, Geetha advocates for workers who have been harassed and discriminated against at work. She coordinates the firm’s participation in The 519 community centre’s Employment Legal Clinic, which provides free advice to LGBTQ2S communities, and she volunteers on the Pro Bono Ontario Hotline.
Congratulations, Geetha, on your well-deserved award!