Toronto lawyer Sandra Thomas was recognized for longstanding interest in and commitment to matters of public interest and her tireless pursuit of community service with the Lincoln Alexander award at the Law Society of Upper Canada’s (LSUC) annual awards ceremony at Osgoode Hall last week.
The founding president of the Canadian Association of Black Lawyers (CABL), Thomas said she was honoured to be chosen as this year’s recipient of the prestigious award named after the former Ontario Lieutenant Governor and one of three LSUC honorary Benchers. (The others are former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and Prince Charles.)
A counsel with the Public Prosecution Service of Canada, Thomas has amassed an impressive body of community service. She volunteers with the York-Westview Partnership at York University and is actively involved in the Youth Association for Academics, Athletics and Character Education that’s aimed at stemming gang-related violence in the Jane-Finch community. She has also assisted in organizing fora that addresses urban violence and she has helped to raise money for scholarships for aspiring young lawyers who are in financial need.
Thomas paid tribute to her parents – the late Dr. Ferdinand Thomas, who ran a successful medical practice in Scarborough before passing away in 1999, and her mother, Emelda, who attended the ceremony – for raising her to be considerate of those who are less fortunate. They migrated to Canada from Trinidad & Tobago in 1955 with $300.
“My interest in community service was inspired by them,” she said. “As a general practitioner in the Toronto area from the 1960s to the 1980s, my dad came into contact with people who sought his advice and assistance. He never hesitated to help someone in need when he was able to, whether it was to encourage children to pursue higher education or to help people with business plans or ideas, or to fundraise.
“As a child, one of my earliest experiences with fundraising occurred when my parents organized a dance to raise money to purchase medical equipment to send to the only hospital back then in Tobago. I firmly believe that to whom much is given, much is expected. While I have a full-time job and an eight-year-old son to take care of, I still think there are ways that we as lawyers could contribute to the community without too much effort, especially with respect to our young people.
“You can mentor students, teach an elementary, high school or college class about a case or an area of law once in a while or participate in career days. Right now there are public schools in low-income neighbourhoods that are in danger of losing their breakfast programs. Perhaps that is an area you can look at to make a contribution in the community.”
A graduate of York University where she organized cultural shows to raise money for charity, and Rutgers University where she received her Law degree, Thomas was called to the Bars of Pennsylvania in 1987 and New Jersey a year later. She worked for three years as a counsel to then New Jersey Governor Thomas Kean before returning to Toronto two decades ago.
Called to the Ontario Bar in 1992, Thomas served as an adviser to former Chief Justice Roy McMurtry on the Mayor’s Panel on Community Safety and she is a past regional co-chair of the Department of Justice’s Advisory Committee on Visible Minorities.
“Sandy is one of those unsung heroes in our community,” said former CABL president, Sue-Lynn Noel, who nominated Thomas for the distinguished award. “She’s someone who will never toot her own horn, so she needs someone to do it for her. This is an honour she fully deserves.”
Previous winners of the award which was established seven years ago are CABL co-founders Patricia DeGuire and Roger Rowe.