Canadian Lawyer

September 2021

The most widely read magazine for Canadian lawyers

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Page 13 of 51

12 FEATURE CROSS EXAMINED WHILE FAISAL KUTTY is well known for acting against injustice, the most signif- icant events shaping his career were always beyond his control. Faisal Kutty was born in India but had to flee the country after his father faced religious persecution due to his Muslim faith. India's prime minister at the time, Indira Gandhi, had passed laws to suppress political dissidents. She targeted outspoken Muslims like Kutty's father under the guise of an emergency. "I remember at that time, sneaking away from safe house to safe house and getting us out of the country." Kutty was brought to relative safety in Canada but continued to face discrimina- tion as a religious minority, albeit in more subtle forms. When Kutty ended up in law school, his experiences as a child made him averse to government overreach and reluctant to compromise his religious identity. "In law school, I became more interested in human rights and also, my own religious identity as a Muslim got more sharpened." Because he was known as an outspoken Muslim community member, many people who felt mistreated because of their religious or ethnic background came to him. "I didn't necessarily need to go looking for these kinds of things. They came to me because people were bringing things to my attention." In law school, Kutty wrote a review of a book entitled "Human rights in crisis: The international system for protecting rights during states of emergency." The book's basic idea was that interna- that his father experienced, and the book he reviewed in law school had been flagged. "This is what that author predicted, exactly what was happening in 9/11 ... It wasn't just going to be a temporary solution." Kutty had also helped found the Canadian chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations. His firm's advocacy work went into overdrive as Muslims facing post-9/11 discrimination came to his firm for help. "We would also put aside a significant amount of our time just to kind of work on behalf of the community. We were in Ottawa making submissions. We were critiquing the legislation. We were on TV. We were very active and pretty involved." Kutty spent much of the 2000s doing legal advocacy to fight "emergency" measures that were becoming a tool for religious discrimina- tion. He worked on the Maher Arar inquiry, the no-fly list debate and many other public debates playing out in Canada post-9/11. But for Kutty, the fighting became exhausting, and he stepped away from advo- cacy in the latter part of the decade. Kutty spent most of the 2010s focusing on teaching DEFENDING RELIGIOUS FREEDOM IN CANADA Faisal Kutty's personal experiences made him see his fight against the persecution of Muslims as part of a recurring historical pattern tional law allows states to deviate from the norm when facing an existential threat. But measures initially declared temporary often become permanent. In other words, his father's experience was part of a pattern. After law school, Kutty joined the firm Goodman and Carr as an articling student. While he says he loved his experience at the firm, what he wanted to do was work for the average person who could not afford the large firm fees. So, he founded Kutty & Associates with a few other lawyers, which was a general practice in areas like real estate, corporate, family and criminal law. His interest in activism did not wane, though, and he co-founded the Canadian Muslim Civil Liberties Association. At that time, he says, much of the discrimination against Muslims he was seeing was unin- tentional and grounded in "ignorance about Muslim practices." While that may have been the case at first, when the 9/11 terrorist attacks occurred, events overtook Kutty again. He now saw the same kind of government overreach in action "Having lived in the US, I feel like Canada always points the finger at how things are bad there. But in reality, those bad things [often] get corrected in the US, but just go under the radar here."

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