Expectations of the corporate world are changing, and there has never been a clearer mandate for businesses to make positive change and contribute to the communities in which they operate.
As a law firm, we believe we have a unique responsibility to use our firm’s strengths to make a positive social impact. This is what we have always strived to do and it is part of who we are: our firm’s culture has a deep-rooted understanding of the importance of serving others. Below are a few examples of pro bono work that aligns with our firm’s social commitment.
Protecting Privacy in the Internet Age
The evolution of social media has opened the floodgates to privacy violations, and the ensuing need to protect community members from potential abuse. In many cases around the world, courts and regulators are adjusting regulatory frameworks to address this new reality of the internet age and to protect the privacy rights and safety of individuals.
Torys has taken on many cases to combat cyber abuse in Canada—one such example is the recent matter of Jane Doe 464533. In this case, the defendant published an intimate video of Jane without her knowledge or consent. After the defendant failed to defend the claim, Jane brought a motion for default judgment awarding Jane $141,708.03 in damages and costs.
The evolution of digital media has spurred a rising social, legislative and judicial recognition of the harm caused by the non-consensual distribution of intimate images.
When the judgment was set aside to permit the defendant to present a defence, Torys lawyers Sheila Block, Molly Reynolds and Lara Guest stepped in to represent Jane in this precedent-setting matter. This case is an important part of the rising social, legislative and judicial recognition of the harm caused by the non-consensual distribution of intimate images.
Outside Canada, Torys has assisted anti-trafficking NGO, Prajwala, based in India. In 2017, Prajwala made an urgent plea to Thomson Reuters Foundation's pro bono legal program TrustLaw when it was given a tight deadline to submit briefs to the Supreme Court of India describing the tools used in other countries to confront the public posting of sex crime videos. Alongside TrustLaw and others, a Torys team made up of Lara Guest, Molly Reynolds and David Wawro produced a memorandum on laws in the U.S., Canada and India, which sanction the distribution of images of sexual violence.
Following the hearing, the Supreme Court launched a committee tasked with creating a mechanism for the mandatory reporting and blocking of online content of sexual violence. Based on the committee’s recommendations, the Supreme Court is expected to issue guidelines on the policing of such images.
At Torys, we also believe in the transformative power that supporting innovation can have on economies and societies. We work with TOHealth!, a not-for-profit organization committed to raising the profile of the Toronto region’s human and health sciences cluster. TOHealth! is a unique platform for convening stakeholders, enabling novel collaborations to facilitate R&D, and bridging the gap between R&D and commercialization.
We helped TOHealth! become a federally incorporated, not-for-profit organization as well as assisted with post-incorporation procedural matters.
We have been providing pro bono legal advice to TOHealth! for several years, and most recently, a team, comprised of senior law clerk Marilyn Belanger, law student Sarah Fallis, and partners Eileen McMahon and Cheryl Reicin, has helped TOHealth! become a federally incorporated, not-for-profit organization. We are also assisting with post-incorporation procedural matters so TOHealth! can continue growing Toronto as an innovation hub for excellence in human and health sciences.
Corporate Structuring for Social Betterment
As a business law firm, we feel a particular responsibility to give our support to the corporate needs of organizations that are dedicated to advancing social causes. For example, Torys senior counsel Aaron Emes advised on Canada's first online capital-raising platform—MaRS VX, known as MaRS Social Venture Connexion (SVX)—whose objective is to facilitate impact investing by bringing together, via an online platform, accredited investors and impact issuers aiming to solve social or environmental challenges in Ontario. Since its inception, Torys has advised MaRS VX on securities regulatory aspects of its operations on a pro bono basis.
Over the years, we have also provided pro bono legal advice on corporate governance and other matters to FoodShare—a Toronto-based organization working with communities and schools to deliver healthy food and food education through innovative programs promoting food justice and food security. Torys’ work has included assisting FoodShare with leasing and developing its Community Food Hub, which people from around the world come to learn about FoodShare and its ground-breaking programs. The Torys team of Andy Gibbons, Richard Missaghie, Michael Fortier and Richard Willoughby helped in a small way to make FoodShare’s vision of building a world-class food hub into a reality.
These are some recent examples where our people have strived to make a positive impact. We know how important it is to help external organizations and initiatives that are improving our local communities and beyond. As a firm, we continue to hold ourselves to the highest possible standard when serving the public interest.