Executive Director and General Counsel
Growing up on Vancouver Island, the cataclysmic wrongs perpetrated on Indigenous people in my homeland of British Columbia left me determined to work in the field of indigenous rights. Plus my grandfather was a union leader, and local politician, as was my father. From them I learned about how democracy can empower people to either do good works, or abuse their power. From my mom, a teacher, I saw how education forms the ability to think critically — about everything. I’d take those lessons into my own political career, after which I continued fighting for indigenous rights, and began a career as a criminal defence lawyer, often as a public defender, assisting the indigent, Indigenous, and mentally ill.
Michael Bryant, BA, MA (UBC), JD (Osgoode Hall), LLM (Harvard) is the 4th Executive Director & General Counsel of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, founded in 1964. Bryant was the 35th and youngest-ever Attorney General of Ontario, Minister of Indigenous Affairs, Minister of Economic Development, and Government House Leader. He served as a provincial member of parliament in Toronto from 1999-2009. Mr. Bryant is a barrister certified by the Law Society of Ontario. He has appeared before all levels of court, from bail courts as Duty Counsel through the Ontario Court of Appeal and Ontario Review Board as solo practitioner, to the Supreme Court of Canada as counsel at McCarthy Tetrault LLP. Bryant was Chief Negotiator for the Chippewas of Kettle & Stony Point, resulting in the historic 2016 Ipperwash Settlement Agreement. In the '90s, Bryant clerked for the former Chief Justice of Canada, and served as Lecturer in Law at King’s College, London, and Adjunct Professor at U of T and Osgoode Hall. In 2019, Bryant was named Canadian Lawyer's Top 25 Most Influential in the justice system and legal profession in Canada.
Special Advisor on Indigenous Issues
Verna George is Haudenosaunee from the Six Nations of the Grand River. She is Mohawk, and a member of the Turtle Clan. She was born and raised in the Niagara Region. She is the youngest of nine children, and proud daughter of a Mohawk Institute Residential School survivor. The values she holds were instilled by her parents and older siblings, all of whom have inspired her and guided her path in life.
She is a long time resident of the Kettle & Stony Point First Nation in Southern Ontario, of which her husband and children are citizens. This is where she raised her three children who are all now studying at Western University in nearby London.
Verna holds two degrees from Trent University - in Economic Development and Native Studies - and is a graduate of the University of Windsor’s Faculty of Law. She was called to the Bar in 2007 and has been a member of the Law Society of Ontario since.
She articled for the Community Legal Clinic of Niagara South where she gained invaluable experience assisting low income and marginalized people in administrative matters and at tribunal hearings. For almost a decade, Verna was the Director of Negotiations for the Chippewas of Kettle & Stony Point First Nation, where she oversaw all land claims and negotiation files, including the decommissioning of the former Camp Ipperwash, and return of the Ipperwash Provincial Park. Verna was intimately involved in the negotiations that led to the Camp Ipperwash/Stoney Point Final Settlement Agreement. She has extensive experience organizing community ratification votes and member consultations. Her role also included working with all levels of government to ensure the First Nation’s principles and traditions were respected throughout what were often long and arduous processes.
Special Advisor on Anti-Black Racism
Akwasi Owusu-Bempah BA (Carleton) MA, PhD (Toronto) is an assistant professor in the Department of Sociology at the University of Toronto and a Senior Fellow at Massey College. His work examines the intersections of race, crime and criminal justice, with a particular focus in the area of policing. Prof. Owusu-Bempah began his academic career in the United States at Indiana University, Bloomington. Prior to becoming a professor, he held positions with Canada’s National Judicial Institute, the Public Health Agency of Canada, and the Ontario Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services.
Prof Owusu-Bempah is frequently sought out to provide commentary and advice to police agencies, government bodies, community organizations, and media outlets on matters relating to policing, justice and social inequality. He also publishes regularly in both academic and popular forums. He is the author (with Prof. Shaun Gabbidon) of Race, Ethnicity, Crime and Justice: An International Dilemma.
Director, Equality Program
Noa Mendelsohn Aviv joined CCLA in 2002 as a legal researcher. Since 2005 she has directed CCLA’s Expression and Equality programs. Noa has been published, made submissions, appearances and presentations, and advocated on such issues as refugee protection, LGBTQ rights, racial profiling, freedom of expression and religion, and the intersectionality of rights, in particular religious freedom and equality. Noa has coordinated many CCLA interventions in a variety of Canadian courts, including the Supreme Court of Canada, and human rights tribunals; appeared before Parliamentary and provincial legislative committees, governmental and public bodies; and provided written submissions. She has also appeared on panels, at conferences, in press interviews, and provided guest workshops and lessons through CCLET’s public education project. In addition, Noa manages CCLA’s law student volunteer programs.
Noa has an LL.B. and LL.M. from the Hebrew University in Israel, and a B.A. (with distinction) from York University. She completed her legal articles at the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, and was called to the Israeli Bar in 1998. She worked for a few years as an associate at a private law firm in Jerusalem, practicing litigation, labour, commercial, and corporate law. Noa has also served as Field Coordinator for a large research project on eating disorders in women, and as Acting Administrative Director of Hebrew University Law Faculty’s Center for Human Rights.
Director, Fundamental Freedoms Program
"I work at the CCLA because I believe strongly that all people are entitled to fundamental rights and freedoms and that governments must be held accountable when they restrict, limit or undermine those rights and freedoms. CCLA takes principled positions and is willing to stand up for Charter rights even when it is not popular, and that is when it is most needed. I am passionate about my work and the issues that CCLA takes on and am grateful to work with wonderful colleagues, volunteers and pro bono lawyers who are willing to tackle some of the most challenging issues in law and policy. I am also a “constitutional law nerd” and love that my job requires me to analyze difficult cases and strategize about how best to protect fundamental freedoms."
Cara was called to the Ontario bar in 2005. She has a political science degree from McGill University and law degrees from Osgoode Hall Law School (LL.B.) and New York University (LL.M.). Her work with CCLA involves providing legal opinions and research, coordinating litigation and interventions, representing CCLA before the courts, preparing submissions to legislative bodies and assisting with the CCLET’s public education work.
Director, Privacy, Technology & Surveillance Program
“I care a lot about privacy. I care about it because I believe it is a human right, one which is essential in and of itself to our development as thinking, autonomous humans, and I care about it because it is a gateway right, one that facilitates our ability to enjoy other Charter-protected rights like free expression, freedom of association, and freedom to dissent. CCLA has recognized and cared about the privacy rights of all people in Canada for decades, and having the privilege of working in this organization to build on that legacy through actions and interventions in courts, through policy advocacy at all levels of government, and through public education means that my work and my passion are one and the same. That’s why I work at CCLA.”
Brenda received her PhD from the University of Toronto Faculty of Information, and holds Master’s degrees in Information Studies and English. Her work focuses on litigation, advocacy and public education relating to the ways in which privacy rights are at risk in contemporary society. Current areas of focus include national security, intelligence, and law enforcement surveillance technologies, information sharing in the public and private sector, and the social impacts of existing and emerging technologies such as smart city tech, the internet of things, big data and artificial intelligence.
Director, Criminal Justice Program
Abby Deshman is a lawyer and the Director of the Criminal Justice Program at the Canadian Civil Liberties Association. She also teaches at the Centre for Criminology and Sociolegal Studies at the University of Toronto, and is a Mentor with the Law Practice Program at Ryerson University. Previously, she served as a Corrections Advisor on the Ontario government’s Independent Review of Corrections and as a Senior Policy Advisor to the Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services. Abby has also worked with the United Nations High Council for Refugees in Kenya and Human Rights Watch’s Terrorism/Counterterrorism division in New York.
At CCLA, Abby has led advocacy and analysis in a wide range of issue areas including freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, freedom of religion, police powers and oversight, and the criminal justice system. The author of numerous reports, articles and opinion pieces, her most recent work focuses on the bail system and police record checks. Abby graduated from the University of Toronto Faculty of Law with an Hons J.D. in 2008, and obtained an LL.M. from New York University in 2010.
Director of Education
April Julian joined the Canadian Civil Liberties Association and Education Trust in 2009. She became Deputy Director of Education in 2014, and Director in 2016. She is responsible for coordinating and delivering CCLET’s various education initiatives in Ontario and beyond. In conjunction with her colleagues at CCLA/CCLET, April delivers civil liberties workshops and programming to various audiences of approximately 10,000 learners per year – including elementary and high school students, pre-service and in-service teachers, newcomers to Canada, and youth in custody. As an Ontario Certified Teacher, April also develops educational resources that encourage learners of all ages to gain a deeper understanding of their rights and freedoms and think critically about balancing competing interests in a democracy. These resources are publicly accessible on the CCLA website.
Manager, Education and Community Engagement
Talayeh Shomali is the CCLA’s Manager, Education and Community Engagement. She is passionate about easing the access to justice for diverse groups and she feels lucky that her day to day job includes talking to people about their fundamental rights and freedoms. In her previous jobs, she has coordinated several justice projects, including Family Law Information for Women (FLEW), which is an Ontario-wide, accessible and multilingual legal information campaign.
Talayeh holds a M.A in Women and Gender Studies from University of Toronto, a B.A in Law and Society/ English Literature from York University and a B.A in Civil Law from her home country, Iran, where she worked as a lawyer before immigrating to Canada. She is fluent in French and Farsi.
Senior Director of Development and Communications
"I think of myself as a global citizen and a Canadian, and have lived among various cultures. I also identify as a South Asian woman who immigrated to Canada as a child. These experiences instilled a deep interest and understanding of the worldview of others, and inspired a career dedicated to upholding the rights and freedom of marginalized populations in Canada, and around the world. I am passionate about building trusted relationships with donors — and serving as a liaison between their philanthropic goals, and the causes that I believe in."
Aruna left a successful 10-year career in the tech-sector to raise funds for a child-rights organization. Aruna brings over 20 years of experience and leadership as a fundraiser. She was responsible for development portfolios of $2M to $5M at International Development organizations such as Plan International Canada, Street Kids International and Canadian Physicians for Aid and Relief. Most recently Aruna served as Director, Major Gifts at OCAD University, where she managed a portfolio including gifts of $25,000 and over.
Coordinator, Development and Communications
I am a passionate and goal oriented professional and proudly identify as a South Asian woman. As an outspoken feminist and equalist, I strongly support the CCLA’s work and am particularly passionate about equality and fundamental freedoms.
With over seven years of experience working in non-profit, Aliya has extensive experience working with women’s organizations including Girls 20 Summit, Plan International Canada and the Spark of Hope Foundation.
In 2013, Aliya received her bachelor's degree from the University of Ottawa in International Development & Globalization and Women's Studies, with specialization in Feminist Theories; Women, Gender and Development, Feminism, and Justice and the Law.
Born on the island of St. Vincent, in the Caribbean, my life as a young child included participating in marches for women's rights with my mother. I grew up in Winnipeg and was influenced as a young adult by the parental figures in my life, who were strong human rights activists, anti-racism advocates and educators. I have always had a keen interest in helping people and am fearless about pointing out injustices.
Mishma Gashyna is an administrative professional who has worked in the financial services industry for over twenty years and has always been passionate about her involvement with charitable organizations, whether through work obligations or on an individual level to fundraise and participate in events.
Mishma has completed certificates in Strategic Public Relations and Communication for Professionals at the University of Toronto's School of Continuing Studies, as well as the certificate for the Project Management Workshop at York University's Schulich School of Business.
Julia Sande is CCLA’s Public Interest Articling Fellow. She recently obtained her JD from the Peter A. Allard School of Law at UBC, where she had the opportunity to focus on public interest law and was named a Wesbrook Scholar. Before joining the CCLA, she supported the United Nations Human Rights Committee’s efforts to protect and promote civil and political rights. She also worked with New York University’s Center for Human Rights and Global Justice to enhance a community-based land and water monitoring program in Guyana. As an academic researcher, she has worked with professors on exploring ways to decolonize Canada’s relationship with Indigenous peoples; examining the efficacy of transparency in combatting the negative impacts of resource extraction; and on the development of community legal education materials.
General Counsel, Emeritus
Alan Borovoy was General Counsel of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association from May, 1968 until June, 2009. Prior to coming to CCLA, Alan worked with other human rights and civil liberties organizations such as the National Committee for Human Rights of the Canadian Labour Congress, the Ontario Labour Committee for Human Rights, and the Toronto & District Labour Committee for Human Rights.
As General Counsel of CCLA, Alan made presentations to public inquiries and gave testimony before parliamentary committees on issues such as mandatory drug-testing in the workplace, wiretapping, and police race-relations. His community organizing activities included delegations to the federal and provincial governments on issues of capital punishment, religious education in the public schools, the War Measures Act, campus speech codes, and national security and intelligence.In addition to his work as General Counsel, Alan was a fortnightly columnist for the Toronto Star from 1992-1996. Other media work included appearances on many public affairs programs, and on open-line television and radio programs. He is published widely across Canada, and is the author of several books, including The New Anti-Liberals, Uncivil Obedience: The Tactics and Tales of a Democratic Agitator and When Freedoms Collide: The Case for Our Civil Liberties, which was nominated for the Governor General’s Award in 1988. His memoir, At the Barricades, was published in 2013.
Alan gave lectures and public addresses to students, human rights organizations, and policing agencies in Canada and abroad. He was a visiting professor at the faculties of law at Dalhousie University and the University of Windsor, and a part-time lecturer at the University of Toronto Faculty of Social Work and York University’s political science department. Alan received his B.A. from the University of Toronto in 1953, and his LL.B. from the University of Toronto in 1956. He was admitted to the Ontario Bar in 1958. He received four Honorary Doctor of Laws Degrees, the Law Society Medal from the Law Society of Upper Canada in 1989, an Award of Merit from the City of Toronto in 1982, and was inscribed in the Honour Roll of the aboriginal people of Treaty Number 3 in 1991. He was made an Officer of the Order of Canada in 1982. A. Alan Borovoy was actively involved in CCLA until his passing in May, 2015.
Julie Di Lorenzo