Ever since his law school days, and throughout an extraordinary legal career that has included influential political appointments, international aid work and community outreach, Aly Alibhai ’90 has sought to fill a noble role in society — the lawyer as instrument of social change.
After graduating at the top of his Windsor Law class and articling with the prestigious Court of Appeal for Ontario, Alibhai accepted a promising position as an associate for a “blue chip” Bay Street law firm.
Two years later, feeling "not completely enthralled" with double-digit hours mostly behind a desk, Alibhai shifted his energies to the political campaign of one of his firm's senior partners. It was a smart move. The partner won a seat in Parliament and Alibhai was thrilled to be part of something that could change people's lives for the better.
Alibhai followed his boss to Ottawa, where Alibhai landed a position as a senior policy analyst with Herb Gray, a legendary statesman and Member of Parliament for Windsor (the longest-running Member of Parliament in Canadian history) who had recently been appointed as Solicitor General of Canada.
"It was a fascinating experience," says Alibhai of his three and a half years in the inner circle of Canadian politics. "I got to see the country, learned a tremendous amount of about government, policymaking, lawmaking and the machinery of government."
While working closely with Gray, whom Alibhai calls a "master" of national and local politics, Alibhai oversaw an expansive legal and legislative portfolio dealing with policing, law enforcement and national security.
When Alibhai decided he wanted to leave the political scene to dedicate himself more directly to public service, he used his newly acquired law enforcement experience to secure a spot as a lawyer with the Department of Justice, where he has been for over a decade.
If it seems atypical that Alibhai has remained at the same job for more than 10 years, that is because there is nothing typical about his position with the DOJ. Alibhai is the Senior Counsel for the International Legal Programs Section (ILPS).
The ILPS assists developing nations with establishing rule of law. Whereas other Canadian governmental and non-governmental organizations might provide international development support in areas like education or healthcare, the DOJ sends people like Alibhai to help countries build a culture of justice, often from the ground up.
A recent project took place in Southern Sudan, a nation ravaged by 50 years of civil war.
"To say Southern Sudan is underdeveloped is to understate it," says Alibhai, who made several visits to the area. "It's not just a question of poverty. There is complete neglect in terms of any kind of infrastructure."
For a place without a functioning justice system, ILPS decided the best first step would be to build a law library and legal resource center, which opened its doors to Sudanese legislators in March of 2008. Alibhai is currently working on a huge, multi-nation anti-corruption project in the Ukraine.
When Alibhai is not helping international governments achieve greater access to justice, he is working to advance just causes in his own Ottawa community. He currently serves on several boards of directors, including Legal Aid Ontario, an organization that provides essential legal services to over 4,000 low-income Ontario residents each day.
Alibhai sees his community work as a direct and natural extension of the same beliefs that inform his professional choices.
"When I sit on the board of Legal Aid Ontario," he says. "I'm involved in high level policymaking and decision-making that affects access to justice in Canada's most populous province. That to me is very meaningful."
Quite a change from his Bay Street practice.