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Ontario resident called to the Bar fifty years after graduating from law school in Pakistan

by The Registrar staff

Hard work and determination in hopes of creating better opportunities for children is a vision shared by parents.

When Mohsin Rashdi came to Canada in 1994, he too made significant personal sacrifices. Once his children were grown and independent, the Toronto resident shifted his focus onto himself and realized a dream he had for decades: he went back to law school and was called to the Ontario Bar and became a lawyer. At the age of almost 80.

Rashdi is now living his dream working in criminal and family law. His boss is his son Baqa, owner of the Mississauga-based firm, Law Booth.

Pursuing post-secondary education is challenging at the best of times. Gradu- ating almost fifteen years past the Canadian retirement age is a different reality unknown to most people. “I had initial difficulties, but that is part of the deal,” Rashdi said. “I’m very fortunate now with the full support of my family and my children, and that is a point of satisfaction for me.”

The windy long road taken

Rashdi was born and raised in Karachi, Pakistan, where he obtained his primary education before briefly moving to the Philippines to pursue engineering and mathematics. Despite his talents in these areas, he always knew that he would one day be a lawyer.

“My father [Pir Ali Muhammad Rashdi], served as a diplomat, politician, journalist, and writer, just as my uncle, Hissamuddin Rashdi, did,” he says to The Registrar referring to a bar that was set very high in his family. “Both wrote more than 40 books in three different languages. My father was also a lawyer known for his excellent cross-examination in the courts, but it was my brother and cousin [also lawyers], however, who encouraged me to become a lawyer. It was just natural that I would follow suit.”

Upon moving back to Pakistan in 1965, Rashdi says that he had some time to think about his career. Raised in a joint family system, Rashdi was always surrounded by eager minds. A special study room was designated in his home where his older brother and cousin would discuss legal strategies and cases being worked on.

“To get into the legal side of things, I had to complete courses in sociology and political science,” Rashdi said. “It was difficult initially, as I had to work in the morning and then head back to school for my legal classes in the evening.”

He became a lawyer after receiving his Bachelor of Laws degree (LL.B.) fifty years ago and practiced in 1976 before becoming a member of the Sindh High Court Bar in 1979, of which he is still a member. Despite his first-hand legal experience in aviation law at Saudi Airlines for four years, his goal was to always become a criminal lawyer.

Arriving in Canada

Rashdi practiced law in Saudi Arabia for almost three decades before deciding to move to Canada in 1994. His children, he says, were the main reason for the move, but he knew he would have to surrender his professional aspirations to support his wife and their children’s career aspirations.

After applying to the National Committee on Accreditation in Ottawa to assess his foreign credentials, Rashdi was informed that his legal experience wasn’t sufficient to work in a Canadian legal setting. Like many immigrants with foreign credentials, he was required to pursue further education. In his case, it required taking eight full-time law school courses to upgrade his credentials. Unfortunately, the time and cost proved to be prohibitive.

After Baqa was called to the Bar in 2010, Mohsin contemplated returning to his own studies. Baqa says that his father’s experience is one of several immigrant stories where many arrive in Canada with little to no money or guidance. He recounts his father’s experiences working outside of the law to make ends meet, which saw him in office roles being compensated below his marketplace worth.

“We empathize with new immigrants because we’ve been there,” Baqa said. “Courses and exams cost quite a bit of money and we simply didn’t have that at the time." For him [Mohsin], it was either we eat and survive or he follows his dream, and he gave up his dream for all of us.

Reigniting the journey

Having a support system of intuitive minds who were able to teach him was something that Rashdi appreciated. Even as he works with his younger colleagues who are familiar with modern legal nuances, Rashdi says that it always keeps him thoughtfully engaged.

“I am constantly learning since I got my license in 2021, and all of this makes me forget my age,” Rashdi said with a laugh. “With my son being senior to me, he continues to guide me in my practice, as well as with informing me about interpretations of the law in this country.”

Fulfilling a dream was not the only reason Rashdi aimed to get his license. Being a contributing member to society was important to him, as it helps promote a public good. He says that lawyers should always protect consumer interests but stresses the importance of knowing your rights.

“This practice is a very important function of all societies, not just to protect the public interest, but to protect individuals within the framework of law,” Rashdi said.

“Other professions have their own approaches to that, but I think lawyers are involved in that mission every day.”

Coming full circle

Baqa says seeing his father every day at work is an opportunity that he doesn’t take for granted.

“In our culture, our parents remain very important to us,” Baqa said. “Tomorrow is not promised to any of us, so I try to make the most out of my time spent with him.”

Rashdi remarks that, even in spite of the personal and professional challenges faced for decades, he wouldn’t have changed a thing. He stresses the importance of being prepared, especially for new immigrants who aim to build a better life for themselves and families in Canada.

“Anyone coming here should know the expectations of Canada, so that they can prepare for any potential challenges,” Rashdi said. “Know what you are getting into, so that you can pursue a good livelihood and dream.”