Ingrid Grant

As the vivid blue Skype interface whirrs to life I find myself considering whether this digital form of journalism will ever be as immersive as the classic face to face interview.  This, however, is largely irrelevant because if it were not for this technology I wouldn’t be able to converse with the subject of this profile.  I am conducting the interview from my coastal home in Topsham, England, a far cry from Canada’s largest city where my interviewee resides.

Ingrid Grant is a lawyer at Silverstein Law in Toronto.  She earned her Juris Doctor degree from the University of Toronto after graduating from CBU with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English and Philosophy in 2002.   She has represented clients in criminal trials and appeals at all levels of court in Ontario and has argued several high-profile cases at the Supreme Court of Canada.

Ingrid has represented clients charged with all types of criminal and quasi-criminal offences, and has particular experience with charges including: terrorism, murder, sexual assault, complex frauds, and drug importation.

Ingrid is also a member of the Criminal Lawyers’ Association of Ontario and serves on that organization’s Annual Women in Criminal Law Conference organizing committee and women’s committee, which focuses on equality for women within the criminal defence bar. Ingrid is a member of the Court of Appeal for Ontario’s Duty Counsel program, providing assistance to unrepresented prisoners during appeals, and a volunteer with the Association in Defence of the Wrongly Convicted. In recent years Ingrid’s pro-bono advocacy and publication interests have focused on the interpretation and constitutional challenges to the crediting of pre-trial custody against sentence (the so-called “Truth in Sentencing Act”), arguing before the Supreme Court of Canada on two major cases on this issue: R. v. Summers and R. v. Safarzadeh-Markhali.

Prior to gaining these significant achievements Ingrid, a Howie Center native, lived and studied in Cape Breton for 20 years.  Not satisfied to focus solely on her double English and Philosophy major Ingrid also immersed herself in the theatrical world by directing the first ever production of The Vagina Monologues at CBU.  Not only was it the first show of its kind at the university but Ingrid also helped raise over $4,000 for a local women’s shelter.

With her roots firmly planted in Cape Breton Island soil I wondered how Ingrid had found herself practicing law in a city almost 2,000 km away and how this island and university helped shape her career path.

“In Philosophy and English there was a lot of emphasis on writing well and learning to develop arguments in an effective and clear way.  The courses I took really focused on those aspects and that’s important for what I do now.  That’s what being a lawyer is all about, it’s about being able to take the law and apply it to your situation and develop arguments as to why you should win.”

Alongside these core aspects of her major, Ingrid spoke to me at length about the importance of small class sizes and access to professors, aspects that have become synonymous with CBU.

“I had a really good relationship with the professors, I felt like I actually knew them,” she says, “I think the good side to a smaller school is that you get more access to professors and you are in much smaller classes.  I was in classes with 3 or 4 people and there was a lot of discussion whereas in bigger schools the same class would be taught to 200 students and you’d likely have a teacher’s assistant a lot of the time.”

Having garnered so many accomplishments in her own career, I asked what kind of advice Ingrid would give to CBU students who want to mimic this success in their respective fields.

“I think that it is important to study and go to class” she stated with a laugh.

“I remember people who are paying all this tuition would just sit in the cafeteria and not go to class.  I think that it’s a good opportunity to actually learn and it’s important to take that opportunity.  You’re not paying for a piece of paper to hang on the wall, you’re paying for the opportunity to actually learn.”

Not to shy away from the issues that plague small communities and universities such as CBU Ingrid mused that “there are downsides too, I think that if you go to a bigger school: there is more opportunity to be away from home, meet more people, develop more relationships that way.  There is definitely good and bad.”

“I think there is a real focus in CBU in the way it promotes itself, of not wanting to promote the idea of leaving Cape Breton.  I think, in a way, that is not fair to some of the students who then are in that mindset of ‘okay, I’m betraying something if I leave.’  I think people should know that there are lots of opportunities out there, you can go to whatever graduate school you want.  You don’t have to be limited to Cape Breton or the Maritimes, you can think more broadly.”

Although I had never considered it before I found myself agreeing with Ingrid; good memories and a strong sense of home don’t necessarily have to limit potential.  As someone who has lived in over 27 houses across the globe I can attest to the power of a broad educational scope, however, Cape Breton Island and CBU will undoubtedly always have a special place in my own heart and that of many others.

Stereotypically, lawyers are known for dazzling juries with their impressive linguistic skills; however, the piece of advice that will stay with me from this interview is succinct and pithy: “study and go to class.”  This may not be the kind of straight-laced language frequently used in Toronto court rooms but it is the down-to-earth, no nonsense attitude that was undoubtedly forged in the highlands of Cape Breton.

Interview conducted and story written by Josh Lines, CBU student.

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