“You know that song? ‘You spin me right round, baby, right round’?” asks Suhuyini Abudulai with a laugh. “The act can really run you around in circles.”
That would be Ontario’s Consumer Protection Act, and Abudulai, an associate in the financial services group at Toronto law firm Cassels Brock, knows just how complicated it can be. In fact, she literally wrote the book on it.
Consumer protection law often deals with several overlapping legal disciplines and jurisdictions. For example, retailers may issue prepaid credit cards or gift cards, but the underlying transaction is with a financial institution. That may bring in federal regulations relating to the industry, in addition to whatever provincial laws about fair disclosure or other fine print may apply. The federal Competition Act may be in play in some cases, and on some matters consumer protection laws vary by province.
A few years ago, a lawyer from Quebec asked Abudulai a question about the Ontario Act and suggested she refer to the annotated version of the law. “I remember thinking, There’s an annotated version? No one said anything about this,” she says. A call to the firm’s law library yielded no such document. “So I thought, Maybe I’ll take a stab at preparing it.”
Abudulai set to work, layering commentary, case law, background on government policy and other information onto the act to help other lawyers untangle the complicated world of consumer protection law. The third edition of the Annotated Ontario Consumer Protection Act will appear this year, and Abudulai is already working on the next one. “I’m constantly updating,” she says. “I’ve started doing it daily. There are a lot of developments. It’s a really interesting area of law.”
Despite plenty of case work and the small matter of updating the annotated version of the act, Abudulai makes time for a number of additional roles. She’s a founding member of Cassels’ diversity and inclusion committee and chair of the firm’s black affinity group; a content director for the diversity and inclusion committee of the American Bar Association; and a member of two committees of the Black Female Lawyers Network.
A recent Law Society of Upper Canada report highlighted the prevalence of systemic racism in the legal profession. Abudulai says the current conversation about diversity has been sparked by the recognition that many lawyers face barriers to success and advancement at every level, from recruitment to promotions to the allocation of high-value files and clients. “This is a sensitive and complex matter, which is why we’re still talking about it,” she says. “But we should say what it is: It’s unconscious bias. We all have it; we tend to gravitate to people who are like us, with whom we share similarities. The key is to address it.”
While Abudulai agrees it’s generally women and people of colour who wind up having to bring diversity issues forward in the workplace, she’s still happy to talk about them. “What makes us great is our differences—that’s what we bring to the table,” she says. “That’s what fosters innovation. Instead of equality, for me it’s more about equity. Everybody should have access.”