Canada News

Profile: Lawyer Jane Gatwira Rukaria

By  | 31 July 2008 at 03:47 | 2693 views

We don’t have a huge number of success stories among African-Canadian immigrants in Canada, but once in a while we come across a story that will inspire and psychologically uplift a community that’s struggling to integrate and properly settle in this land of opportunities.

We found such a story in the experiences of Jane Gatwiri Rukaria, one of the very few African-Canadian lawyers in Vancouver, British Columbia. What makes Jane’s story particularly interesting is the fact that she is not only an African from Kenya, but also a woman African immigrant. As most of us know, African women find it particularly hard to settle down in Canada and other Western countries, more than the men.

But Jane is an exceptional woman, not ordinary at all. At an early age she was curious about the world and she was very blessed to get accepted in one of the best high schools in Kenya before enrolling at the University of Nairobi to study Law, the first in her humble family to do so.

She graduated from law school and settled down in the coastal city of Mombasa and started practising law. She was not interested in being employed. She felt that to truly follow her heart in the practice of law, she had to be self employed. It was not easy, Jane told me on the phone from her home in Vancouver. Law is still a man’s world in Kenya and most African countries. She faced many challenges but managed to overcome them with time. She said she encountered more problems as a female lawyer in Kenya than in Canada, a bit of information that will surprise many. I asked her what sort of challenges she faced in Africa and she briefly mentioned the general attitude and lack of trust and confidence in a female lawyer by some members of the public, and many more.

Despite all the challenges, Jane made her mark as one of the most successful lawyers in Mombasa. By 2001 she went into a partnership that lasted until 2006. In 2002, she re-located to Canada with her husband, Patrick O’Reilly, a chemical engineer.

The she had to start all over again in order to work as a lawyer in Canada. First, she needed very good references from Kenya for her accreditation certificate. Her references from Kenya helped to reduce the number of courses she needed to take. As she had no legal network here in Canada, she made the decision to enrol at the University of British Columbia. She got her license in 2004 and went straight into self employment.

As a married woman and mother of a very young child at the time, that was an uphill task, she told me. She however advised any Africans interested in studying Law in Canada not to be intimidated by the difficulties as the law profession is one of the best with many opportunities for those who can endure and persevere. "It demands a lot of tenacity and you have to do your homework before you start, but it’s doable," she said.

Jane says her law office in Vancouver is not like your normal law office, because she encourages people to walk in and have a chat with her in a relaxed atmosphere.

"I want them (especially Africans) to consider this their law office," she pointed out. However, Jane told me, most of her clients are not African, which to her means Canada is indeed a unique place where many people just accept who you are, as long as you can deliver. Many Africans, she said laughing, seem to still have problems of trust and confidence.

"I would like to see more of “our” people come through my door," she said.

Jane says that she feels very humbled by the blessings she has seen in her life and strives to make a difference in the lives of people who walk into her office.

Jane’s husband, Patrick, is very proud of her. "My wife is an exceptional woman, very exceptional," he said. I can only agree with him.

There are not many Janes yet in Vancouver’s African community, but there are signs that things will get better with the Canadian government now paying more attention to the need to recognize the credentials of new immigrants, many of them highly trained professionals.

Jane’s coordinates:

Jane G. Rukaria

Barrister & Solicitor

205 - 3256 Cambie Street

Vancouver, BC V5Z 2W4

Phone 604.708.5977

Fax 604.879.8050

Cell 604.341.8496