Questions of Law and Order, Simplified
It may have started with an election to homeroom representative in a law class he had to take. Christopher Achkar was 17, and had just moved from Lebanon to Toronto. He won over his peers with a speech that suggested that as a newcomer, he’d strive more to impress them. He didn’t even have to “know a guy” to win. Then again, who knows – Christopher is ambivalent about his stance on fate versus circumstance. What he knows is that law is his path now. “I was made for it,” he says.
For years Christopher has been curious about legal questions that would arise around him. What is the speed limit where there isn’t one specified? What would you be responsible for if someone fell on your driveway? What legal rights do you have if a neighbour plays loud music past midnight? He was surprised when most people didn’t know the answers to what he thought was basic knowledge.
For Christopher these questions weren't just rhetorical. Instead, he found the answers, shared them with any interested party, and stored them away. In time, he’d amassed a small wealth of information on rights and laws, and decided it was time to share them with others.
So began Beyond Reasonable Doubt Community, a nonprofit Christopher co-founded in 2012 with a close friend. The website continues his work of seeking answers to legal matters, and disseminating them for the public at large. It distills complicated legal issues and language into comprehensible explanations for lay people, through its website and other social media channels. Christopher stresses that the organization does not give legal advice and doesn’t replace the need for a lawyer. But it does attempt to answer posed questions and make people more aware of day-to-day legal aspects of their interactions.
Topics of discussion are often inspired by the news, such as marriage equality, gun registry, abortion, prostitution law, employment and labour law, and voting laws, among others.
“It was a mixture of my passion to make law understandable, helping others when I can, and a realization that affordable legal advice isn’t within reach to a great number of Canadians.”
He believes his experience in Lebanon, and then as an immigrant, directed his path. Growing up in a culture where “connections” are often more valuable than merit, he says not all opportunities were afforded to him. Coming to Canada, he found a considerable amount of freedom and opportunity. “Nobody asks you who you know for you to be able to do something that makes a difference.”
With this attitude and privilege, he wants to “change everything.”
“I would like to use what I have and what I gain to contribute in every way possible,” both in Canada and Lebanon.
He mentions access to justice as the “most important issue,” which also ties into others like homelessness and unemployment.
“Everything needs change, everything needs to be examined.… There’s room for improvement everywhere.”
Christopher now has a law practice (www.achkarlaw.com) where he helps employers and employees with employment law and human rights related matters.