Awards and congratulatory messages
2019 Distinguished Service Award: Lee Cohen QC

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The Society is pleased to announce that Lee Cohen QC is the recipient of the 2019 Distinguished Service Award. Established in 1999, this award is presented to a member of the Nova Scotia Barristers' Society who has made significant contributions to the community, the legal profession and the Society.

Lawrence Evans QC

Lee Cohen QC is a practicing lawyer in Halifax, Nova Scotia. His practice is solely dedicated to matters relating to immigration, refugee and human rights law. For over 30 years, Lee has consistently advocated for a positive change in these areas and is one of Canada’s leading immigration lawyers.

Lee was born in Saint John, New Brunswick, and received his Bachelor of Education at the University of New Brunswick, and his law degree from Dalhousie University. He was called to the Nova Scotia Bar in 1981.

His dedication to immigration and refugee law began in 1987, when a boat carrying 173 Sikh-Indian refugees arrived unannounced in Shelburne County, Nova Scotia. He immediately volunteered his services to represent all 173 claimants in obtaining their refugee status and remaining safely in Canada. In 2000, Lee founded the Halifax Refugee Clinic (HRC), a non-profit, pro bono clinic in downtown Halifax which provides legal and settlement services for those claiming refugee status in Nova Scotia or requiring humanitarian immigration services. Currently, the Clinic has an over 80 percent success rate for claimants seeking refugee protection status. Lee continues to serve as the Clinic’s Pro Bono Senior Legal Counsel as well as the Chair Emeritus for its Board of Directors. In 2014 he went on to found the New Brunswick Refugee Clinic in Moncton where he also serves as a member of its Board.

Over the course of his career, Lee has tirelessly advocated for the rights of refugee claimants in Canada. He has addressed many local and national organizations on issues relating to immigration and settlement law and has helped shift the public’s attitude towards newcomers and refugees in Canada. Lee has also mentored many young lawyers and law students in these areas of the law, thus contributing to the betterment of the legal profession and justice system.

Lee received his Queen’s Counsel designation in 2002, and in 2003 he received the Nova Scotia Human Rights Award and the Queen Elizabeth II Golden Jubilee Medal. In 2005 he received the Weldon Award for Unselfish Public Service at the Schulich School of Law, and in 2014 he was awarded a Doctor of Divinity, honoris causa, from the Atlantic School of Theology.     

For his selfless advancement of access to justice, his exemplary reform in the areas of immigration and human rights law, his consistent promotion of the legal profession and through that his model service to the Society, the Distinguished Service Award Committee is pleased to recommend Lee Cohen QC as the Society’s Distinguished Service Award recipient for 2019.

A few thoughts from support letters in Lee’s nomination package:

  • “Mr. Cohen has been a voice for social justice and fairness and is committed to help advance peace and inclusion in the world. By establishing the HRC, he has given a voice to helpless refugee claimants and has helped them to find safety and hope.”
  • “[B]ased on the sheer volume of people who have been involved with the [Halifax Refugee] Clinic over the years, I would be surprised if there was an individual who influenced more people in our profession than Lee Cohen.”
  • “People claiming refugee protection are among the most vulnerable and Lee’s dedication to helping them is complete and unwavering. It is truly his life’s work.”
  • “Lee’s mentorship helped me choose law as my profession. During my law school years, Lee was always willing to provide me and my colleagues with his time and advice in regard to our profession. His mentorship helped shape my career path as a lawyer.”
  • “I have often watched him represent claimants at refugee hearings and am always struck by the combination of his calm demeanor with his fierce and unwavering sense of justice. That he has been able to continue his activism and uphold his ideals for all these years without becoming cynical or quitting is truly awe inspiring.”

The Distinguished Service Award will be presented at the Society’s annual Recognition Reception in November 2019. The reception is our opportunity to honour lawyers and law students for their contributions that demonstrate the profession’s commitment to excellence and public service.