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Ayo Akenroye's criminal law practice supports the marginalized

Toronto criminal lawyer Ayo Akenroye believes in second chances, striving in his practice to help clients who don’t have a record to stay that way, and supporting those who do in escaping crime’s tenacious grip.  

“I understand that once you have a criminal record, the chances of getting back on your feet are very unlikely,” Akenroye, principal of Akenroye Law, a criminal defence firm in Toronto, tells AdvocateDaily.com

“The cycle of crime continues.” 

He first became interested in his practice area during his articles, after earning a master’s degree in law from the University of Manitoba, where he graduated in 2011. 

While his articles were in corporate and commercial law, he met many people in the community with legal challenges.

“I found out that some did not have the resources to hire a lawyer to properly represent them,” Akenroye says. “There was a vacuum. My goal is to represent people who don’t have access to legal representation.” 

He seeks to support the marginalized, “those who don’t have economic resources or understand they have legal rights.” 

This may include low-income clients, newcomers experiencing language or culture barriers, or victims of systemic racism. 

Akenroye represents clients against a range of charges, including all kinds of assault, impaired driving, theft, fraud, weapons charges, drug crimes, regulatory offences, and bribery and corruption. He represents them at all stages of the criminal process, including police investigations, bail hearings, confiscation and enforcement hearings, inquests, administrative proceedings, extraditions, trials and appeals.

A Nigerian immigrant to Canada, Akenroye came to practise domestic criminal law through a circuitous route. When he first set upon a career in law, he was following in the footsteps of his father, a criminal lawyer in Nigeria, and inspired by classic legal dramas such as To Kill a Mockingbird

As a law student at Obafemi Awolowo University, from which he received his bachelor of laws in 2007, his country had just returned to democracy after decades of military rule.  

“I saw lawyers as being at the forefront, trying to make sure that the rule of law is respected,” Akenroye says. “I saw lawyers trying to fashion out ways by which the government can respect the citizenry.” 

In law school, he joined democratic and social justice organizations. 

“That was the kind of background I came from — law as a tool for social engineering, as a way of fighting inequity, and making the citizenry feel secure.” 

Akenroye continued his studies in Canada, drawn by the international reputation of this country, and because he won full scholarships.

Following his master's degree in law, he pursued a PhD in international law at McGill University, which examined the theoretical foundations of victimhood in international criminal law.

Akenroye draws on his extensive experience in international law in his domestic practice. While these areas may not, at first glance, seem to have much to do with the others, they are related, he says. 

“In my criminal practice, I deal with many victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, human trafficking and robbery,” he says. 

Plus, his experience in Canadian courts strengthens his work in international criminal law. 

“They feed into each other,” he says.

An elected member of the Training Committee of the International Criminal Court Bar Association at The Hague, Akenroye represents clients on trial for genocide, crimes against humanity and other war offences before the international criminal court and national courts. 

As well, he is a regular speaker on criminal law and human rights issues at conferences in Canada and beyond. 

This month, he begins a Visiting Professional Position with the Office of the Prosecutor at the International Criminal Court in the Hague, Netherlands where he will be involved in conducting independent and impartial preliminary examinations, investigations and prosecution of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes in different parts of the world, and fighting for victims of these offences.

Akenroye says his experience in international law also helps with certain domestic cases, including those that may involve extradition, terrorism, human trafficking, and national security. 

“The knowledge of international law helps me to understand Canada’s obligations under the relevant treaties.” 

His own immigrant experience comes into play when he represents foreign nationals, and he fully comprehends the potential impact criminal charges will have on their immigration status.

Along with legal representation, he brings a mentorship role to his work, especially in dealing with youth. 

Akenroye sees a dearth of adequate mentors, a role he assumes alongside his legal counsel whenever the opportunity presents itself. 

He tells these young clients his own story — of coming from a country with deep struggles, of the challenges of starting over, as a Nigerian immigrant to Canada, in a new country and culture. 

“You can do better than this,” Akenroye tells them. “You can lead a better life.”

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