Canada’s first female Iranian-born judge

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Born in Iran, Judge Delaram Jahani didn’t speak English until she came to Canada at age 15. Her life has been a series of swift learning curves, with the latest being her transition from lawyer to Provincial Court judge in 2017.

Judge Jahani spent her first ten years in Tehran. Her parents planned to send their children to France for secondary school and university, so in addition to Farsi she spoke French as a child, attending French language schools from the age of three.

However, in 1978/79 the Islamic Revolution took place, changing Iran from a monarchy to a republic. The Shah fled and Ayatollah Khomeini took control of the country. Judge Jahani’s French school closed and she moved to an Iranian school. The fact that she continued her education in French through correspondence courses and an after-school tutor demonstrates Judge’s Jahani’s passion for learning and her family’s commitment to education.

Two years after the revolution Judge Jahani returned to French language schooling – this time in France, where her family moved, leaving most of their possessions behind in Iran. In addition to attending school in her second language, Judge Jahani attended Farsi classes daily after school to maintain her skills in that language. Judge Jahani describes starting Grade 9 in Toronto when she arrived in Canada at age 15, speaking no English, as “brutal”. Nevertheless, she finished five grades of high school in three years by studying on her own to fill in gaps and was able to start university at age 18. One result of the upheavals in her life was that Judge Jahani became fluent in English, French and Farsi, and learned some German and Spanish as well.

Judge Jahani originally planned a career in science. She shifted to law after taking courses in philosophy that piqued her interest, doing volunteer work that showed the need for compassionate lawyers, and realizing the Iranian-Canadian community was underrepresented in the legal field. She graduated from the University of Windsor law school, and was called to the Ontario bar, becoming one of the first few Iranian-Canadian lawyers.

After practising criminal and poverty law in Toronto, she moved to British Columbia in 2001 and developed a family law practice in Surrey, eventually adding criminal defence and prosecution work. Her commitment to helping people and providing access to justice - no matter the age, gender or socio-economic background of the litigants - was evident both in her work and in her many volunteer activities including serving on the Provincial Council of the Canadian Bar Association BC Branch, the executive of the Westminster family law subsection and the Surrey Memorial Hospital Foundation, and mentoring law students and junior lawyers.

Judge Jahani is believed to be the first female Iranian-born judge appointed in Canada. The openness, flexibility, and sense of adventure that have enabled her to view upheavals in her life as opportunities and to adjust quickly to new languages and cultures have made her a valuable role model.

When asked what she’s learned from her experiences, Judge Jahani said, “The exposure to different situations, cultures and languages in the Middle East, Europe, and North America has heightened my awareness of, and appreciation for, the diversity of human experiences and understandings. It has helped me to appreciate multiple points of view and to be more empathetic and compassionate.

I’ve learned that it’s important to experience new things, appreciate all you experience, push your limits, and be able to laugh at yourself, but believe in yourself.”