Name: Annamaria Enenajor
Job title: Defence lawyer and justice-reform advocate
From: Nigeria and Slovakia
Currently lives in: Toronto
Education: BA in international relations and Christianity and culture, University of Toronto; Master’s of science in forced migration, Oxford University; BCL and LLB, McGill University
Annamaria Enenajor went to law school because she wanted to do good. But then, “I finished law school without knowing exactly how to do that,” she recalls. To get the broadest experience possible, she joined an international firm in New York, practicing in the government enforcement group. While there, Enenajor had the chance to work on one of the firm’s large pro bono cases, which was a class action lawsuit against the New York Department of Corrections for abuse of prisoners on Rikers Island. “That experience shook me,” she says. “The deep sense of injustice I felt after witnessing the systemic racism in the American justice system helped me reconnect with the reason why I went to law school. I knew I had to practice criminal defence.”
Back in Toronto and practicing law, Enenajor learned very quickly how the system worked—and didn’t. “I witnessed first-hand the way our criminal justice system amplifies racial inequality, punishes the poor and warehouses the mentally ill,” she says. “As a result, I am also a public advocate for criminal justice reform.” She also runs Cannabis Amnesty, a not-for-profit organization that “advocates for people who have been harmed by the criminalization of cannabis possession and its unequal enforcement.” Finding a balance between the two roles, which are forever entwined, is a challenge Enenajor is still working on. “I haven’t overcome it yet! Finding this balance is a work in progress.”
The disproportionate degree to which Black people are incarcerated for cannabis-related crime, however, means that balance may never be found. But Enenajor won’t stop fighting, regardless of the outcome. “In litigation, you can’t control the outcomes of cases, but you can control the process of preparation,” she explains. “Somewhere towards the beginning of a case, I know how much work needs to be done to advocate for my client—witnesses to be interviewed, legal arguments to be outlined, experts to be consulted. I measure my success by how well I have fulfilled my commitment to do that work.” Enenajor’s dedication to justice is wholly inspiring; the work she does not only changes people’s lives, it sets them up to actually live them.