The granddaughter of a member of Parliament and leader of the Ceylon Tamil community, politics and law are in Malliha Wilson’s blood. However, she never thought she would become a lawyer. That’s a sentiment that’s hard to believe if you consider the successes she’s had as a litigant for the past few decades. However, growing up around conversations with her grandparents in her native Sri Lanka changed the path forward for a groundbreaker in human rights and labor law in Canada.
The daughter of Susili and Alfred Jeyaratnam Wilson, a recognized Sri Lankan academic, Malliha Wilson was raised between her home country and Canada when her father went on to serve as Chair of the political science department at the University of New Brunswick. Her grandfather, S.J.V. Chelvanaykam, was a highly regarded politician and founding member of the All Ceylon Tamil Congress and an advocate for Tamil rights. The family would travel to Sri Lanka for the summer, her father assisting with peace negotiations, where Malliha would work with an institute for international justice for Tamil youth.
It wasn’t until the age of 15, and helping out in that political process with her grandfather, that she would pursue a future in public service and law. Wilson elected to pursue her undergraduate degree from Montreal’s McGill University, going on to complete her law degree at the Osgoode Hall Law School at Toronto’s York University. In 1983, she would get called to the bar, landing a role with a small law firm where she honed her litigation skills.
Beyond the Bar
In 1987, Malliha made her leap from law to government, joining the Ontario Public Service as Counsel for the Ministry of Government Services. From there, she served as counsel in the newly formed Native Affairs Secretariat for Ontario. From 2000 to 2004, she served as the Legal Director for the Ministry of Labour, spending the next four years as the Director of the Crown Law Office-Civil. In 2008, Wilson would make history as the first visible minority to hold the office of Assistant Deputy Attorney General of the Government of Ontario.
During her decades as litigation counsel for the Ontario Government, Wilson participated in more than 20 cases within the Canadian Supreme Court and the Ontario Court of Appeal. This complex litigation included the constitutionality of a law that allowed governments to sue tobacco companies and the landmark Carter v. Canada case that allowed assisted suicide for those with terminal illnesses to proceed in Quebec in 2016. After eight years as Ontario’s Assistant Deputy Attorney General, Wilson went into private law by co-founding the Nava Wilson LLP firm in 2017.
Working with her private firm, Malliha has been able to return to her roots of advocacy that started with her grandfather. She has represented the Tamil Canadian diaspora at the United Nations Human Rights Council, addressing crimes against humanity and war that have been committed against the Tamils of Sri Lanka during the Civil War. She helped to keep U.N. Resolution 40/1 in place at the UNHRC that holds the Sri Lankan government accountable.
Wilson has also fought for the human rights of indigenous people in Canada, holding human rights abusers accountable under the Magnitsky Act. This targets offenders by cutting off their access to funding, weakening corrupt networks. She has also expanded her reach into the world of politics, serving as campaign co-chair to Mary Ng, helping to get her re-elected as a member of Parliament for the Liberal Party of Canada in 2019. Malliha also serves as the Riding Chair for the Markham-Thornhill Federal Liberal Association. Her strides and successes continue in the world of law and politics and continue to inspire the next generation in government and legal services.