A grove of trees in Scarborough thrives today because one woman saw something that was not right, and used the law to stop its destruction. “I recall when our sub-division started,” says Thora Espinet, lawyer, teacher, small claims judge and community leader. “They were cutting down the trees and didn’t tell anybody. You can’t do that, you see. I went door to door and spoke to my neighbours.” They attended the then Scarborough City council meeting. “It was quite lively. The headline in the Globe and Mail the next day said ‘Community Stops Tree Slaughter,’ ” she chuckles as she recalls the events some 30 years ago. “You do what you can, how you can, when you can.”
“Scarborough is a vibrant growing community that welcomes lots of newcomers. The vibrancy we see in Scarborough is not acknowledged as it should be. I think it’s a great place. All we ask is that we not label Scarborough as one of the bad places. If you put a cup over a light, it will put the light out.”
Thora has taken what she can do and used it for the benefit of her community. She is one of the first black women to practice law in Ontario, having been called to the bar in 1984. A barrister, solicitor, notary public and family law mediator, for over 30 years she has run her own practice, focusing on general, family and criminal law, and was appointed Deputy Judge of the Small Claims Court in 2008. For many years, Thora volunteered at the Agincourt Community Center, providing free weekly legal clinics. Her Scarborough law office has hosted dozens of students through co-op programs. “I find that very rewarding, to help give the children an idea of what work is,” she says. “I find these programs very worthwhile.”
Jamaican born and raised in England, Thora attended York University and the University of Windsor. She is passionate about youth and education, having served as a child welfare advocate with the Official Guardian and currently as a member of the Minister’s Working Group on Child and Family Well-being. She taught criminal law at Centennial College for several years and was a member of the Board at Humber College. Her commitment to the public and to community service was recognized by the Law Society of Upper Canada with the Lincoln Alexander Award in 2017.
Thora is proud to be a member of the board of directors of the non-profit Tropicana Community Services Organization, serving on the committee that deals with youth and education.” I think there’s a lot of need because there’s a lot of people who are not as well-off as others,” she says. “Communities are closed off within themselves.”