A local woman received a prestigious nod from her peers recently as she was elected as a Bencher for the Law Society of British Columbia.
Pinder Cheema, a Crown Prosecutor for the government since 1989, was elected to the position two weeks ago by her peers. She is also one of the first women of South Asian descent to be appointed the position.
As a Bencher, Cheema will volunteer her time and expertise with the society. Her duties will include acting as judge on discipline hearing panels and credentials hearing panels, interviewing articled students, advising members on Law Society activities and on matters of professional responsibility and acting as liaison with local and county bar associations and members of the public.
“The elections only happen every eight years and you have to put your name forward,” explained Cheema, who was prompted to apply after her peers encouraged her.
Benchers get a two year term and if they carry out their duties successfully they are acclaimed for a maximum of four terms or eight years, she explained.
“It was the right time for me to do this and I consider volunteering to be very important. I was humbled to have been chosen,” she said.
Cheema’s parents, Piara and Shiwinther Kaur Cheema immigrated to Victoria from India in 1952 as teenagers.
“Speaking no English, with limited education, they came to Canada with a strong work ethic and desire to create a better life for themselves and eventually for their children,” Cheema explained, adding that she spoke no English on her first day at McTavish Elementary School.
Cheema spent her childhood with her four siblings on the family’s dairy farm on Cresswell Road in Sidney. They learned about hard work early, she said, milking cows, hauling hay, cleaning barns, picking rocks and weeding vegetable gardens.
“Mom always emphasized that we needed to work hard now so we would not have to work hard later in life,” said Cheema.
Cheema went on to attend North Saanich Middle School and eventually graduated from Claremont Secondary School, receiving a Government of B.C. scholarship to attend university in 1971.
“At the time, it was uncommon for young Sikh girls to attend university and I was the first Sikh in the Department of French at UVic,” Cheema said.
She earned her bachelor of arts degree in teaching in 1975 and from 1975 to 1980 she taught English and French and continued her studies on a part time basis.
In 1980, she was accepted into law school at UVic where, in 1983, she became the first Sikh female to graduate from the school’s law department.
After articles, Cheema commenced her legal career in Victoria as a sole practitioner serving clients in English, French and Punjabi.
In 1989, she joined the Ministry of the Attorney General where she currently serves as the Administrative Crown Council.
In 2002, she was awarded the honorific Queen’s Counsel, the first Sikh female to be so named.
“I am so proud of her and it’s great to hear about a local woman doing so well,” said her husband, Greg Bunyan, who taught with the Saanich School District at Mt. Newton, Parkland and Stelly’s for many years. Incidentally, Cheema also did her teaching practicum at Stelly’s.
“The Peninsula has been a great place for my family, myself, my husband. I owe a great deal to many people including my teachers at the schools throughout the years.”