David Eby (BA 1999)
Legal jargon can be difficult to understand. That’s why lawyer David Eby works every day to make the language of the law more accessible to the general public. David chose to come to uWaterloo, his local university, because he liked the convenience of living at home while going to school. He was interested in the Rhetoric and Professional Writing (RPW) program because he enjoyed “literature, close analysis and reading,” but also wanted professional writing training and co-op experience.
His favourite English course was the first poetry class he ever took, taught by Dr. Kevin McGuirk. The course opened his eyes to many different forms of poetry and grounded his interest in the discipline by “making it exciting.” Another memorable class, Randy Harris’ course in rhetoric, assigned students to a project called “Change the World.” Students had to persuade people about the merits of a particular issue and then write a report on their campaign’s effectiveness. David enjoyed the class because it was “practical yet intensely theoretical.”
As a co-op student, David picked up many practical skills which help him in his career as a legal expert and human rights advocate. During one of his work terms, he worked at a hospital in Toronto in the information services department, which he found a very hands-on experience. He taught doctors and nurses how to use computers and specific computer programs, and wrote a newsletter for the Information Services department, simplifying technical operations and making them understandable. What he learned from this experience transferred perfectly into his career as a lawyer, where he frequently “explains challenging aspects of the law to a popular audience.”
One of David’s greatest memories as a uWaterloo student was putting together a magazine called the Art Riot with a number of his peers from numerous faculties. It was an interdisciplinary magazine, covering topics such as poetry, art, and political arguments. David recalls that the magazine was well supported among students and many uWaterloo faculty members of the time, running for about two years with six issues published. He was also actively involved with the Imprint (the university’s official student newspaper), the Waterloo Public Interest Research Group (WPIRG), and the campus radio station.
After graduating from uWaterloo, David worked as a tech writer for a Waterloo-based company called Creative Options, whose clients included JC Penny, Kroger Groceries and M&M Meat Shops. He was responsible for writing scripts for safety videos, creating posters and writing meeting guides. Although the job was ideal, he says, for a graduate from the RPW program, David wanted to pursue a career which was more politically engaged. He went to law school at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia and became a lawyer.
After graduating from law school, he joined the Pivot Legal Society in Vancouver, where he did work on housing issues in Vancouver’s poorest neighbourhood and how the homeless are treated. Later he became the Executive Director of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, educating the public about the law and their personal rights. David’s work is focused on how the law affects people and populations at the margins of society. Here again, his training from the RPW program has proved most useful, as he wrote The Arrest Handbook: A Guide to Your Rights, 10,000 copies of which have been distributed. His RPW training also comes in handy when he writes reports on issues such as racial profiling and housing.
David is an adjunct professor of law at the University of British Columbia. He is President of the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network and Research Associate with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. David was recently acknowledged for his commitment to human rights in a very large way, winning the Renate Shearer Award, presented by the B.C. Human Rights Coalition and U.N. Association.
Reflecting on his time at Waterloo, David says he would not be able to do his current job without the training he received as a uWaterloo student. The technical skills he picked up as an English student are invaluable in his daily work. He learned to closely analyze texts, obviously a crucial skill in understanding “language in court and judgments, and constructing arguments based on that knowledge. “I wouldn’t be able to do my job with the same degree of skill if not for my degree from Waterloo,” he says. “As an added bonus, RPW was a smaller program and I got to know students and teachers well. I’ve stayed in touch with friends and colleagues from the program, which has been a great social and professional benefit.”
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This profile was originally published in November, 2010, as part of the English at 50 celebrations.