My parents were born in Xirokambi, a village near Sparta, Greece, during the Great Depression. As children, they lived through the Nazi occupation, and witnessed Nazi soldiers rounding up civilians for execution in retaliation for attacks by the resistance.
My parents spent the rest of their young years living in poverty in the midst of a civil war. When they left Greece, they sailed to Canada with no education, no money, and no English. They worked hard and eventually, with a few relatives, they opened a Greek diner. Among the customers, tables, chairs, and smells of that diner is where my three sisters and I grew up. I was blessed to have my three sisters. They protected me and believed in me. They also taught me what it was like to be a girl in a patriarchal society.
At that time, bigotry and racist attacks were common. As a boy, I remember hiding behind the bushes at school until the other children went inside to avoid my bullies.
One day, a group of racists descended on my parents’ diner and beat my father and godfather so badly they had to be hospitalized. Despite these hardships, my parents persevered and flourished. I followed their example and dedicated myself to my studies, excelled, and took pride in bringing home trophies and awards for my achievements. These were the formative events of my young life. They taught me how to be resilient and determined. They made me a fighter.
With this spirit I went to law school, became a varsity athlete, and graduated with honours and awards. I started my legal career at the elite Wall Street law firm of Sullivan & Cromwell (S&C). I was the first attorney in the firm’s 110-year history to become a regular associate without an American university law degree. At S&C, I served on the legal teams for some of the world’s biggest banks, such as Goldman Sachs, and saw the inner workings of dozens of massive corporations and of Wall Street’s biggest institutions.
In 1995, I met my wife, Farida. The daughter of Algerian immigrants to France, she was born and raised in a village near Lyon. In 1998, we married, and later had two incredible children, Achille and Lena. Having a family brought a new dimension to my life. But despite those joys, and while I continued to prosper from my work, I began to question whether I was truly contributing to society.
We came home to London, Ontario, where I became a partner at Siskinds LLP, one of Canada’s leading class action law firms. I built the firm’s biggest team of lawyers, and fought dozens of environmental, securities, and human rights class action lawsuits. By 2012, Canadian Lawyer Magazine would name me one of the 25 most influential lawyers in the country and, the following year, Canadian Business Magazine would include me in their list of 50 most influential persons in Canadian business. I became a frequent media commentator on legal issues and international capital markets, and a guest lecturer at universities and legal conferences.
When the financial crisis hit in 2007, I saw millions of people around the world plunged into poverty by the fraudulent actions of bankers—the same bankers on whose behalf I had once advocated. I was appalled.
A friend suggested I read Manufacturing Consent by Noam Chomsky and Edward S. Herman. From the moment that I finished the book, I felt a deep indignation as I realized that most of what I had seen in the corporate media and heard from politicians was a lie.
That same year, the long-awaited Fourth Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was released. After reading it, my sense of indignation was joined by a profound fear for the future of my children.
Soon after that, I experienced a cascade of personal tragedies.
In 2010, my mother passed away suddenly from a heart attack. No one believed in me more than this extraordinary woman, who remains the hardest-working person I have ever known.
Five months later, my eldest sister Maria was diagnosed with stage four ovarian cancer. She suffered intensely from the disease and, despite numerous surgeries and extensive chemotherapy, passed away nine months later.
Nine months after that, my last surviving grandparent (after whom I am named) passed away in Greece. I felt I had lost my kindred spirit. Then, in 2014, my Aunt Tina passed away. While my father and I were driving to her funeral, he suffered a heart attack in my car, and died before I could reach a hospital.
Losing all of these beloved family members in just four years left a permanent imprint on me. I became conscious of the fragility of life, and was inspired to devote my remaining years to living meaningfully.
I realized that my privilege, experience, and commitment were tools I could use to fight for social justice. I joined The Real News as a correspondent, covering the climate crisis, Canadian politics, and foreign affairs. I interviewed dozens of experts and immersed myself in the issues facing our society. I joined social justice organizations like Pro Bono Ontario, 350.org, and the Unity Project for the Relief of Homelessness in London (UP). I also joined a political party for the first time in my life, running as a Green Party candidate in 2015.
During this time, I also participated in movements like Occupy Wall Street, the People’s Climate March, the Tar Sands Healing Walk, and the Palestinian solidarity movement, helping to organize protests and petitions and providing pro bono legal support. In 2016, Elizabeth May chose me to be Justice critic for the Green Party of Canada. In 2018, after I relocated to Montreal, I became the Justice Critic for the Parti Vert du Québec, and was also elected to the PVQ’s National Committee.
When Elizabeth May stepped down in late 2019, I made a decision to run for the leadership of the Green Party of Canada. Our party is defined by six core values: ecological wisdom, non-violence, social justice, sustainability, participatory democracy, and respect for diversity. These core values are also my core values. They now define who I am.