Justice Donald McLeod delivered a timely message of great significance on Sunday when he spoke at the National Black Canadians summit in Ottawa.
The Brampton judge who has shown that he is not afraid to speak out on issues affecting his own community, told fellow Black Canadians that ” our purpose must be unified or else change will not occur.”
This message is not new, of course, but it was worth mentioning once more during Black History Month when many African Canadians may be engaged in some measure of self-reflection.
Justice McLeod clearly knows whereof his speaks. As founder of the Federation of Black Canadians (FBC), he understands how important it is for people in his own community to come together in common cause.
In fact his commitment to his community led to the problems which resulted in the much publicised hearing before the Ontario Judicial Council of a complaint against him.
Justice McLeod who was accused of advocating on behalf of the FBC, has been cleared of misconduct charges.
But in his keynote address at the Ottawa summit, he proudly noted the support he received from the community while the hearing was in progress.
As he himself put it:” the powers that be did not expect rallies in Vancouver, Alberta, Ottawa and Toronto. ..There was no understanding that even the very venue that the hearing was to be held in would have to be changed due to lack of capacity”.
The judge who was thankful for the support, said” the community spoke and the system shifted.”
This observation should spur many others to speak out and take action for the overall benefit of the community.
Indeed, the demonstrated commitment of Justice McLeod himself should be an inspiration to all of us.
We understand that judges should be above the political fray and” free from the pushes and pulls of public opinion,” but as Justice McLeod has noted, he was not born a judge but a black man.
Those who are ready to stick on labels and call him an “activist judge,” should realize that he too has his own life experiences.
As he himself says,” my blackness is a window into my soul.”
Perhaps his critics who feel he should remain in some sort of judicial ivory tower, should pay attention to what the recently retired Chief Justice of Nova Scotia had to say
In an interview with the Canadian Press, Chief Justice Michael MacDonald threw out a challenge to judges across Canada to do more outreach with marginalized communities.
” I don’t have the worldview of those who have come from marginalized communities and who have had challenges that I’ve never had,” said MacDonald.
The retired Chief Justice went on to say that ” we as an institution must be humble enough to recognize that not everything is working perfectly and we would all benefit and be a richer judiciary and richer as judges if we learn more about the society within which we judge. ”
The Canadian Press report also noted that last June, MacDonald worked with leaders in the Indigenous and African Nova Scotian communities to host a two-day meeting at the Black Cultural Centre in Cherry Brook, Nova Scotia., where 40 judges heard firsthand about the unique challenges facing those communities.
At the end of that meeting, he committed to institutionalizing this type of judicial outreach, ultimately leading to the creation of the African Nova Scotian Access to Justice Judicial Committee.
The retired Chief Justice , it was also reported, had initiated a 2016 review of diversity on the bench that led to the development of a mentorship program for African Nova Scotian and Indigenous lawyers.
Good work, M’lud.
And let’s not forget the message which Justice McLeod delivered to the Black community at the summit: ” our purpose must be unified or else change will not occur.”