Black History Month – Celebrating the Achievements and Advocating for Future Change

With the start of February, we enter into a celebration of Black History Month.

Falconers LLP recognizes the vast contributions to Canadian culture and society made by Black Canadians and reflects on the historic work of legal trailblazers. Some of these individuals include:

  • The Honourable Jean Augustine, first Black woman in Parliament. Jean Augustine was the first African-Canadian woman to be elected to the House of Commons, the first African-Canadian woman to be appointed to the federal Cabinet, and the first Fairness Commissioner of the Government of Ontario.
  • The Honourable Lincoln M. Alexander Lincoln Alexander, who was the first Black Canadian to be a member of Parliament in the House of Commons and Justice Corrine Sparks, the first Black Nova Scotian judge and the first Black woman judge in Canada.
  • Corrine Sparks, the first Black Canadian woman to become a judge in Canada, and the first black judge in the province of Nova Scotia.

These trailblazers have set the stage for the work that continues in the legal field to recognize the disparities faced by Black Canadians in their interactions with the justice system.

As Chief Justice Tulloch reflected in the 2021 decision of the Court of Appeal for Ontario in the case of R v Theriault:

[143]   The existence of anti-Black racism in Canadian society is beyond reasonable dispute and is properly the subject matter of judicial notice. It is well recognized that criminal justice institutions do not treat racialized groups equally: Robin T. Fitzgerald and Peter J. Carrington, “Disproportionate Minority Contact in Canada: Police and Visible Minority Youth” (2011) 53 Can. J. Crimin. & Crim. Just. 449, at p. 450; R. v. Le, 2019 SCC 34, 375 C.C.C. (3d) 431. This reality may inform the conduct of any racialized person when interacting with the police, regardless of whether they are the accused or the complainant.

[146]   In my view, it is incumbent on trial judges to consider relevant social context, such as systemic racism, when making credibility assessments. The trial judge did not err in doing so, and his findings are entitled to considerable deference on appeal.

As we move forward, it is incumbent upon us, as legal professionals, to not shy away from the obvious intersectionality between race and the justice system in shaping discussions to meaningfully advocate for change in the future.

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