Gordon Cudjoe will never forget his first day as criminal duty counsel at the Finch Ave. W courthouse 12 years ago.
“When I realized that everyone entering the box that day were young Black males, I almost ran out of court,” he said. “You hear and read about it, but to actually see it was something else. I never expected that. It was a scary sight.”
Cudjoe vowed he was going to try to make a difference in the community.
He mentors youths and is a director of the Second Chance Scholarship Foundation that provides opportunities for young people with criminal records.
“My goal is to get these youths out of what they call ‘the game’ to join us in real life,” said Cudjoe who was presented with a Community Service Award at the Canadian Association of Black Lawyers’ (CABL) 17th annual awards gala last Saturday night. “They need to stop taking the phrase ‘life is too short’ literally.”
The Ottawa-born lawyer also volunteers with the Children’s Breakfast Club which provides close to 4,000 meals weekly in about 20 clubs across the city, many of them in designated priority neighbourhoods. In addition to serving hot and nutritious meals, the club also offers social and intellectual interaction.
Cudjoe left the duty counsel office after just 10 months to join the law office of Michael Tulloch & Associates. Tulloch has since served on the Superior Court of Justice and was last year promoted to the Ontario Court of Appeal, making him the first Black to sit on the top law-making provincial court since its establishment 146 years ago.
“I have several role models in this profession that I have looked up to along the way, but Justice Tulloch stands out because I started my criminal law career with his firm,” he said. “He helped me in terms of guidance and building vital networks.”
Called to the Ontario Bar in 2001 after graduating from the University of Ghana with his first degree and the University of Toronto with a Masters in Criminology, Cudjoe established his own law firm seven years ago.
Sonja Salmon, a member of the Ontario and Bermuda Bars who has leveraged her legal training in several corporate and business endeavours since 2009, was presented with the Pathfinder Award.
“This honour means a lot, primarily because I have been part of the CABL from its inception,” said Salmon who graduated from the University of Windsor and the University of Detroit Mercy in 1995 and completed her articles at McCarthy Tetrault before becoming an associate in the Blake, Cassels & Graydon commercial real estate department. “It’s wonderful to be recognized by your peers.”
A former general counsel and chief risk officer with HSBC Bermuda, Salmon returned to Canada last year and directed a cross-functional project for HSBC’s United Kingdom-based risk strategy team prior to leaving the banking group to establish SMS Consulting that offers business advisory services, including new product launches, business ‘readiness-for-sale’ assessments and strategic planning.
“The legal field has given me an opportunity to use law as a foundation for so many things,” said Salmon who has an MBA from Wilfrid Laurier University. “At this stage in my career, I have had the good fortune to use law as a springboard into several entrepreneurial ventures.”
Douglas New, the CABL’s first Lifetime Member, was the recipient of The Traditional Law Practice Award. He was unable to attend the gala because of business commitments in Europe.
A partner with Fasken Martineau DuMoulin LLP, he co-chairs the firm’s diversity and inclusiveness committee and has been active in encouraging major law firms to be part of Legal Leaders for Diversity which is an organization of in-house counsel that promotes diversity within the legal departments of Canadian corporations.
“Douglas is someone who walks the walk when it comes to diversity,” said CABL president Arleen Huggins. “He gets it.”
In addition to recognizing the award winners, the CABL also paid tribute to mentors Patricia DeGuire, Omar Ha-Redeye and Anthony Ross and mentees Monique Brand and Jalana Lewis.
A founding CABL member and Ontario Bar Association Distinguished Award recipient, DeGuire – who was called to the provincial Bar two decades ago – is a professional adjudicator and mediator.
“Mentoring is my perpetual motivator, spiritually and secularly,” she said. “It’s a sort of recompense for the familial loss and social displacement that’s so endemic to migration. An impetus for my extensive mentoring was recognition of the importance of mentorship to one’s personal and professional development at the early or difficult point of one’s career.”
Ha-Redeye founded the University of Western Ontario Law Review Association while Ross, who is also an engineer, was admitted to the Nova Scotia Bar in 1973 and the Ontario Bar 24 years later.
A graduate of McGill University’s Faculty of Law, Brand is a Department of Foreign Affairs & International Trade counsel and Lewis is an articling student with the Ontario Human Rights Legal Support Centre.
The CABL has been quite active since its formation 17 years ago. It has collaborated with the University of Windsor Faculty of Law to establish the Julius Isaac scholarship to honour the first Black to be named to the Federal Court of Canada and the first Black to be appointed Chief Justice of the Federal Court. He passed away three years ago.
The organization has also recognized Black Bay Street partners, Canada’s Black judges and Black women who have positively contributed to law and the legal professional, and made submissions on legal, equity and social justice issues to the federal and provincial governments.
Three years ago, the organization established a chapter in British Columbia.
The rest of the executive comprises Cherylyn Dickson (vice-president), Donna Walwyn (secretary), Philip Graham (treasurer), Rosemarie Mercury (membership director), Shawn Richard (professional development director) and Qadira Jackson (community liaison).