By TOM GODFREY
Black and Asian lawyers from across Canada are calling on the federal government to appoint more non-White judges to reflect the multicultural communities they serve.
Members of the Canadian Association of Black Lawyers (CABL) and the Federation of Asian Canadian Lawyers (FACL) have for months sought more judges from diversified backgrounds to serve urban communities.
The groups have been writing letters to Justice Minister Peter MacKay, whose officials have said the matter is being looked at.
MacKay received heat from women groups earlier this month after claiming females “aren’t applying” for the jobs because they do not want to leave their families at home.
“The lack of diversity in terms of visible minority federal appointments in this day and age is both shocking and appalling,” said Arleen Huggins, the president of CABL.
Huggins said her group is “extremely concerned” with the lack of transparency and accountability in the appointments process.
“The government appears to be unwilling to deal with the significant lack of new visible minority federal appointments,” she told Share.
“CABL is … concerned with the apparent lack of specific initiatives and strategies on the part of the federal government to ensure that the judiciary reflects the population it serves,” Huggins wrote to MacKay last month. “The lack of a representative judiciary denies opportunities to racialized visible minority lawyers, as well as other members of equity–seeking groups, to serve as judges on Superior and Appellate courts.”
She said initiatives must be in place to improve the transparency of the appointments process. The groups also want data kept on theentire process from the application to appointmentsstages.
Both groups of lawyers are eager to work with Ottawa to shape a judiciary that“reflects the full and richdiversity of the Canadian population”,FACL president, Lai-King Hum, wrote in a letter to MacKay in May.“We are concerned that the current judicial appointmentprocess is not effective in ensuring that the judiciary reflects the population that it serves.
“The lack of judicial diversity affects the experience of people who use the courts and restricts access to justice.
“We believe much more progress can bemade to ensure that our judiciary represents all members of the community.”
The group also appealed for help last week from Liberal Justice Critic Sean Casey since MacKay’s office has not budged on the issue.
Veronique Joly, Senior Legal Counsel of the Office of the Commissioner of Federal Judicial Affairs, said a Personal History Form that every candidate fills out “ensures the development and maintenance of the judiciary that is representative of the diversity of Canadian culture”.
Joly said advisory committees nationwide are “keenly aware of the public interest in a diverse and representative Bench”.
There was only one non-White judicial appointee of 107 made from 2012 to 2014, according to reports by various groups and in the media, which found only three of 191 judicial appointees in the last five years were non-White.
The lawyers said the first Filipino-Canadian judge was only recently appointed to the Superior Court of Justice of Ontario.
The Urban Alliance on Race Relations has sent a letter in support of the lawyers as they seek diversity in the workplace.
“We believe that greater effort and political will is required to bring fairness and transparency to the recruitment, hiring and appointment process of federal judges,” Alliance president Gary Pieters said. “It’s time the issue of diversity and representativeness of our communities in the judiciary become an issue of public importance.”
MacKay has not commented on the issue.