It didn’t take long for Ontario Court of Appeal judge, Michael Tulloch, to grasp he was in a new environment.
Though migrating from Jamaica in the spring, the weather was far less accommodating than the year-round warmth he was accustomed to, growing up in Manchester.
It also didn’t help that he was the only Black in his Grade Five class, one of three African-Canadian students at Indian Road Crescent Junior Public School and he was incessantly teased every time he opened his mouth.
“In Jamaica, I was not aware of any differential treatment because of the colour of my skin or my accent,” said Tulloch, who was celebrated as one of Canada’s Top 25 immigrants last week. “But when I arrived here and enrolled in school, I quickly learned that I was Black and Jamaican, which had a very negative connotation in the minds of many people. Of course, I spoke with a strong Jamaican accent which caused other kids to laugh at me and tease me. I got into a fair amount of fights which I didn’t instigate. I just had to defend myself. The challenges were many, but I had to learn how to deal with situations and move along.”
Despite the hurdles, Tulloch excelled in school, finishing at the top of his class at Winona Drive Senior Public, Oakwood Collegiate Institute, where he spent a year and Central Peel Secondary, where he graduated with honours and was one of 18 alumni inducted into the school’s academic Hall of Fame three years ago to mark its 50th anniversary.
Successfully completing law studies at Osgoode Hall, Tulloch was appointed an assistant crown attorney in 1991. In that role, he was one of three lawyers who created and implemented a charge-screening strategy that is still used within the province’s criminal courts and other Canadian jurisdictions.
Tulloch spent eight years in private practice, specializing in criminal law until he was elevated to the Bench in 2003. While in private practice, he was appointed a special prosecuting agent with the Federal Department of Justice and he participated in a number of commissions, including the Ontario Government Review on Civilian Oversight on Policing, the Review of the Ontario Legal Aid Plan and the Criminal Code Review conducted by the Federal Attorney General and the Minister of Justice.
A decade ago, Tulloch became one of the youngest legal minds appointed to the Superior Court of Justice and, last year, he set another historical precedent with his landmark promotion to the Ontario Court of Appeal. He’s the first African-Canadian to sit on the top law-making provincial court since its establishment 146 years ago.
“I am definitely proud of the strides I have made and my achievements,” said Tulloch. “I however do not want people to believe that the road I travelled to where I am at was not filled with potholes. Like most immigrants, I encountered hurdles in trying to integrate into a new society. You also have to remember that there was no organized Black community or social infrastructure back in the 1970s, so the obstacles were even greater.
“But I persevered with the help of my family, particularly my mother. While working full-time to support her family, she went back to school to upgrade her education and graduated with honours. She’s my role model in every way.”
Canadian Immigrant magazine and the Royal Bank of Canada sponsored the fifth annual people’s choice initiative, which celebrates the remarkable achievements of outstanding Canadian newcomers. More than 30,000 Canadians participated in the online vote, which is the highest number received in the award’s history.
“To know that there are people out there who think I am worthy of this honour means a lot to me,” said Tulloch. “This recognition gives me a sense of pride and reaffirms the values I believe in which is that each of us – regardless of where we are coming from – can make a difference in this society. This is a proud moment for all Canadians to recognize that immigrants are part and parcel of this great country. We are here to build this country and give back and I am proud to be part of that.
“As a lawyer and as a judge, I am inspired by my passion for justice and profound respect for the rule of the law. I hold a belief that, with the desire to give back to our society and country, it’s possible to make a difference in this world. The law really is an environment in which I can contribute to making Canada a better place. Specifically, in public service as a judge, a deep feeling of gratitude to Canada motivates me. I treasure Canadian values, systems and ways of life and I am motivated by the belief that I can make a difference within my society and community.”
Guyanese-born social activist, Narine Dat Sookram, joined Tulloch as the only Caribbean-born immigrants to be bestowed with the special honour.
Growing up near Number 63 beach in rural Guyana, Sookram – at age 14 – established a youth group to enable members to learn, grow and support their community.
His obsession to serve people and communities continued when he migrated to Kitchener in 1993 at age 17. He founded the Active Vision Charity Association to promote Indo-Caribbean culture in Canada and help newcomers assimilate into a new society.
For the past 19 years, Sookram and his organization have helped new immigrants shape their resumes and cover letters and offered advice on job hunting. The organization also provides driving lessons and tips on how to apply for a driver’s license and he can always be counted on to provide transportation for seniors and others area residents who don’t have access to vehicles.
Through his organization, Sookram provides Guyanese schools with text books and other school supplies and he hosts a weekly 45-minute radio show on CKMS 100.3 FM on Mondays. The musical show features soca, chutney and Indian classical sounds.
“Though not easy, the immigrant journey has been fulfilling,” said Sookram, who is a humanities facilitator at Renison University College and a placement counselor at the Kitchener-Waterloo social planning council. “You really don’t want to give up your own personal rich cultural values, but rather you want to respect and adapt to the Canadian culture and be as open as possible because the more open you are, the more possibilities you are giving yourself.”
The annual awards seek to uncover and celebrate the untold stories and remarkable achievements of outstanding immigrants.
“These 25 award winners are a diverse group,” said Canadian Immigrant magazine editor, Margaret Jetelina. “Each of these winners has an inspiring story about overcoming challenges and making the country a better place to live.”
There were nearly 600 nominations for this year’s awards.
The winners were presented with a commemorative plaque and a $500 donation towards a registered Canadian charity of their choice.