It’s ironic that just a day before Michael Tulloch was sworn in as the first Black judge in the 145-year history of the Ontario Court of Appeal, Ryerson University’s Diversity Institute (RUDI) would release a report addressing the under-representation of Blacks and other visible minorities in Canada’s judicial system.
Improving Representation in the Judiciary: A Diversity Strategy examines the visible minority and female representation of 753 judges in the Supreme, federal and Ontario courts.
The late Julius Isaac was the first and only Black to be named to the Federal Court of Canada and the first Black to be appointed Chief Justice of the Federal Court. A total of 28 Black judges have been appointed to the Bench since Guyanese-born Maurice Charles broke the colour barrier in 1969.
Of the 326 judges — pier diem judges included — that comprise the Ontario Court of Justice, just eight are Black. They are Central East Regional senior judge Gregory Regis, Dr. Irving Andre, Hugh Fraser, Micheline Rawlins, Kofi Barnes, Sandra Bacchus, Aston Hall and Lloyd Dean whose great grandfather, Delos Davis, was Canada’s second Black lawyer.
Last year at a celebration to mark Andre’s historic achievement as the first provincial judge to secure a PhD in Law, Regis said the overwhelming disparity is unacceptable. Speaking at the same event, retired judge Vibert Rosemay pointed to the numerous occasions that defendants from different countries appeared in his court, relying on the mercy of their defense lawyers and interpreters who were tasked with trying to make accurate translations on their clients’ behalf.
“Canada is no longer bi-cultural or bilingual,” Rosemay said at the time. “It’s a multicultural country and the only way Canada can stand up and say to the world we are proud of the diversity that exists in our country is to ensure that this diversity begins at the top. People who come from other countries and embrace Canada as their new home should be entitled to feel that when they enter the justice system, they are part of it.”
The report shows that just 2.3 per cent of the federally appointed judges are minorities. Other key findings indicate that visible minorities are all but absent among federal appointments to the courts and the selection process.
RUDI founder, Dr. Wendy Cukier, said the lack of diversity in the Canadian judiciary represents a democratic deficit.
“Judges are extremely powerful,” she said. “Judicial impartiality and independence is a cornerstone of democracy. So is representation. The public trust and perceived legitimacy of the court depends on it…The intake of a broad range of individuals with different backgrounds and perspectives is absolutely fundamental to a representative judiciary. But, as the numbers show, barriers still exist and the tools that are in place once they are in the judiciaries are crude, to say the least.”
The research report is part of a large multi-year study – DiversityLeads – being undertaken by RUDI and its partners. It follows an examination of diversity in the legal sector conducted by RUDI as part of the Maytree Civic Action DiverseCity project that focused on leaders in the legal sector working in the Greater Toronto Area.
The under-representation was again staggering. Just 6.8 per cent were visible minorities.
RUDI has promised to continue to expand its data collection and to track diversity in the legal sector.
‘What gets measured gets done and new strategies are needed to accelerate representativeness in the judiciary,” Cukier added.
BY RON FANFAIR