A former Canadian Association of Black Lawyers (CABL) president has been elevated to the bench.
Phillip Sutherland, whose main areas of practice were civil litigation, construction, commercial, family and property law, has been appointed a Superior Court of Justice judge assigned to Newmarket. He replaces Justice Fred Graham, who was transferred to family court.
New CABL president, Donna Walwyn, hailed Sutherland’s appointment, saying he is an accomplished and well-respected senior member of the Black legal community.
“His appointment is proof positive that the principles of merit and legal excellence are, in all respects, upheld in the selection and appointment of diverse judges,” said Walwyn, a partner and head of Baker & McKenzie LLP pension and employee benefits practice group in Toronto. “The CABL celebrates the appointment of a past president of the organization as another step towards ensuring that federal judicial appointments reflect full diversity of the legal profession and society at large and we look forward to future appointments that further increase experiential diversity at all levels of Canadian courts.”
Born in Toronto and raised in Peterborough, Sutherland graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in psychology & political science from the University of Ottawa in 1981 and completed his law degree at the same institution three years later. He also holds a certificate in meditation and dispute resolution from Osgoode Hall. Called to the Bar in 1989, he was a partner at Bianchi Presta LLP and Drudi Alexiou Sutherland, an associate with Gambin Sutherland before becoming a sole practitioner and a partner/owner of Sutherland Law for 21 years.
“The appointment is a wonderful accomplishment for both Justice Sutherland and those of us who have advocated for the appointment of meritorious candidates from racialized background,” said former CABL president, Arleen Huggins, who is a partner at Koskie Minsky LLP and head of the firm’s employment law group. “The diversity of the judiciary, as a reflection of the multicultural community it serves, is critical for the credibility of the judicial system. While much more is required to ensure that the judiciary is representative of our Canadian society, we welcome this well-deserved appointment as an important step.”
Frank Walwyn, a partner at WeirFoulds LLP and a distinguished visiting scholar at Ryerson University’s G. Raymond Chang School of Continuing Education, said Sutherland is an accomplished senior litigator who will bring his experience and broad knowledge of different areas of the law to a court that’s respected as one of the leading legal institutions in common law jurisdictions.
“Justice Sutherland’s appointment plays a role other than adding an excellent candidate to an excellent court,” said Walwyn, a rising star in Canada’s legal community who is frequently consulted and appears as counsel on complex multi-jurisdiction litigation matters. “His appointment is one more important step forward in ensuring that our courts in Canada are reflective of the communities they serve. I look forward to his contributions to jurisprudence in Canada and to his efforts in maintaining Ontario’s courts as leading legal institutions in the world.”
A mentor to high school and university students, Sutherland – the recipient of the CABL Community Service Award in 2011 – is a high school Moot Court competition coach and judge and a rugby and soccer coach.
“For these informal mentees, his appointment will not only add to their self-esteem, but say to young males – particularly Blacks – that success and moreover such high office is attainable,” said CABL co-founder, Patricia DeGuire. “His focused and patient mannerism will bode well on the bench.”
Sutherland is the first Black judge appointed in Canada since accomplished litigator Donald McLeod was promoted to the Ontario Court of Justice in September 2013.
A total of 30 Black judges have been appointed since Guyanese-born Maurice Charles, who passed away in June 2013 at age 92, broke the colour barrier 46 years ago.