Tuesday, June 2, 2020

To our wider law school community and beyond:

Conversations about racial inequality and police brutality against Black people are currently dominating the media landscape. This has been prompted in part by the recent murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery. Amidst a global pandemic which has confined millions of people to their homes, these three Black people have nevertheless been murdered due to the prevalence of racism and white supremacy. These three are but an infinitesimal percent of the innumerable Black people who have been executed at the hands of a corrupt system that supports and sustains unchecked police brutality and mismanagement of justice. Tamir Rice, Sandra Bland, Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner. These are names that are part of our social consciousness as Black people existing within a racist system.

Many people are labouring under the misconception that this is mostly an American problem. There exists a false belief in a post-racial society on our side of the border, one that says that Canadians are different, better than Americans, and not part of a systematic oppression of Black people, or at least not anymore. Meanwhile in Canada, anti-Blackness is alive and well. Racism and discrimination are the cause of Black deaths here, just as they are in America. According to a 2018 Ontario Human Rights Commission report, despite comprising only 8.8% of Toronto’s population, Black people are over-represented in use of force cases (28.8%), shootings (36%), deadly encounters (61.5%) and fatal shootings (70%). The devastating reality is that Black Canadians are not safe from the violence that has taken the lives of so many, and a permissive perception of this maltreatment runs unbridled.

Unfortunately, the refusal to acknowledge the problem has resulted in a consequent lack of information about the state violence that took the lives of Regis Korchinski-Paquet, D’Andre Campbell, Pierre Coriolan, and countless others.

Black people globally are exhausted by the relentless waves of mistreatment and killings of our people. We see it in the news, we hear it on the radio, we experience it in our everyday life. Graphic videos depicting Black deaths circulate on Twitter and Facebook and linger behind our eyelids when we go to sleep. We do not have the luxury of escape.

As personal as this feels, we as law students recognize these incidents go beyond mere individual actors’ whims, but are supported by systems, not the least of which is the law. Law is a reflection of society and often dictates what we perceive to be acceptable or abhorrent. The legal system in Canada is not without fault. This fault extends beyond black letter law to the various mechanisms through which the law is used as a means of upholding the status quo. By status quo, we refer to the minimal (if any) prison sentences for police officers who murder Black people and misuse their positions of authority. We refer to legal professionals disagreeing with a requirement to adopt and abide by a statement of principles promoting equity and diversity. We refer to the severe over-policing of Black communities and racist stop-and-frisk policies. The status quo is no longer acceptable. It was not acceptable in 1989 when Sophia Cook was shot by Toronto Police while sitting in the passenger seat of a car. It was not acceptable in 2016 when Ottawa Police brutally pepper sprayed and beat Abdirahman Abdi, a Black man with mental health issues, until he died. It is not acceptable today.

Andrew Loku. Bony Jean-Pierre. Jermaine Carby. Dafonte Miller. The list goes on and on. All are Black Canadians maimed or killed at the hands of law enforcement in Canada, and yet, all are far from household names.

In spite of the protests and riots currently sweeping through the United States, and the ubiquity of these conversations over the past few days, we find it disheartening that many organizations were slow to publish official statements recognizing systemic racism, and were instead pressured into doing so after public condemnation threatened their brands. To those allies and organizations who have made statements, we encourage you to move beyond statements. We are seeking your continued engagement and substantive work to play a role in dismantling anti-Black racism in your communities. We seek a change that lasts beyond the current ephemeral global wave of attention. To those who have remained silent, your silence is commensurate with the glaring disregard of the value of Black lives and forms the core of the Canadian issue. We encourage you to find the bravery to condemn these destructive racist actions, not just today, but in perpetuity.

Further, we urge everyone, regardless of race, to educate themselves on the issues, not just in the United States, but here as well. Read the literature, listen to the Black community, and do the work to actively unlearn your own unconscious and internal racial biases. Confront and challenge incidents of anti-Black racism when you encounter them in your daily lives. Have those difficult conversations with loved ones who are either uninformed or actively choose to ignore this issue. Consider how the systems of which you are part perpetuate these problems and use your privilege to amplify the uncompromising call — Black Lives Matter.

We stand with Black Americans, but we also continue to press for greater discussion and engagement with these issues as they present themselves within Canada.

In Solidarity,

Black Law Students’ Association – University of Toronto