Black History at Queen’s Law: Remembrance and Recognition
Whether you agree a full month should be reserved for the celebration of Black History, or if even more than two days is excessive, it is still important at some point during the month of February to learn something new about African-Canadian culture as it exists within Queen’s University. Like many other racial and ethnic minorities in this country, African-Canadians have faced challenges with the law not only in the criminal context of being overrepresented in Federal prisons, but also in gaining acceptance in law school and the legal community generally. The purpose of this series of articles is not to debate, but rather simply acknowledge some of the Black Queen’s Law Alumni that were accepted with open arms by our Faculty (and University) and have gone on to complete outstanding achievements in various areas of law.
1) Robert Sutherland:
Born in 1830, and a native of Jamaica, Robert Sutherland was the “first graduate of colour at a Canadian university, and the first Black man to study law in British North America”. During his time at Queen’s, he completed his undergraduate degree in classics and mathematics, and received 14 academic prizes.
This bestowment saved the school from a “financial catastrophe… [and] allowed Queen’s to remain separate from the University of Toronto”
As a result of Old Osgoode Hall being the only law school at the time to offer formal legal training, Sutherland was forced to leave Kingston and study in Toronto and graduated in 1854 (so technically speaking, if he had a choice, he would have been a Queen’s Law alumnus!). He then went on to establish his own practice in what is now Kitchener and Owen Sound. Despite losing this physical connection with Kingston, Sutherland left his estate of $12,000 to Queen’s University upon his death. This bestowment saved the school from a “financial catastrophe… [and] allowed Queen’s to remain separate from the University of Toronto”.
Today, Robert Sutherland’s presence is still felt at Queen’s University in three ways. First, in 2009 the Queen’s University Board of Trustees unanimously voted in favour of a motion to “rename the Policy Studies building [to] Robert Sutherland Hall to honour the legacy of Queen’s’ first major benefactor”. Second, on the second floor of the John Deutsch University Centre (JDUC), room 240 is called the Robert Sutherland Room, and includes a dedication plaque along with the Sutherland Prize award board. Third, in 2015, the Faculty of Law has established a Robert Sutherland Fellowship that is focused on supporting Caribbean graduate students with their legal studies.
2) Justice Donald McLeod:
A Queen’s Law alumnus, class of ’95, and former Black Law Students of Canada President, Justice McLeod is the first black Queen’s law graduate to be called to the Bench (fall 2013).
After graduating from Queen’s Law, McLeod started his own firm in Toronto and focused on the areas of criminal, sport, entertainment and administrative law. Despite being heavily involved in his practice, and acting as counsel in several complex cases such as the Toronto 18, McLeod still found the time to devote significant energy to “programs aimed at helping young, black people succeed in school and life”. In particular, with a friend, he established the 100 Strong Group in the Greater Toronto Area. This initiative acts as a summer school where an effort is made to “assess students’ progress and follow up with them through their education”. It includes a day trip to George Brown College where each student is paired up with a group of black mentors.
For the winter term of 2016, Justice McLeod is an Adjunct Professor at Queen’s Law where he teaches Trial Advocacy. He will also be a participant in the Robert Sutherland Black Law Students Association Panel taking place at the law school on March 1, 2016.
More to follow…
Michael Coleman (2L) is a contributor to Juris Diction.