Growth and justice reform advocacy mark 2023 for Canadian Association of Black Lawyers

CABL launched a survey to reveal issues impacting Black lawyers

Growth and justice reform advocacy mark 2023 for Canadian Association of Black Lawyers
Kyle Elliott and Barbara Brown, Canadian Association of Black Lawyers

The ratification of a new chapter and successfully lobbying for amendments in the federal government’s new bail reform legislation stand out as 2023’s highlights for the Canadian Association of Black Lawyers (CABL), according to the group’s president and vice-president.

Following the ratification of its new Manitoba chapter last year, CABL has expanded its presence in the prairies. CABL has a chapter in Alberta as well. Jean René Dominque Kwilu is the Manitoba chapter president.

“To have that presence in the prairies is really, really exciting, and we're really looking forward to what that chapter is able to accomplish because it has a really motivated group of individuals at the helm,” says Kyle Elliott, CABL president and diversity and inclusion counsel at Blake Cassels & Graydon LLP.

In September, the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs considered Bill C-48, Ottawa’s bail reform legislation that received Royal Assent on Dec. 5. CABL’s advocacy committee and criminal justice and police reform subcommittee took part in the standing committee process and successfully argued for amendments to the legislation.

“A lot of our programming is – understandably and rightfully so – focused on Black excellence in the legal profession,” says Elliott. “But it's really important to the association that we're also using our voice to speak beyond our membership and to speak beyond what primarily concerns Black lawyers and think about what impacts Black communities at large.”

He says CABL has gotten increasingly active in public advocacy, including several court interventions in cases concerning systemic anti-Black racism in the justice system. In recent years, these have included Luamba c. Procureur général du Québec, R. v. Morris, 2021 ONCA 680, and R. v. Chouhan, 2021 SCC 26. Early in 2023, CABL appeared before House and Senate committees to advise the government on Bill C-5, which abolished a number of mandatory minimum sentences and increased the availability of conditional sentence orders and diversionary methods.

“CABL will be using its voice to contribute to similar conversations in 2024,” says Elliott.

On Bill C-48, the federal government was focused on community safety, and CABL sought to lessen the disproportionate impacts the bill would have on Black communities, which are overrepresented in the criminal justice system and are more likely than other groups to be denied bail and receive lengthier sentences.

With their representatives, who have practical knowledge about the workings of the criminal justice system, CABL hoped to use that perspective to encourage the federal government to improve the legislation.

“In the end, I think we came away with some victories… We would have liked to have seen more,” says Elliott.

In 2023, CABL also launched its survey, “Examining the Black Experience in the Legal Profession.” The survey collects responses from Black lawyers and law students across Canada to better understand the legal profession.

“Our mission can't really be advanced without understanding what's actually happening,” says Barbara Brown, vice president of CABL and clerk at the Supreme Court of Canada. The wide range of information the survey encompasses will provide CABL with the on-the-ground knowledge to tailor their programming and services to fit the needs of their stakeholders, she says.

“We know lawyers love evidence,” says Elliott. “To have that level of information is going to be super helpful.” The findings will not only assist CABL and its membership in creating a broader conversation about issues impacting Black lawyers, he says, but will also reveal issues affecting other underrepresented groups in the profession and provide an opportunity to collaborate and fix problems.

During Black History Month, Brown says CABL will demonstrate its reach beyond the legal field by collaborating with the Law Society of Ontario on exploring educational inequities and barriers.

“It's really part of our interdisciplinary approach to engaging with things that are important to Black Canadians,” she says. “That is going to be an exciting event for our members, and it also just connects us more broadly to people with a wide range of issues and broadens our network.”

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