Ryerson law dean Donna Young leads panel discussion on race, state power and the social contract

Black students are subject to a disproportionate rate of arbitrary suspensions, says panellist

Ryerson law dean Donna Young leads panel discussion on race, state power and the social contract
Donna Young, dean of Ryerson University’s Faculty of Law

A panel moderated by Donna Young, dean of Ryerson University’s Faculty of Law, explored what it means to be a lawyer in the wake of the killing of George Floyd and the anti-Black racism protests that followed.

“We do need more lawyers who are going to use their legal imagination and their courage, who are going to understand the treaties and make sure that our government upholds them,” said Kikélola Roach, a lawyer who has represented individuals in civil cases alleging wrongful arrest and Charter violations.

Roach said that Canada can benefit from lawyers who work to uphold s. 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which safeguards the rights to equality and freedom from discrimination. This statement was in response to a question regarding the role that law students and aspiring lawyers play in fighting systemic racism and discrimination.

The panel, called Black Lives Matter: State Power and the Breaking of the Social Contract, explored how Canada may confront its legacies of injustice and racial oppression, given how intertwined these issues are with state power.

Roach talked about the myth that Canadians have it much better than those living in the U.S. “Those myths are not just frustrating, but deadly,” she said. “Because through this process of erasure and amnesia, we’re covering up a long-standing history of slavery, segregation, police brutality and exclusion.”

Shawn Richard, litigator and former president of the Canadian Association of Black Lawyers, brought up his work in reviewing the Peel District School Board, where about 10.2 per cent of students are Black. He found that Black students experienced a disproportionate rate of arbitrary suspensions or exclusions from things beneficial to other students.

“Kids are being excluded, so where do they go?” Richard said. “We know that at Peel, 34 per cent of those kids don't pass Applied English — a mandatory course, so they’re not going on to graduate from high school.”

When asked about what Canadians should demand of themselves and of their leaders, Graham Hudson said that oversight and accountability are key in all levels of government, beginning at the federal level and going down to the city level. Hudson is a professor at Ryerson Law whose research areas include urban securitization and constitutional law.

Roach, on the other hand, said that Canadians should question the role and function of police, as well as impact of the police on Black and Indigenous individuals, poor people, queer people and the homeless.

Annette Bailey, professor at Ryerson’s Faculty of Community Services and researcher of gun violence issues, also served as a panelist. The full discussion may be accessed here.

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