CLA statement on recent events in Canada and the United States

CLA statement on recent events in Canada and the United States

The Criminal Lawyers’ Association (CLA) is shocked and saddened by recent events leading to the deaths of Regis Korchinski-Paquet, George Floyd, Tony McDade, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery. Sadly, these people join a long list of black people killed during police interactions. However, these tragic events have sparked protests against anti-Black racism across the world.  

Contrary to what we may want to believe, racism, and particularly anti-Black racism, is not “just an American problem”. Canadian courts at all levels have repeatedly acknowledged the existence of anti-Black racism in Canadian society: R. v. Parks, [1993] O.J. No. 2157 (CA), R. v. R.D.S., [1997] 3 S.C.R. 484R. v. Golden, [2001] 3 S.C.R. 679R. v. Brown (2003), 64 O.R. (3d) 161 (Ont. C.A.), R. v. Spence, 2005 SCC 7, [2005]R. v. Jackson, 2018 ONSC 2527. Most recently, in R. v. Le, 2019 SCC 34, the Supreme Court of Canada noted courts must consider the history of race relations between the racialized community of the accused and the police in assessing police-citizen interactions.

Numerous reports have also been written, and lengthy recommendations made aimed at combatting the impact of racism in the Criminal Justice System including The Royal Commission on the Donald Marshall Inquiry, the Report of the Commission on Systemic Racism in the Ontario Criminal Justice System, and the Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.

These all serve as a constant reminder that racism is ingrained in our society and our Criminal Justice System. They remind us that vigilance is the only way to fight injustice. They call on us to protect the integrity of the system to ensure fairness and justice for all. They acknowledge that a justice system cannot be fair unless all participants, including law enforcement, recognize the existence and impact of racism and commit to taking concrete steps to eradicate it. This recognition and commitment will not only ensure equitable outcomes for Black Canadians and other marginalized groups, but for all Canadians.

Like the Coronavirus pandemic, racism is a virus; it is invisible, transmittable, insidious and as we too often see, it is sometimes deadly. Instead of infecting our bodies it has always infected our institutions. Physical distancing will not cure racism; in fact, it will only serve to make things worse. Instead, we must work together, recognizing the fight for justice and equality is not just the fight of Black citizens but a fight for all citizens. So instead of distancing ourselves, let’s come together, listen to the voices of those affected, have frank discussions, develop partnerships, ally with each other, and commit to real change in our Criminal Justice System.

Like the protests, this letter is only the beginning. While these various incidents are already being investigated or prosecuted, the CLA understands we have an ongoing role to play in ensuring the underlying systemic issues that contributed to these tragedies are addressed. We will be working with our membership to discuss strategies to address these issues that affect our clients and their families, our members, various aspects of the Criminal Justice System, and Canadian society at large.

Every day lawyers of the CLA and our colleagues at Bar defend individuals whose Charter rights have been violated. It is in that context that racial profiling, detention or search based on race in interactions with the Police have been outlawed. It is important to note that civil rights belong to everyone and have to be defended. That is the invaluable work of the Criminal Defence Bar. 

We encourage you to become active by contacting elected officials, seek out educational resources or supporting organizations working to eliminate racism and discrimination in all forms

The CLA is committed to working with our members, stakeholders, partners, and allies to develop concrete solutions to address the impact of racism and discrimination within the Criminal Justice System.

As Martin Luther King, Jr said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”. The CLA will always be committed to advancing the cause of justice, wherever that takes us. We are in this together.

If you are interested in becoming involved, email [email protected]  

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