Judging Justice Donald McLeod’s intentions
Ontario Court Justice Donald McLeod’s heart might have been in the right place when he offered himself to be of service to his community, but the move has landed him in trouble with the regulating body of his profession and could cost him his job.
The judge is one of the founders and served as an interim chairperson of a steering committee for the Federation of Black Canadians (FBC), which set itself up as a pan-Canadian organization with a stated mandate to “advance the social, economic, political and cultural interests of Canadians of African descent.”
In that capacity, Judge McLeod was central to a number of outreach initiatives towards politicians, including meeting with Prime Minister Justine Trudeau to heighten awareness on issues facing Blacks across Canada.
His efforts landed him in front of the Ontario Judicial Council, the body that investigates and disciplines provincial court judges, following a complaint that he “failed to uphold the integrity, impartiality and independence of the judiciary when he communicated with, and met with politicians on behalf of FBC, and inappropriately used the power and prestige of his judicial office to advance the interests of the FBC and lent the prestige of the judicial office to FBC fundraising.”
The hearings got underway on November 30 and the four-member panel will seek to determine if Judge McLeod’s intentions in his advocacy role were to educate politicians and policy makers on the conditions that confront Blacks, or to lobby for resources on behalf of his group.
In his defense, Judge McLeod was quoted as saying that his intentions in “imparting knowledge” to the politicians were indeed to influence policy changes and attain funding for programs, but made it clear that he was doing so as a volunteer for his organization and on behalf of a community that’s the object of abuse and victimization.
His lawyer Mark Sandler underlined the importance of role models such as Judge McLeod volunteering in a community that has so many urgent needs.
Before he was appointed to the bar in 2013, Judge McLeod, who grew up in the hardscrabble neighborhoods of Regent Park in Downtown Toronto and Scarborough, had a long history of community involvement as one of the forces behind several youth mentorship groups, including youth organizations 100 Strong, and Stand Up, and Black Robes.
In 2015, he assisted in the formation of FBC after community meetings organized in the aftermath of the fatal shooting of a young pregnant woman.
However, as honorable as his stated intentions might have been, some high profile Black community activists in Toronto questioned the motives and role of the Federation.
In a CBC story earlier this year, Sandy Hudson, co-founder of Black Lives Matter Toronto and journalist and political commentator Desmond Cole suggested that Judge McLeod’s position as a sitting justice might compromise the integrity of the Federation.
The Ontario Judicial Council’s panel will deliver its verdict in the coming weeks.