Jay Cox, Piera Savage and Kyle Elliott in Panel Discussion: “The Justice System and Reality” (Spring 2024 Talk #5 Summary)

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Panelists:  Kyle Elliot,  President of the Canadian Association of Black Lawyers; Andrew Jay Cox, COO of MyRESET; Piera  Savage,  Staff Lawyer at Black Legal Action Centre

Moderator: Peter Drumm, Academy for Lifelong Learning Toronto

The final spring talk was a panel discussion with two Black lawyers and a community activist expertly moderated by Peter Drumm. The panel discussion was followed by responses to audience questions.

It was a rare opportunity for us in the Academy bubble to hear directly about anti-Black racism in Toronto. The audience listened intently and had plenty of questions in the last 35 minutes.

Media interest has waned since the Black Lives Matter movement started by the George Floyd killing in 2020. What we are seeing today in Toronto is influenced by spill-over from the US, with a backlash amid anti-woke culture wars, leading to a drop in contributions to funding Black lives issues. Issues concerning the Black community are still present but according to the panelists, there has been an improvement, even in the attitude of the police.

Peter kicked off the discussion by posing three questions to the panelists, asking Kyle to define the term anti-Black racism, Piera to briefly cover the legal landscape, and Jay to describe some personal incidents and examples. Kyle was in a good position to describe what anti-Black racism is and Jay recounted some powerful anecdotes. For example,  when police are raiding homes in the Black community, why do they cuff children and the elderly? We know about what happens when “driving while Black.” Why is it that the police do not believe that a Black person can have a nice flashy car? Piera brought up cases that she had handled involving tenant/landlord disputes and how disadvantaged the Black defendants were against wrongful charges brought against them.

When discussing the Toronto situation today, Jay felt that we might be one of the best examples of getting to racial equity mainly because of the Toronto school system and many growing up in diverse communities. He mentioned how he was treated when he bought his new house compared to how his grandfather was treated.

There was an interesting discussion on the need for data on how the justice system treats Black defendants regarding convictions, sentencing, incarceration location and parole. We do have arrest data thanks mainly to the Toronto Star reports. Other data is important whenever there are some discretionary choices to be made, but this is incomplete and slow to arrive, according to Piera.

Questions from the audience included: what about employment opportunities; is there any traction for reparations to the Black community given our major focus on aboriginal injustices; is the right data being collected to gain some insight into the biases in the legal system; what about increasing the capacity and talent pipeline into the employment marketplace?

One very important initiative that deserves mention is the holistic integrated approach that Jay’s organization is heading to re-integrate people with criminal records into society and stabilize their lives.

In summary, this panel discussion on a very serious and difficult topic did have its lighter moments. We need to continue to educate ourselves and attend more conversations such as these if we can.

by Ron Miller