Rights and Freedoms: criminal law and racism with Rodney Small

On Thursday March 15th 2018, the Research Chair in Legal Pluralism and Comparative Law will receive Rodney Small, the young teenager who, in 1997, was at the heart of a Supreme Court decision pertaining to the recognition of systemic racism when establishing the credibility of a witness. In R v S (RD), in rendering a decision on a charge of assault on a police officer by a black boy, Nova Scotia’s first black judge, Corrine Sparks, had made a remark about systemic racism in Halifax. Not only did the judge find that the police officer’s testimony was not credible, she also mentioned that the police sometimes had excessive reactions when dealing with situations involving non-white groups. This remark caused an aggressive response and led the Halifax Police Department to appeal the decision challenging the impartiality of the judge.

The Supreme Court of Canada, in a divided decision, concluded that the judge did not fail in her duty of impartiality – even though she may have appeared biased in making this remark. The Court also concluded that all judges, in rendering their decision, saw their understanding of the legal issues informed by their own experiences and that it was unrealistic to ask them to discount such experiences when administering justice. However, when establishing the credibility of witnesses, it becomes necessary to take this context into account in order to evaluate the individual case of a person. Rodney Small will speak with students in the Rights and Freedoms course to share his experience of the lengthy court process and the way the justice system acknowledges systemic racism. Today, Rodney Small considers himself very lucky. He points out that other of his childhood friends are either in prison or deceased. He is currently working for an organization that is trying to make a difference with marginalized groups.

In addition, students will have the opportunity to read the report titled “Racial profiling and systemic discrimination of racialized youth” released by the Commission des droits de la personne in March 2011. Until now, this report is a call to mobilize all of Quebec to prevent racial profiling and systemic discrimination, which threatens the future of racialized youth. Since 2003, the Commission has begun to receive complaints about racial profiling and, has been, in Quebec, one of the pioneers in the work of contemplation and awareness regarding the existence of racial profiling as a form of discrimination. In 2005, the Commission published a definition of racial profiling that has since been recognized by the courts and the Police Department of the City of Montreal (SPVM). In 2009, it consequently undertook an extensive public consultation on racial profiling and racialized youth between the ages of 14 and 25. This consultation resulted in the publication of this important report containing more than 90 recommendations, including the commitments the Commission has made in this regard.  Since then, the Commission has not only ensured that these recommendations are implemented, but also continues to strive for greater social, political and legal recognition of racial profiling and its consequences. Professor Pascale Fournier has been a member of the Commission since April 2015.

Faculty of Law, Fauteux 302, 1 pm.

57 Louis-Pasteur
Fauteux Hall
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
K1N 6N5