November 12, 2020
Dear Members of the Black Law Students Association, University of Ottawa Chapter:
I am writing in response to your email of November 4, 2020 containing five Calls to Action. You have asked that we engage with BLSA’s demands promptly and publicly. In responding to you and sharing this response, I am respecting that request.
As you note in your correspondence to me, the recommendations contained in the Call to Action are by no means exhaustive: “There is a lot of work to be done to dismantle anti-Black racism at the University of Ottawa Faculty of Law [Common Law Section].” I could not agree more. I can also completely understand your impatience with the slow pace of change. Black, Indigenous and other persons of colour have suffered, and continue to suffer, from racism within all aspects of Canadian society, including within the educational and legal systems.
Last week I announced the creation of the Anti-Racism Action Working Group which will be composed of faculty, staff and students from the Common Law Section, and whose mandate will be to recommend actions in the short, medium and long term to combat racism. In that announcement, I explicitly referenced the BLSA Call for Action, as well as recommendations from other sources, as matters that should be considered by the Working Group.
How we do this work is, in many ways, as important as the work itself. For me, and for other members of our Faculty’s administration, it is important that the composition and leadership of this Working Group be representative of the many historically excluded groups who experience racism within our Faculty. Planning began during the summer, and we have been working to ensure that the Group will be equipped and empowered to move quickly once established. We believe that a short delay on the front end to ensure we get this right is a reasonable trade-off for ensuring that we do not do further damage and compound issues of racism with inadvertent silencing and exclusion of some communities within the Faculty.
All members of the Common Law Section community have a responsibility to work together to eliminate racism in all its forms and make meaningful change within our Faculty. As Dean, I take my responsibility to lead these changes seriously. Unfortunately, the work done by members of our administration and Faculty is not always visible to members of the Common Law community. Your recent correspondence indicates to me that we must work harder to ensure that our work and action is better communicated to our community and stakeholders.
I appreciate that, for many, our steps may be considered small and our progress is perceived as slow. We do understand the urgency of the need to address systemic, ongoing racism within our Faculty. Our action plan, however, must be developed in consultation with, and grounded in respect of, all the historically excluded communities who experience racism within our Faculty. This is our intention with the establishment of the Anti-Racism Action Working Group – to hear and amplify voices of BIPOC learners, staff, and Faculty who have experienced, and continue to experience, racism within our Faculty, and to respond with meaningful action.
Our Faculty is, of course, part of the broader University governance structure. Many initiatives within the Faculty require faculty and student support. We also require support or authorization from the central administration for much of what we do. In his statement to the Board of Governors on October 26, 2020 President Frémont stated that current efforts to combat racism were “far from enough.” President Frémont recognized that the work of the current university advisory committee on anti-racism has not been satisfactory. President Frémont committed to transforming it into a committee of action. At the Common Law Section, we will need support from the University’s committee to address many initiatives outlined in BLSA`s Call to Action. We will also need its support to implement recommendations from our own Anti-Racism Action Working Group. As a Faculty of Law, we are perhaps uniquely qualified to advocate for these changes across all levels of the University, and I am committed to doing so where the Faculty’s authority ends.
We are committed to the essential and difficult work of confronting our Faculty’s investment in ongoing colonialism and racism within the legal academy, while recognizing that our BIPOC students, staff and faculty can no longer wait for change. We need action within the Faculty, and we need support from the broader University community. As we institute the Anti-Racism Action Working Group, with the specific mandate of identifying and planning for the implementation of short, medium, and long-term actions to be undertaken within our Faculty, we are taking action. The mandate of this Working Group is to draft an anti-racism action plan for the Common Law Section and submit it to me by February 26, 2021 at the latest.
We have work to do, and that work must begin somewhere. I am confident that, working collaboratively and in a spirit of hope, we will be able to develop and implement a strong anti-racism action plan for the Common Law Section.
Dean Adam Dodek