Black History Month - Meet our community members

Posted on Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Christian Yawo K. Alou

Christian Yawo K. Alou, PhD candidate

Mentor / writing adviser at the uOttawa Academic Writing Help Centre

What is your affiliation with uO Common Law?

For me, the Common Law Section is more than a program of study. It’s a family passionate about scholarly research, with constructive criticism as a leitmotif. The professors, part-time instructors and invaluable administrative and technical support are part of an interdisciplinary approach, inclusive of our differences, which far from being an obstacle, is enriching. I’ve found a learning setting resolutely opposed to injustice and oppression of the weakest, using legal tools as weapons to promote equality in every way.

Could you tell us a bit about your life before arriving at uOttawa?

There’s my life before Canada and my life since Canada. I remember the definition of history in my first history course when I was in Togo. My classmates and I learned that history is the study of past events. Slavery, colonization and apartheid were of the past so, in terms of general knowledge, the focus of the course was purely theoretical. The teachers failed to tell us that the consequences of these difficult times were still there and tangible for racialized people. The first time I was the victim of a racist attack in Quebec City, I froze. It was like a living nightmare. It’s a feeling I wouldn’t wish on anyone, especially the very young, who are still looking to find who they are. Depending on one’s personality, this type of experience can have a major impact on one’s mental health and life balance. I’m past counting the number of times I’ve been a victim of profiling and of racist remarks in Canada. 

I grew up with the values of equality, justice, equity, solidarity, respect, inclusion and

human dignity without distinction of any kind. I’m not saying I’m perfect — far from it — but I do my best to be a good person and to help society to the extent I’m able.  I was fortunate to do my master’s at Université Laval before arriving in Ottawa for my PhD. Contrary to many who only have well-justified but counter-productive emotion to defend themselves against profiling, I have the courts. I’m more of an optimistic type because I deeply believe that difference is enriching and not a curb on full development at all levels in Canada. Canada is beautiful, Quebec is beautiful. Together with our allies, we can move mountains. 

What or who has had the most positive impact on you at uOCommon Law (prof, event, etc.)?

I have been fortunate and honoured to conduct my research under the supervision of Professors Pacifique Manirakiza, Joao Velloso and Jabeur Fathally, whose expertise in international human rights law, criminology and comparative law, among other areas, is enviable. This community of experts helps me conduct my doctoral research effectively.

As well, I have seen inclusive, engaged section leadership through the various research centres and student and alumni groups, with professors on the same committees, like the one on mental health and well-being or the action committee on anti-racism and discrimination, and many others. There is a real willingness to move forward on such complex topics, but I share the optimism of many others concerning more concrete action in favour of equality and more representation of Blacks as professors and section administrators, and in Canada in general. This necessarily means a mandatory course on the history of Blacks and the law, similar to a course that teaches respect of those of different genders, or none, of women’s dignity, so as to end domestic and sexual violence as weapons of war for good. In a word, respect, just because this is a human being, no more and no less.

What does Black History Month mean to you?

For me, Black History Month is a unique period of unity, of awareness of Blacks’ reality, of taking stock and of future prospects. It is firstly a story of peace, of glory, with Africa as the cradle of humanity and of great empires. It’s a story of great cultural, economic and political invention, and more. So it’s a serious mistake to reduce Black History Month to the experience of suffering and outrage. That said, it is also a moment in particular for historical awareness of the painful path travelled by Black people since slavery, colonization, legalized apartheid in South Africa, and in fact, all over our continent and better known in the U.S. as segregation, with the notorious Jim Crow laws, right up to Black Lives Matter.

This historical awareness, of consequences felt now, shows that the stereotypes Blacks are victimized by, the disproportionate police violence, the surveillance of racialized people, the discrimination regarding access to a good quality education, to employment, to housing or to credit are not, in fact, new. The good news is that there are more and more allies in the general public making racism a social problem that concerns all, including whites who are privileged by the system. This avenue that has been offered to me is a concrete example of collective awareness of systemic injustice that has lasted too long and no longer has its place anywhere.

You know, it’s unbelievable that some real, moral people continue to deny the existence of racism and systemic discrimination in Canada despite all of the reports (Armony, 2019; the Office de consultation publique de Montréal, 2020; etc.) and the abundant literature (studies by human rights and youth commissions in Quebec, Ontario...). It must be stated that we cannot move on from this racial pandemic by refusing to accept the diagnosis. Recognizing systemic racism is the beginning of healing. We shouldn’t be afraid to recognize the systemic dimensions of racism. Saying that there’s systemic or structural (the term used more in France) racism doesn’t mean that all white people are racist, but just that the laws and mechanisms that are supposed to guarantee equality for all and combat discrimination are, paradoxically, biased so as to perpetuate inequality and prevent victims’ access to justice. In the specific case of normalized racial profiling practised by the police, it’s the consequence of having too much latitude in their right to check, question or arrest. And in the case of mix-ups, it is very difficult to hold those at fault those responsible to the point where legal proceedings, indeed arrests, are considered, because the justice system wrongly protects them by re-victimizing the victim. The legal system loses credibility and inadvertently exacerbates the crisis of trust, trust that is fundamental to it and to the co-operation of those served by it.

Denial, ignorance and/or minimizing the systemic nature of differential treatment based on race or social status or gender or religion are accompanied by other, often subtle, manifestations of racism like micro-aggressions. Really, how else can you describe continually experiencing micro-aggressions, often many in one day?

What is a message you would like to share with the uOCommon Law community?

My last message is simple.To all racialized people who have had the painful experience of rejection and outrage, be resilient and continue to share love around you because you’re fighting the good fight, that for equity and justice with a capital J.

Black History Month marks the abolition of legalized slavery, which authorized the exploitation of one person by another. It’s the victory of co-existence over segregation, and of decolonization concerning wrongly accepted notions, concerning education.

Take care of your mental health. Keep your head. Let’s continue to educate ourselves so that our contribution to knowledge, to science and to acceptance of our differences in respectful co-existence as a way of life is never questioned.

To allies, you have your place by our side in this battle for equality and justice.


Esther Ekong

Esther Ekong, Doctoral Candidate 

What is your affiliation with uO Common Law? 

I am in the third year of a PhD in Law program at the Faculty of Law, Common Law section.

What or who had the most positive impact while at uOCommon Law (prof, event, etc)? 

Professor Chidi Oguamanam 

What does Black History Month mean to you? 

It reminds me of how far Blacks have come from the days of slavery. 

As I watch the tremendous contributions that Blacks are making to the advancement of humanity all over the world being celebrated, I am filled with more determination to make my own mark in the world.   

What is a message you would like to share with the uOCommon Law community? 

Thank you for all you are doing (and will continue to do), to make the uOCommon Law community a truly inclusive one. One policy per time, we shall get to that place of true equity in this community. 


Danardo S. Jones

Danardo S. Jones, JD '12, Phd Candidate, Toronto
Assistant Professor, Windsor University Faculty of Law

What or who had the most positive impact while at uOCommon Law?

My professors, especially Professor Elizabeth Sheehy

What does Black History Month mean to you?

Self-reflection

What is a message you would like to share with the uOCommon Law community?

Use your legal training to make the world a better place!


Christien Levien

 

Christien Levien, JD '14, Toronto, Lawyer & Technologist

What or who had the most positive impact while at uOCommon Law (prof, event, etc)?

Through it's commitment to diversity, uO Common Law has created a welcoming environment where innovative ideas can flourish. As a graduate, I have been able to attain personal success while continuing to serve my community.

Toronto Star article - Lawyer-in-your-pocket app helps during police carding


Pacifique Manirakiza

 

Professor Pacifique Manirakiza, PhD, 

What or who had the most positive impact while at uOCommon Law (prof, event, etc)?

My mentor, the late Prof. Nicole LaViolette, who was very sensitive to equality related issues with kin awareness of the systemic racism in our society. Recently, I have to confess that the way President Jacques Frémont handled the would-be crisis around the use of N-word in a classroom and stood still amidst harsh and sometimes unfair criticisms from all over, within and outside the University, including some politicians, was encouraging and empowering to members of minority and other equity seeking groups. It gave me the sense that there an able captain of the ship on which we have all embarked.

What does Black History Month mean to you?

Celebrated almost worldwide, the Black History Month is a time to acknowledge the legacy but also the contribution of Black peoples around the world. It reminds us what Black people, here and elsewhere in the World went through, the kind of battles they fought for their dignity and their invaluable contribution to shape the values of the societies they live in. Black History Month is not about resentment. It is about consideration and dignity for all, determination, resilience and leadership towards better and more equal and fair societies. Therefore, BHM is a constant reminder for us all of the need for social change in our Canadian society taking into account its diversity so that we don’t replicate mistakes of the past, which lead to the injustices against Black people in Canada.

What is a message you would like to share with the uOCommon Law community?

I would invite my colleagues and the entire Common Law community to join us in the celebrations and learn more on Canadian Black people’s contributions, challenges and dreams. I am very proud to be a member of this community sensitive to equality related issues, supportive and open more than what people can think.


Faye McWatt

Courtesy of The Honourable Faye McWatt

The Honourable Faye McWatt. LLB '84, Currently the Associate Chief Justice of the Superior Court of Ontario, Toronto

What or who had the most positive impact while at uOCommon Law ?  

What? – The temperature in the winter walking home from class in the evenings left me with a stark understanding. I realized Ottawa had to have been the most appropriate place for a capital…or the inhabitants would have folded their tents and left after they could get out after the first winter. I have heard that it has got milder there. I loved the city otherwise and considered staying there after law school.

What is a message you would like to share with the uOCommon Law community?

You are in the best city to attend law school. You are in a law school with high standards and successful graduates. The bilingual nature of the school and the city will open your horizons and allow you to appreciate the culture of Canada.

Appointment by Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau

To learn more about The Honourable Faye E. McWatt


Bahati Mujinya

Bahati Mujinya, LLM ’18
Currently, I’m a graduate student in law, a PhD candidate living in Ottawa, Canada.  I have held several research assistantships at uOttawa Common Law.
 

My experience with uOttawa Common Law has been one of great discovery leading to a new passion. From the outset, as a legal scholar from a country with a civil law tradition, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, I was struck by and drawn to my professors’ approach to legal methodology and theory. Since then, this has had a deep impact on my understanding of the rules that organize society.  

Black History Month challenges us and reminds us that humanity is the highest value, fundamental and sacred. Through it, every life finds its essence and meaning. None can deny the humanity within them.
Humanity has neither race nor nationality. We are all human, all of this world, all equal. Let us all preserve humanity. 


Chidi Oguamanam

Photo: Peter Thornton

Chidi Oguamanam, LL.B. (Ife), B.L. LL.M. (Lagos), LL.M., Ph.D. (British Columbia)

What is your affiliation with uO Common Law?

Full Professor

What does Black History Month mean to you?

Building on and celebrating our legacies of resilience, survival and progress and cashing the promises of freedom and justice, reclaiming our humanity.  

What is a message you would like to share with the uOCommon Law community?

There's still a long road ahead ... we owe each day delicate steps forward and mindful of ever present backward pulls.

To learn more about Chidi Oguamanam 


Samantha Peters

Photo : Charu Sharma

BA (Honours) ’09, MA ’10, JD ’16; Toronto, Ontario

What is your affiliation with uO Common Law?

I am the first-ever Black Legal Mentor in Residence.

To learn more about Samantha Peters


D'antal Sampson

D’antal Sampson - Student, J.D. Candidate - Class of 2022, Bachelor of Arts (Honours), Sociology 

What is your affiliation with uO Common Law?

uO Common Law student. I am presently the VP of Events for the University of Ottawa’s Elephant in the Room chapter. I am also the 2L English Rep for the Law & Tech Student Society. 

What or who had the most positive impact while at uOCommon Law (prof, event, etc)?

Thus far, Elephant in the Room has been the highlight of my time at uOttawa. I have had the pleasure of meeting amazing people who are passionate about mental health advocacy. The community is incredible and the positive impact on student wellbeing is invaluable. It is an absolute honour to have the chance to work with such a wonderful group of individuals.

What is a message you would like to share with the uOCommon Law community?

Congratulations on getting through a tough first semester. Please remember to be kind to yourself, as these are unprecedented times. For those who are exhausted, please know you are not alone. To the uOCommon law student body, and especially my fellow students of colour, please use any and all resources available to you. Feel free to reach out if you need anything at all.


Nicole Singh

Nicole Singh, BA (Honours), JD '13, Toronto, Fasken Martineau DuMoulin LLP

What or who had the most positive impact while at uOCommon Law (prof, event, etc)?

Professor Stephen Blair. I always appreciated his passion for teaching, his dedication to his students, and his sense of humour. I will always remember my first-year contracts class with him, which influenced my love of the law.

What does Black History Month mean to you?

For me, Black History Month means reflecting on the history and resilience of Black people all over the world, celebrating our many achievements, and reflecting on ways that I can help those behind me.


Patrick Twagirayezu

Patrick Twagirayezu, JD ‘19 (Magna Cum Laude), Associate, Emond Harnden LLP

I was in the joint J.D. (French Common law) and political science program

Fully bilingual, Patrick works with public and private sector clients in all aspects of labour and employment law, helping employers solve a wide variety of workplace issues. He also works in the areas of education law, civil litigation, privacy law, human rights law, administrative law and corporate governance.

What is your affiliation with uO Common Law?

I completed my law degree in the French Common Law (Joint Political Science and J.D. program) program at the university of Ottawa. While in law school, I served as a teaching assistant and a research assistant. I was also highly involved in the Faculty’s community as a co-founder of the student newspaper, an executive member of a number of student groups, including the Common Law Student Society, the Employment and Labour Law Student Society, and was an active student mentor.

What or who had the most positive impact while at uOCommon Law (prof, event, etc)?

My professors had the most positive impact on me while I was at the law faculty. I specifically think back to professors like Denis Boivin, Pacifique Manirakiza, Yves Lebouthillier, Anne Levesque, Suzanne Bouclin, Peter Oliver, and others. I could go on forever. They were always so generous with their time and willingness to have discussions that went beyond academics. They gave me advice about life, challenged me to see certain things from other perspectives, and provided me with the confidence that I had the tools to transition from law student to practicing lawyer.

I would also add that the many friends I made had a major impact on me. As a uOttawa student, you encounter classmates from so many different walks of life that these interactions inevitably lead you to grow as a person.

What does Black History Month mean to you?

To me, the meaning of Black History Month can be found in one of Canada’s most consequential citizens, Lincoln Alexander. As many might know, he was the first black member of parliament, and the first black federal cabinet minister. I had the chance to write about him last year for CBC News and expressed that what made him such a great Canadian was his understanding that civic excellence is not an exercise in blind praise, but rather a continuous exercise in trying to improve our country by acknowledging its shortcomings. To me, Black History Month is about acknowledging that we live in amazing country, but also understanding that because of our history, there will always be room for improvement.

What is a message you would like to share with the uOCommon Law community?

Being a student at the university of Ottawa’s faculty of law (uOCommon law) is a golden opportunity. I encourage students to take advantage of every resource available because it makes for a more personalized and fulfilling experience. In the context of Black History Month, I would emphasize that the most important resources are the people that you encounter at the faculty. Listen to their stories, learn about what led them to study law, what they hope to get out of their degree, what their families are like, etc. Reach out to professors and alumni, they will be more than happy to share their experiences as well. To me, those were the discussions that allowed me to gain perspective on issues I hadn’t personally experienced. I think having meaningful discussions is an important first step to gaining a better understanding of what classmates, colleagues, and friends from equity seeking groups have encountered, and how to be an effective ally in creating more positive experiences.


Reakash Walters

Reakash Walters, JD ‘20, Toronto, Articling Student at Goldblatt Partners LLP

What or who had the most positive impact while at uOCommon Law (prof, event, etc)?

I encountered engaging, thoughtful professors throughout my time at uOttawa. Professors like Joanne St. Lewis, Vanessa MacDonnell and Kyle Kirkup were central to not only my learning but my overall personal growth while at law school. Specifically, while I was in my second year of the English Common Law Program, I was lucky enough to land a Research Assistant position with Professor Constance Backhouse. She was and continues to be an incredible mentor for me. While I supported her research on her upcoming book, she encouraged me to pursue my own interest in historical legal writing.Our conversations led me to work with her on a Directed Research Project (DRP) studying civil rights organizing in Halifax during the second half of the 20th century. After I submitted my DRP to her, she further encouraged me to find a place to publish my research. My piece was recently published in the Canadian Journal of Women and the Law and is titled "Against Amnesia: African Nova Scotia Women's Generational Leadership in Civil Rights Organizing, 1950-79"

What does Black History Month mean to you?

I'm Black and proud all year long! So Black History Month feels like a time for non-Black people to consider the incredible ways Black folk have resisted and flourished in the face of both state oppression and interpersonal racism. It's also an opportunity for each of us to meditate on how we will cultivate a future where all Black people, especially Black children, are safe and free. 

What is a message you would like to share with the uOCommon Law community?

Please be kind to one another. Please consider how your actions and words affect others. Please reflect on how you've arrived in the privileged space of being a law student or a law grad and consider that others may not have walked the same path to get there. 

 

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