Judicial Diversity Highlighted at CHBA’s 2020 Hispanic/Latin American Heritage Month Celebration

MARSON, Veronica

On October 20, 2020, the Law Society of Ontario (LSO) and the Canadian Hispanic Bar Association (CHBA) held their fifth annual Hispanic/ Latin American Heritage Month Celebration. Due to the current pandemic, the festivities were delivered for the first time by way of digital format.

This year’s program provided a timely discussion on judicial diversity. The issue is particularly important to the Hispanic and Latin American community in Canada as a whole, given that there are currently no federally appointed Latino judges and only one provincially appointed Latino judge. Within the legal profession, Latinos have one of the lowest levels of representation. Although the statistics are not readily available and often vary, it is estimated that there are around 300 to 400 Latino lawyers currently serving a community of approximately 1.2 million persons of Hispanic and Latin American origin in Canada.

LSO Treasurer, Teresa Donnelly, and CHBA President, Antonio Urdaneta, opened the “Diversity in the Canadian Judiciary” event by outlining the importance of having a more diverse judiciary. They emphasized how the justice system is strengthened when the public sees themselves reflected on the bench. This sentiment was echoed in greetings provided by past President of the Hispanic National Bar Association (HNBA), Pedro Jaime Torres-Diaz, and former Chief Judge of the Trenton Municipal Court, Carmen Garcia. A special musical performance by the Payadora Tango Ensemble was also showcased to highlight the richness of Hispanic and Latin American culture.

The keynote speaker of the “Diversity in the Canadian Judiciary” program was Judge Peter Reyes Jr. of the Minnesota Court of Appeals. He mapped his unlikely trajectory from being the son of uneducated migrant farmworkers from Mexico to becoming the first-ever Latino judge appointed to the Minnesota Court of Appeals. He explained his active involvement in the judicial process as an advocate and later, as an applicant. He also highlighted the important work of the HNBA over the past 40 years. In particular, he explained the HNBA’s crucial role in vetting and supporting diverse applicants to both the state and federal courts in the U.S. In recent years, these efforts have culminated most notably in the appointment of Justice Sonia Sotomayor to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Following his initial remarks, Judge Reyes Jr. joined a Canadian-led panel on judicial diversity, which was moderated by Alexander Gay Moreno, a professor at the University of Ottawa and senior lawyer at the Department of Justice. Other distinguished panelists included Katie Black of Black & Associates, Natalia Rodriguez of Conway Baxter LLP, and Justice Bovard of the Ontario Court of Justice.

Ms. Black discussed her recent role assisting former Minister of Justice Jody Wilson-Raybould to reform the judicial appointments process. She discussed the role of Judicial Appointment Committees and the rigorous process that judicial candidates need to go through to become judges. She also noted how equity-seeking groups like the CHBA have a central role to play in providing valuable feedback to the Minister of Justice regarding potential candidates in their community.

Ms. Rodriguez spoke about the importance of diverse representation on the bench. She emphasized the need for litigants to feel that their lived experiences were being recognized by the court, especially in family and criminal matters. She also spoke about her experience on a civil case while clerking for one of the few racialized judges on the Ontario Court of Appeal. She noted how in that particular case, the judge’s lived experience assisted the court to achieve a just result by taking into account the obvious racial factors at play.

Justice Bovard spoke about his unconventional path to becoming a judge. He explained how, beginning with his early years in El Salvador, his biggest barrier was always himself and his own perception of what he could accomplish in life. It was not until he was in university and saw some of his peers applying to law school that he began to consider a career in law as a potential path for himself as well. Later on, when he applied to become a judge, Justice Bovard decided to frame his diverse cultural background as an advantage and to use his unique experience working with marginalized communities as an example of his strong commitment to serving the public.

The panel concluded with a number of practical tips for those wanting to become a judge in future. These include:
• Start grooming yourself early and work on building a good reputation in the legal community.
• Focus on developing skills that will help you become a good lawyer such as taking public speaking courses, writing legal articles, shadowing other lawyers, and running trials.
• Study the questions on the judicial appointment application as well as the profiles of others who have already been appointed to the bench.
• Do significant community work at home and abroad.
• Get involved in different legal organizations like the Canadian Bar Association, the Advocates Society, and equity-seeking groups like the CHBA.

A full recording of the “Diversity in the Canadian Judiciary” event will be soon available at:
https://lso.ca/about-lso/initiatives/edi/cpd-equality,-diversity-and-inclusion-requirement