Call for the Legal Community to Address Anti-Black Racism

Via Email

June 2020

Dear fellow lawyers, legal advocates, and other members of the legal community,

Over the last two weeks, we have seen an upsurge of support for Pivot’s Criminalization & Police Accountability work. We are now writing to ask you to join us in amplifying the uprising led by Black communities in response to the devastating impact of state-sanctioned police violence. People are moved to call for justice in response to the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, Tony McDade, Nina Pop, Breonna Taylor, and countless Black people murdered by law enforcement.

In so-called Canada, we have seen community-led vigils following the death of Regis Korchinski-Paquet, an Afro-Indigenous woman who died after police responded to a 911 call at her home in Toronto on May 27. On June 4, Chantel Moore, an Indigenous woman from Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation, was killed in a New Brunswick police shooting. Police violence is an epidemic that continues to kill Black and Indigenous people and we are at a crisis point.

Anti-Black Racism & Police Violence

Police accountability has informed Pivot’s work since this organization was founded in 2001. We recognize, however, that we cannot be excused from anti-Black racism because of our campaign goals. Pivot is scrutinizing our work and examining how we have promoted police legitimacy and “reformist reforms,” rather than abolitionist steps in policing.[1] Police violence against Black and Indigenous people is not a new phenomenon, nor is lack of police accountability. At this moment, we seek knowledge and expertise from Black and Indigenous communities who have dealt with this violence since settler colonialism descended on what is now known as Canada.

While there are longstanding concerns about race-based policing, police departments actively avoid documenting race-based statistics on police homicides.[2] There is evidence, scholarship, and organizing that illustrates systematic police violence against Black people in Canada.[3],[4],[5],[6],[7],[8] In this moment, we must heed abolitionist voices and recognize that piecemeal changes to police standards or policies have not guaranteed safety during interactions with police.

Non-Black and non-Indigenous legal practitioners must work to understand calls from Black and Indigenous people to defund police and redistribute these vital funds to community and peer-led health and safety programming. El Jones notes that Black people in Canada face gentrification, poorer educational and health outcomes, environmental racism, and other forms of anti-Black racism, including police brutality.[9] We have the opportunity to redirect police funding to avenues that address adverse outcomes and alter the conditions resulting from systemic racism.

We need to disarm and defund police and give the money that we're spending on them – billions of dollars – to the actual communities that we always say there isn't money for services, there isn't enough money for childcare and food programs. Do you know why? Because it's all with the police. Until we challenge their authority, we're not going to change anything – Desmond Cole [10]

Anti-Black Racism within the Legal Profession

Our organization has a long way to go to ensure anti-Black racism is eradicated – within our campaigns, as well as more broadly within the legal profession. Racism is pervasive – within the criminal justice system, including street checks, incarceration rates, and discriminatory bail conditions; it is also pervasive in legal institutions such as law schools, law firms, and the judiciary.[11] White, white-passing and non-Black racialized lawyers benefit from systemic anti-Blackness through access to legal education, training, and jobs. As the UBC Black Law Students’ Association points out in their recent letter, there were 4 Black students enrolled at the Peter A. Allard School of Law during the 2019/20 academic year.[12] We call on the legal community to recognize how white supremacy scaffolds this profession, including education institutions, bar associations, social justice work, and the criminal justice system. Alongside our colleagues in the legal community, we are working towards accountability to Black and Indigenous communities within our work.

If you are new to language around defunding the police and want to learn more about this movement, there are relevant letters referenced in this letter. We have also compiled a short list of introductory readings that you can find on our website. If you want further resources, please reach out to us and we will do our best to find materials that will support your learning.

Black-led Funds & Organizations, specific to unceded Coast Salish Territory

If you feel compelled to support police accountability work, we encourage you to direct your funds to local Black-led funds and organizations. We are aware of the following organizations and encourage you to connect with them to support and amplify their work.

  • Hogan’s Alley Society - A non-profit organization committed to daylighting the presence of Black history in Vancouver and throughout British Columbia.
  • Black in BC Community Support Fund - This fund is prioritizing students, immigrants, and other folks NOT ELIGIBLE for EI and CERB.
  • Black Lives Matter Vancouver -The Black Lives Matter Vancouver chapter supports the organizing work of black folks and allies in undoing systemic racialized violence.
  • BC Community Alliance - A community-based organization dedicated to combating the structural inequities created by anti-black racism.
  • Vancouver Black Therapy & Advocacy Fund - The goal is to address the lack of Black therapy resources, advocacy, and mental health support in the Vancouver Lower Mainland

Thank you for taking the time to read our letter and learn alongside us.

Sincerely,

Pivot Legal Society Staff & Board of Directors

NOTE: This letter has been prepared by the Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour who work at Pivot as staff and directors.


[1]Critical Resistance, “Reformist reforms vs. abolitionist steps in policing

[2] Natasha Simpson, “Canada Has Race-Based Police Violence Too. We Don’t Know How Much,” The Tyee (June 2, 2020)

[3] Sandy Hudson, “Defunding The Police Will Save Black And Indigenous Lives In Canada,” Huffington Post Canada (June 2, 2020)

[4] Robyn Maynard, “It’s long-past time to talk about policing of Black women in Canada,” The Star (May 29, 2020):

[5] Pivot Legal Society, “17 years of police violence in Canada”  (March 28, 2019)

[6] Jeff Shantz, “Another deadly year in policing, with at least 57 police-involved deaths in Canada in 2018,” The Georgia Straight (January 11, 2019)

[7] Pam Palmater, “Yes, Canada Has a Racism Problem and It’s Killing Black and Indigenous Peoples,” Canadian Dimension (June 3, 2020)

[8] Desmond Cole, The Skin We're In A Year of Black Resistance and Power (January 2020)

[9] El Jones, “Black Canadians are suffocating under a racist policing system, too,” The Washington Post (June 4, 2020)

[10]Desmond Cole: 'Disarm and defund police' and give money to communities,” CBC News (June 1, 2020)

[11] Ontario Human Rights Commission, “Tuition fee increases and the history of racial exclusion in Canadian legal education” (December 2004)

[12] Letter from the UBC Black Students’ Legal Association (June 3, 2020)