Steering Group for Canada’s Black Justice Strategy

To ensure that the development of Canada’s Black Justice Strategy (the Strategy) is informed by experts and community leaders from Black communities across the country, the Government of Canada established the external Steering Group, comprised of nine experts and leaders from Black communities across Canada, with diverse backgrounds and experiences, and with expertise related to Canada’s criminal justice system.

Mandate

The Steering Group has developed the Framework, a document to guide consultations and engagements on Canada’s Black Justice Strategy across Canada.

Using the Framework, 12 Black-led community-based organizations from across Canada led targeted consultation and engagement activities to validate existing information and recommendations included in the Framework, identify missing or outdated information and recommendations, and highlight gaps in policies, legislation, data, services, initiatives, programs and community supports. The Framework also guided the development of an online survey led by Justice Canada, which complemented community consultations and engagements and ensured that people who were unable to participate in community engagements were able to contribute.

The results of these consultations and engagements will inform the Steering Group’s recommendations on the Strategy, which will be provided to Justice Canada in a Final Strategy Report in February 2024. The strategic advice provided by the Steering Group through the Final Strategy Report will provide recommendations for concrete actions to address both the anti-Black racism and systemic discrimination that exists in Canada’s criminal justice system, as well as actions to reform and modernize the criminal justice system. The Steering Group’s work will also help ensure that the Strategy is based on an approach that responds to the diverse histories, backgrounds, experiences and regional realities of Black people in Canada.

Members

Dr. Akwasi Owusu-Bempah

Dr. Owusu-Bempah B.A. (Carleton), M.A., Ph.D. (Toronto), is an associate professor in the Department of Sociology at the University of Toronto and a Senior Fellow at Massey College. He holds Affiliate Scientist status at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health and serves as Director of Research for the Campaign for Cannabis Amnesty. Dr. Owusu-Bempah’s work examines the intersections of race, crime and criminal justice. His current research spans across criminal justice institutions. He is also studying various aspects of drug legalization in Canada and around the world. He publishes regularly in both academic and popular forums.

Dr. Owusu-Bempah began his academic career in the United States at Indiana University, Bloomington. Prior to becoming a professor, he held positions with Canada’s National Judicial Institute, the Public Health Agency of Canada, and the Ontario’s Ministry of the Solicitor General. Dr. Owusu-Bempah is frequently sought out to provide commentary and advice to police agencies, government bodies, community organizations, and media outlets on matters relating to policing, justice, and social inequality. His latest book is titled “Waiting to Inhale: Cannabis Legalization and the Fight for Racial Justice” (MIT Press).

Zilla Jones

Zilla Jones graduated from Robson Hall Faculty of Law at the University of Manitoba in 2011, and was called to the Manitoba Bar in 2012. In law school, she was on the Dean’s Honour List and received numerous awards, including the Blake’s Scholar award, Yude M. Henteleff Human Rights award, and the awards for the highest mark in Criminal Law, Immigration Law, International Law and Human Rights Law. She articled for the Public Interest Law Centre of Legal Aid Manitoba and then went into private practice in criminal defence, refugee, child protection, poverty and human rights law. She also worked part-time as an investigator for the Manitoba Human Rights Commission. She now has her own law firm, Jones Law Office, and she has appeared at every level of court in Manitoba, as well as the Supreme Court of Canada.

Zilla is a sessional lecturer at Robson Hall Faculty of Law. She has presented to the Senate Human Rights Committee and is a past member of the Structured Intervention Unit implementation panel. She is Chair of the Board of the John Howard Society of Manitoba and sits on the Board of the John Howard Society of Canada and of Prairie Fire magazine.

Zilla frequently speaks and teaches on anti-Black racism and systemic racism in the criminal justice system. She has given presentations to numerous organizations including the Law Society of Manitoba, Commonwealth Bar Association, University of Manitoba alumni speakers series, Desautels Faculty of Music at the University of Manitoba, Red River College, Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries, Islamic Social Services Agency of Manitoba, Selkirk Library, and others.

Zilla has a Bachelor of Music Arts Honours degree, and has performed as a singer in five provinces and several US cities. She is a founder and volunteer instructor for Anansi School of Performing Arts, a music, dance, drama and history program for Black children and youth. Zilla is also a published writer—she has won six national writing awards and been long—and shortlisted many times. Her work appears in ten literary journals.

Zilla has worked for the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra, Manitoba Theatre Centre, Black Educators of Manitoba and Council of Caribbean Organizations of Manitoba. She has received recognition awards from the Black Educators of Manitoba and the Black History Winnipeg committee.

Fernando Belton

A member of the bar since 2015, Fernando Belton practises criminal and penal law in a firm he founded himself. Part of his clientèle is young offenders, and Mr. Belton also represents victims of racial profiling in lawsuits against municipalities.

Sensitive to current social issues, Mr. Belton is the CEO and co-founder of a not-for-profit organization, Clinique juridique de Saint-Michel (CJSM). Founded in 2019, CJSM has three areas of activity: it offers free legal consultations to residents of the Saint-Michel area, works with other neighbourhood community organizations to provide them with training and workshops, and puts forward projects that combat racism in all its forms.

Mr. Belton also teaches courses on racial profiling at Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM), the University of Ottawa, McGill University and Université de Montréal. In addition, he is completing a master’s degree in criminal law at York University.

Mr. Belton’s commitment has been recognized by his peers, and he has received a number of awards in his career already. He was named the Young Bar of Montreal’s 2021 Lawyer of the Year in the Pro bono / Social Involvement category, and was a winner of the UQAM’s Prix de la relève in the political and legal science category for 2021. In 2013, after completing his legal studies, he also won the Lieutenant Governor’s Youth Medal.

Vanessa Fells

Vanessa Fells was born into a large family in the African Nova Scotian community of Yarmouth. Her family believed that in order to support our community you need a good education, economic freedom and to be a critical thinker. Taking this to heart, she completed two bachelor’s degrees and then completed a Master of Education in Afrocentric policy in 2013.

In 2015, Vanessa represented Canada at the United Nations Human Rights Fellowship Program for the International Decade for People of African Descent in Geneva, Switzerland. Vanessa has also been invited to attend United Nations Permanent Forum 1st Session for People of African Descent from December 5–8 at the United Nations in Geneva. She also was the co-chair for the 2022 National Black Canadian Summit that took place in Halifax and was hosted by the Michaëlle Jean Foundation.

Vanessa is dedicated to enhancing and advancing her community and she is the Director of Operations for the African Nova Scotia Decade for People of African Descent Coalition.

Anthony Morgan

Anthony Morgan is a racial justice analyst & strategist, educator and lawyer.

He is currently a Senior Strategic Advisor with the City of Toronto, focusing on intersectional social justice. In this role, he supports the City's Social Development, Finance & Administration to develop and implement strategies, policies, planning and services that reduce intersecting inequalities faced by vulnerable Torontonians. Before this, he served as Manager of the City of Toronto’s Confronting Anti-Black Racism Unit, which is responsible for the implementation of the Toronto Action Plan to Confront Anti-Black Racism.

Prior to joining the City, Anthony was in practice, specializing in the areas of civil, constitutional and criminal state accountability litigation. He has a special interest in anti-racist human rights advocacy, particularly in the area of anti-Black racism. He has appeared at various levels of court, including the Supreme Court of Canada, and has also represented the interests of African Canadians before United Nations human rights treaty bodies.

Anthony is a frequent legal, social and public affairs commentator on issues concerning race and racism, critical multiculturalism and critical race theory in Canada.

Anthony is a co-founder of the Sentencing and Parole Project, a legal services non-profit which aims to reduce the over-incarceration of Black people in Canada. Also a freelance columnist, Anthony’s column, Colour-Coded Justice, appears regularly in The Monitor, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives' bimonthly policy and current affairs magazine. Anthony’s column explores racial justice issues in Canadian life, law and policy.

While based in Toronto, Anthony is completing a Master of Science in International Human Rights Law at the University of Oxford. In addition to holding an LL.B. and B.C.L. from McGill University, Faculty of Law, he holds an Honours B.A. from the University of Toronto in Ethics, Society & Law.

Mandela Kuet

Mandela Kuet is the founder and executive director of the Holistic Ongoing Opportunities Development-Facilitation and Management Services Inc., a non-profit organization, which works to keep young new-comers out of the criminal justice system.

He is also the Chief Executive Officer of a consulting company that focuses on leadership and organizational development. As a leadership and organization development consultant, Mandela dedicates himself to supporting leaders make a mindset shift in leading their teams and developing their organization strategies.

He delivers consulting strategic development services, coaching and training to various management ranks and their teams. His experience includes working with leaders in the not-for-profit, government, private sector, public sector, and business corporations. Mandela draws from his leaderships experience as a Community Leader, Executive leader, Senior Management and Director roles. In these roles he worked extremely close with collaborators to create learning opportunities for leadership skills development and organization growth.

Mandela brings exceptional strategic planning tools, leadership capacity building and his own lived experience to engage with your organization priority objective. He draws out collective excellence by practicing ongoing learning and equipping leaders with knowledge they can readily apply to their organization strategic mandates.

Sandra Muchekeza

Sandra Muchekeza is the Senior Manager – Program Development and Accountability for Council for Advancement of African Canadians in Alberta (CAAC), operating as Africa Centre. She was born and raised in Kenya before moving to Australia for her Bachelor studies in Psychology. After completing her studies, she joined her family in Toronto, where she lived for six years before moving to Edmonton. Edmonton has been her home for the last 13 years.

Sandra graduated with a Psychology degree but chose to focus her professional career in the international development field. Over time, her career evolved to include project management, program management and process management. A strong believer of community empowerment as a way of affecting change within the community, Sandra has worked for several not-for-profit organizations in Canada for over a decade. She has volunteered for numerous community events and roles including her current volunteer role as a board member of YWCA Edmonton, an organization that fights for the right to equal economic opportunities for women and girls and that works toward ending gender-based violence.

Suzanne Taffot

With nearly a decade of experience in immigration, refugee and human rights law, Ms. Taffot is one of 13 African lawyers who are pushing the boundaries. Named one of the CBC’s Black Changemakers of 2021, Ms. Taffot is committed to training the next generation of legal professionals and is a strong believer in the principles of diversity, equity and inclusion within the profession.

A passionate and determined humanist, she always stands ready to defend the interests of the vulnerable, immigrants, and the victims of injustice as a result of contractual or extra-contractual fault, as well as persons without status in Canada. Thanks to her listening skills, patience, transparency and attention to detail, Ms. Taffot has built a solid reputation, handling more than a thousand cases and making equity her signature issue. She believes that equity should not be viewed as a privilege given to minority individuals, but rather as the means to repair systemic prejudices and injustices.

In her fight for greater representation and equity in the legal field, and eager to ensure that future legal professionals were in contact with role models, she decided to found HERITT Avocats / Attorneys Montréal to pursue these activities on a larger scale while also maintaining her focus on her work. She brought together a group of other talented lawyers who share her values of equity, resilience, integrity, transparency and tenacity—the legacy of her ancestors and her life path.

Ms. Taffot received the Montreal Bar’s Figure de Maître award for 2022 and was named a figure of inspiration by the Barreau du Québec in February 2022.

Moya Teklu

Moya Teklu was called to the Bar of Ontario in 2010.

She is an Adjunct Professor at the University of Toronto - Faculty of Law where she has been teaching Legal Ethics since 2019. Moya regularly delivers training on anti-racism, access to justice, and cultural competence to judges, justices of the peace, lawyers, adjudicators and regulators through the National Judicial Institute (NJI), Society of Ontario Adjudicators and Regulators (SOAR), Ontario Court of Justice, Osgoode Professional Development, and others.

In 2021 and 2022, Moya served as the Executive Director and General Counsel of the Black Legal Action Centre (BLAC)—a not-for-profit corporation focused on combatting anti-Black racism in Ontario through litigation, education, and systemic advocacy. During this time, BLAC successfully lobbied for changes to Canada’s process for criminal records suspensions, and amendments to the Criminal Code; intervened in a test case arguing against the criminalization of sex work; partnered with 17 Black-led organizations across Ontario to provide free legal services to Black families experiencing anti-Black racism in education; and received funding from the Department of Justice to develop training materials and resources to help lawyers successfully challenge anti-Black racism in child protection, immigration, criminal, civil, and prison law.

Prior to joining BLAC, Moya worked at Legal Aid Ontario (LAO) where she helped develop the Racialized Communities Strategy—a 10-year plan that commits LAO to 17 specific objectives aimed at ensuring that racially marginalized clients do not face barriers to accessing legal aid services in Ontario; racially marginalized clients receive high quality legal aid services; and LAO takes an active role in combatting systemic racism in the justice system.

Moya has participated in proceedings before the Supreme Court of Canada, the Federal Court, the United Nations Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child, and the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario.