Mahmud Jamal says being the first person of color appointed to the Supreme Court is a “huge responsibility”

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Supreme Court candidate Justice Mahmud Jamal told MPs and senators today his appointment to become the first person of color ever to be appointed to Canada’s highest court could help build confidence in public institutions and the Canadian justice system.

Jamal spoke about his historic appointment during a question-and-answer session on Tuesday afternoon with the parliamentary committee on justice and human rights.

“I am aware of the responsibility,” Jamal told committee members. “I am very, very aware of the responsibility that comes with this role.”

WATCH: Supreme Court Appointed Mahmud Jamal Discusses Judicial Activism

Judge Mahmud Jamal spoke with MPs and senators on Tuesday ahead of his court appointment in the coming days. 2:49

Jamal was appointed to the court by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on June 18. He has served on the Ontario Court of Appeal since 2019.

Jamal was born in Kenya to an Ismalli Muslim family from India. His family moved to England before moving to Edmonton when Jamal was around 14 years old.

If appointed, Jamal will take the seat vacated by Judge Rosalie Abella, who will retire from the tribunal on July 1, her 75th birthday.

Jamal will become the 88th judge in the tribunal’s 140-year history if his appointment is upheld.

Jamal says more diversity “breeds trust”

In response to a question about the significance of his court appointment, Jamal recalled his 2019 appointment to the Ontario Court of Appeal.

He said he was “overwhelmed” by the reaction of people of color in the legal world after his appointment.

The response to his last appointment was “exponentially” larger, he said, reflecting a desire for better representation in the justice system.

“Anyone from a racialized community, from a minority background, has a huge responsibility and so I am very, very aware of it,” Jamal said during his virtual appearance with the committee.

“What people are saying is that they really see that public institutions are open to them. That they have hope. That they can see their own face reflected in the justice system. I think that it gives aspiration. I think it breeds trust in public institutions. “

“Reconciliation is a matter of respect”

Jamal was not allowed to answer questions about his legal opinions or his opinions on cases that may go to the Supreme Court – although MPs have disclosed some of his broader views on the law and the responsibilities of the judges.

He also addressed questions about the role of the justice system in reconciliation with indigenous peoples.

“I think reconciliation is about respect,” Jamal said.

He described a summer he spent working with Métis councils in Alberta before attending law school as a turning point in his understanding of Indigenous issues.

“It was an eye-opening experience for me,” said Jamal. “It started to disillusion me with a lot of my stereotypes, because I think we all have unconscious biases to some extent.”

In accordance with the guidelines for his appearance, Jamal did not respond directly to a question about the recent adoption of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

But in a previous response, he pledged to make clear and “reasonably” brief decisions on cases that come to court.

“Ordinary Canadians have the right to understand what their highest court says, what it decides and why it decides so,” he said.

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