Sisyphus's Ongoing Journey: Anti-Black Racism and the Myth of Racial Equality in Canada

Document Type

Book Chapter

Publication Date



April Burey, Racial Justice, African Canadians, African Nova Scotians, Critical Race Theory


On my first day of teaching criminal law this past year I asked the students to introduce themselves by answering the following question: “what is one thing that people might find surprising about you?” The students were somewhat startled by my response to the very same question, which was “I have a love- hate relationship with the law.” The basis for my ambivalence is the fact that law, like science, is merely a tool. Whether the law is used for progressive or oppressive purposes depends in large part on who is in a position to develop, interpret and apply the law. Of course even characterizing a given purpose as progressive or oppressive is itself arguably a subjective process. There are however, certain constitutional and quasi-constitutional national and international human rights norms that are universally accepted as “good” or progressive. Those principles include racial equality. It is precisely because the law in the broadest sense has not and does not always guarantee substantive racial equality that I question my relationship to it as a lawyer and as a legal educator. Even in preparing for the Multiple Lenses Conference, I vacillated between themes; pondering whether I should focus on the failure of the Canadian legal system or on African Canadians’ successes in using law to pursue justice. I do not believe it was a coincidence that the first document that I came across in trying to answer these questions was an unpublished paper written by the late April Burey, who was one of my mentors. A brilliant lawyer who taught me human rights law, Ms. Burey was a graduate of Dalhousie (LL.B.) and Harvard (LL.M.) law schools. She practiced civil litigation with the Federal Department of Justice before joining the Equality Rights Branch of the Ontario Ministry of the Attorney General as Legal Counsel. Unfortunately Ms. Burey passed away at a young age, and I cannot help but think that her unyielding pursuit of racial justice contributed to the deterioration of her health. She dreamt of becoming a full time law professor and was highly qualified for the job, but alas her legal talents were rejected. The paper that I stumbled upon, a testament to her brilliance, was the one she submitted in furtherance of that teaching dream deferred. It therefore seemed appropriate that in my first year of teaching I pay tribute to Ms. Burey and others like Professor Wanda Thomas- Bernard, who paved the way for me to be able to publicly share my thoughts with you.