Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has appointed Justice Mahmud Jamal to the Supreme Court as the first person of colour in the 146-year-old history of Canada, where nearly one in four people identify as a minority.
Justice Jamal will replace Justice Rosalie Abella on July 1, after he is vetted by the House of Commons justice committee.
While announcing his nomination, PM Trudeau tweeted, "He'll be a valuable asset to the Supreme Court -- and that's why, today, I'm announcing his historic nomination to our country's highest court."
Who is Justice Mahmud Jamal?
Born in Nairobi, Kenya to Ismaili Muslim parents hailing from India who immigrated to England in 1969, Mahmud Jamal moved to Canada in 1981. After completing his Bachelor of Arts from the University of Toronto, he pursued Bachelor of Laws and Bachelor of Civil Law degrees from the Faculty of Law, McGill University. After receiving a Fulbright Scholarship, he finished his Master of Laws from the prestigious Yale Law School.
Mahmud Jamal, 54, has been an Ontario Court of Appeal judge since 2019 and previously taught at two of Canada's top law schools. He also worked as a litigator -- including appearing in 35 appeals before the Supreme Court.
He served as a law clerk to Justice Melvin Rothman of the Quebec Court of Appeal and Justice Charles Gonthier of the Supreme Court of Canada. He practiced with Osler, Hoskin & Harcourt LLP and honed his skills in the fields of appellate litigation, constitutional and public law, class actions, and commercial litigation.
In a job questionnaire, Justice Jamal said his hybrid religious and cultural upbringing and his experiences in Canada "exposed me to some of the challenges and aspirations of immigrants, religious minorities, and racialized persons."
"I was raised at school as a Christian, reciting the Lord's Prayer and absorbing the values of the Church of England, and at home as a Muslim, memorizing Arabic prayers from the Quran and living as part of the Ismaili community," he wrote.
"Like many others, I experienced discrimination as a fact of daily life. As a child and youth, I was taunted and harassed because of my name, religion or the colour of my skin," he said.
Canada has more than 22 percent minority population and another 5 percent who are aboriginal. PM Trudeau's move to appoint Judge Jamal to Supreme Court is in line with his pledge to diversify Canada’s public institutions.
However, court watchers say the move fails to advance the government’s Indigenous reconciliation agenda. "Canada will finally have a non-white justice on the Supreme Court. It is an understatement to say it has been a long time coming," Emmett Macfarlane, a political scientist at the University of Waterloo who studies the Supreme Court.
"The prime minister's requirement that he will only appoint people fluent in both English and French has hampered his ability to appoint an Indigenous justice to the court," Macfarlane added.
"There needs to be some thinking about how we treat 'official languages' in this country with respect to Indigenous representation."
First Published: IST