Justice Donald McLeod resigns as chair of the Federation of Black Canadians—again

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Justice Donald McLeod (right) poses with Michaëlle Jean at the 2019 National Black Canadians Summit in Ottawa

For the second time in 15 months, Ontario Court Justice Donald McLeod has quietly resigned as chair of the Federation of Black Canadians. McLeod, who founded the Black lobby group, first resigned in June of 2018 at the direction of the Ontario Judicial Council, the provincial oversight body for judges. The OJC subsequently found that McLeod had engaged in governmental lobbying through his role at FBC, and warned against any similar future activity. However, as I reported in February, McLeod returned to FBC in early 2019, and under his leadership the group has continued to lobby the federal government. At least one other board member who has served with McLeod since FBC’s founding has also resigned, and a source says more resignations are coming. (Update, 4:45 p.m.: FBC staff member Richard Sharpe confirms that he and another board member have also resigned. In total, three of ten board members and a staffer have resigned in recent weeks.)

FBC board member Dahabo Ahmed Omer announced McLeod’s resignation at a public meeting in Ottawa on Saturday. Omer offered no explanation for McLeod’s departure, but said she had been elected as the group’s new chair. FBC has removed McLeod’s name from its board of directors on its website, where he was still listed as “chairperson” only weeks ago. However, an “Frequently Asked Questions” section of the website still contains several references to McLeod, including a statement that “Justice Donald McLeod, is not permitted to communicate with any government official, or their designates, on behalf of the FBC.”

FBC organized a day of lobbying with federal Liberal cabinet ministers in February entitled “Black Voices on the Hill”. Before these meetings FBC prepared a series of documents entitled “Issues and Asks” which included policy and funding demands for elected officials. FBC has also applied for federal government funding through Heritage Canada—McLeod has repeatedly said the group would not seek government money because it wanted to retain its independence.

McLeod himself represented FBC at a July 23 meeting in Gatineau, Quebec. The invite-only meeting was organized by Employment and Social Development Canada to discuss the allocation of $25 million in funding over five years for Black community projects.

At the Gatineau meeting McLeod introduced himself as chair of FBC, and remarked that “we’ve been part of or integral with respect to negotiations with the finance minister towards the 2018 budget. We’ve met with Finance, PHAC [Public Heath Agency of Canada], Statscan [Statistics Canada], the premiers, ex-prime ministers, community groups. We’ve had two summits and we’ve had Black Voices on the Hill. We’ve met with every leader from every party federally, and we’ve done as best as we can provincially.”

McLeod’s colleague, Associate Chief Justice Faith Finnestad, filed a complaint about his involvement with FBC in February of 2018. Judges in Ontario are prohibited from engaging in political activity or advocacy, and Finnestad’s complaint alleged that McLeod was doing exactly that through FBC. The OJC found that McLeod was indeed lobbying the government, but dismissed the complaint because “it was not so seriously contrary to the impartiality, integrity and independence of the judiciary that it rose to the level of undermining the public’s confidence in his ability to perform the duties of office or the public’s confidence in the judiciary generally.”

However the OJC’s decision gave a clear warning to McLeod or any other judge that lobbying is unacceptable. “We emphasize that it does not follow from our decision that judges who engage in lobbying will not be guilty of misconduct merely because of their good intentions. In the future, if a judge crosses the line that we have delineated, a Hearing Panel may indeed find that public confidence has been undermined and that the judge has engaged in judicial misconduct.”

Richard Picart, who has served as FBC’s communications lead for FBC, has also resigned—he was listed as an FBC board member along with McLeod as late as July. A source close to FBC says Len Carby, who is still listed as a board member, is also preparing to resign. (Update, 4:45 p.m.: FBC Staffer Richard Sharpe has confirmed the resignation of Len Carby as of September 15). McLeod, Picart, and Carby—who have led the public operations at FBC since 2017—are friends who all belong to Kanisa Fellowship, a Seventh Day Adventist church in Toronto. It isn’t clear why they would all resign around the same time without any public notification.

While FBC continues to lobby behind closed doors, its public profile is nearly non-existent. For example, the group’s “news and updates” page on its website contains only four posts in 2019, one of which announced the dismissal of McLeod’s complaint. The FBC twitter page has been inactive since May. Calls to FBC staffer Richard Sharpe were not returned by publication time. I’ll update if I’m able to contact FBC staff or board members.

Update, 4:45 p.m.: Sharpe says McLeod recently sent a message to select FBC supporters informing them he is resigning to spend more time with his family. Sharpe could not confirm this reasoning but said it “doesn’t make sense” given McLeod’s insistence only months ago that he is a necessary leader in the organization. Sharpe himself said he’s been excluded from FBC communications and board meetings since at least June, and was eager to find a way out of the organization.

Sharpe expressed frustration over what he called “distractions” relating to McLeod’s involvement at FBC. He says other board members share this frustration, and that even more resignations are imminent.

 

 

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