The prime minister's appointment of another white man to the Supreme Court of Canada is a missed opportunity, and proof that people of colour have been "shut out" from the high court, a Halifax social worker says.
When Justin Trudeau nominated Newfoundlander Malcolm Rowe to the Supreme Court on Monday, it ended months of speculation that he would snub Atlantic Canada and ignore the convention of designating a seat to the region on the top court.
A jurist spot opened up on Canada's highest court when Justice Thomas Cromwell of Nova Scotia retired.
In August, Trudeau announced the application process would be open so that any qualified bilingual Canadian lawyer or judge who is "representative of the diversity of our great country" could apply.
Social worker Robert Wright — who has worked on the issue of judicial diversity for more than two decades — said he was disappointed by Monday's decision, not because of Rowe's qualifications, but because it represents a lost opportunity to diversify the high court.
"Regional diversity, we got that. White ethnic diversity on the court, we've got that. Linguistic diversity, we've got that," he said.
"But people of colour and Aboriginal peoples have been shut out of that consideration of diversity at the highest levels," Wright said on CBC's Information Morning.
'Deck is stacked against us'
"People from African-Canadian, Aboriginal backgrounds cannot help but think that the deck is stacked against us," he said of having a voice in the courts.
"There seems to be — if not a concerted effort to keep us out of those locations — certainly there has not been a co-ordinated effort to facilitate our arrival in those locations."
As a result, racism will continue to thrive in the criminal justice system, Wright said.
Regional representation outdated
Regional representation was a convention that was put in place to ensure the Supreme Court represented a diversity of Canadian experience, he said.
But that convention is outdated, Wright said, and should be broadened to prioritize race and ethnicity.
Some are celebrating Rowe's appointment, because it is the first time Newfoundland has had a representative on the Supreme Court since it joined Confederation in 1949.
But "those individuals who suggest that they are really concerned about diversity have not recalibrated their understanding of diversity to include racialized people," Wright said.
Ideally, Wright said an African-Canadian or Indigenous person from Atlantic Canada would have been the best candidate to fill the empty seat.
However, he said he would have been happy with a person of colour from elsewhere in the country.
Even if that person displaced a regional representative for just one judicial cycle — that would be worth it, Wright said.