Montreal·Black Changemakers

This tireless lawyer and activist wants to transform how we see justice

Marie-Livia Beaugé says as long as she sees racial injustice, she doubts she'll ever stop fighting it.

Marie-Livia Beaugé fights racial profiling in the courtroom, and created an app to empower citizens

Marie-Livia Beaugé says that she couldn't see herself just giving up on activism after becoming a lawyer. Instead, it's empowered her to make an even greater impact on her community. (Submitted by Willy Kouagnia)

CBC Quebec is highlighting people from the province's Black communities who are giving back, inspiring others and helping to shape our future. These are the Black Changemakers.

Marie-Livia Beaugé says as long as she sees racial injustice, she doubts she'll ever stop fighting it.

She started volunteering for Hoodstock, the hub of activism and social programs based out of Montréal-Nord, five years ago.

And after becoming a lawyer in 2019, Beaugé was hired as a Hoodstock project co-ordinator to help create a restorative justice program for Black youth.

She also founded the Clinique Juridique Montreal-Nord and the smartphone app Bon Cop Bad Cop — which helps users record incidents of racial profiling, understand their rights and contact a lawyer — and is a board member of the Ligue des droits et libertés.

The 28-year-old said though she works long hours, she couldn't see herself living any differently.

"I don't get tired because I feel, you know, there's multiple ways of helping. And I couldn't see myself helping in only one way," she said.

"When there's injustice, it's really difficult for me to just stay quiet and not say anything."

Whether in her role as a lawyer or in the many other projects she's involved in, Beaugé says social justice is always at the heart of what she does.

Growing up in Côte-des-Neiges, she said at first she didn't realize she was Black, with all of her friends the children of immigrants from diverse backgrounds.

But one incident, when she was riding the Metro at age 17, stands out. Beaugé said it was the first time she was racially profiled.

A transit officer approached Beaugé, telling her she needed to change seats. Beaugé said the officer told her that she had been warned before, but in reality that warning must have been given to someone else.

As the situation escalated, Beaugé was handcuffed. She made an official complaint, and while her case was eventually dismissed, Beaugé believes they would have attempted to charge her with resisting an officer of the peace had she not been a minor.

"I already knew I wanted to be a lawyer at that point, but this really made me say I wanted to be a criminal lawyer," said Beaugé.

'We talk, we share how we feel, but nothing changes'

She focused her activism on panels and conferences — and founding a chapter of the Black Law Students' Association of Canada at the Université du Québec à Montréal — until the mid 2010s, when she was struck by the killing of young Black men by police on both sides of the border.

"We talk, we share how we feel, but nothing changes," she said.

Action was needed. That's when she started volunteering for Hoodstock, a group she views as "first responders" to crises not just of police brutality but also the COVID-19 pandemic.

One of Hoodstock's projects, which she co-ordinates, involves door-to-door visits to provide protective equipment and provide information on how to prevent the spread of the virus in Montréal-Nord, a neighbourhood hit hard by the pandemic.

Whether or not she's working as a lawyer, Beaugé said she's "always fighting for something."

She credits her drive to enact change in part to growing up around people who wanted to improve their community.

Seeing the wave of support for racial justice following the police killing of George Floyd has energized her as well, and has made her more hopeful that real, systemic change is possible.

She's more optimistic than ever racial injustice here could end within her lifetime.

In the past year, when in court she has no longer had to prove that racial profiling exists before going on to examine whether it is present in a specific case.

And while she's sickened by the case of Mamadi III Fara Camara, she says it's heartening to now see broad support behind his case and others that did not result in a the loss of life.

"At least he's not dead, and we can still do something about it," she said.

The Black Changemakers is a special series recognizing individuals who, regardless of background or industry, are driven to create a positive impact in their community. From tackling problems to showing small gestures of kindness on a daily basis, these changemakers are making a difference and inspiring others. Read more stories here.

Written by Colin Harris, with files from Rowan Kennedy