On June 17, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (BA’94) nominated Mahmud Jamal (BCL’93, LLB’93) to the Supreme Court of Canada. The nomination is historic, as Jamal will become the first person of colour to sit on Canada’s Supreme Court.
“I am pleased to announce the nomination of Justice Mahmud Jamal to the Supreme Court of Canada,” said the Prime Minister in a statement. “Respected around the world, Canada’s Supreme Court is known for its strength, independence, and judicial excellence. I know that Justice Jamal, with his exceptional legal and academic experience and dedication to serving others, will be a valuable asset to our country’s highest court.”
Justice Jamal will join two other McGill Law alumni on the country’s highest court: Justice Sheilah Martin (BCL’81, LLB’81) and Justice Nicholas Kasirer (BCL’85, LLB’85), former Dean of the Faculty of Law.
“It’s extraordinary that, when Justice Jamal arrives in Ottawa, three of the nine justices of the Supreme Court – named from Alberta, Quebec, and now Ontario – will be graduates of the McGill Faculty of Law,” said Robert Leckey, Dean of McGill’s Faculty of Law.
“At this stage of my life, there is no more meaningful way for me to contribute to the law and the pursuit of justice than through public service as a judge, wrote Jamal in the Questionnaire Supreme Court applicants are required to fill out. “Every judge knows what an extraordinary privilege and responsibility it is to be entrusted with the judicial role. Every case is consequential, even if not precedential, because it matters to the parties. I try to approach each case with an open mind and a willingness to listen, both to counsel and to my colleagues — it is always more important to listen than to speak.”
Wealth of experience
A graduate of McGill with a Bachelor of Civil Law and a Bachelor of Laws, following a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Toronto, Justice Jamal would receive a Master of Laws from Yale Law School, where he was a Fulbright Scholar. He went on to clerk for the Honourable Charles Gonthier of the Supreme Court of Canada, and in 1996 he was called to the bar in Ontario.
The fully bilingual Jamal had a distinguished career as a litigator with a deep commitment to pro bono work prior to his appointment to the Court of Appeal for Ontario in 2019. He appeared in 35 appeals before the Supreme Court of Canada on civil, constitutional, criminal and regulatory issues. He also taught constitutional law at McGill and administrative law at Osgoode Hall Law School.
“Justice Jamal will bring exceptional experience to his new work in Ottawa. With degrees in the common law and civil law – and having clerked at the Quebec Court of Appeal at the start of his career – he is perfectly equipped to contribute significantly to our highest court as it deals with thorny legal and social issues from across the federation,” said Leckey.
Diversifying Canada’s top court
At a time when violent acts of racism are making headlines in Canada and around the world, Jamal’s nomination is seen as an important step toward diversifying Canada’s Supreme Court.
“The Canadian Bar Association is happy that with the nomination of Justice Jamal, who was born in Kenya, the Supreme Court of Canada will be more reflective of the diverse population it serves,” said CBA president Brad Regehr in a statement. “But we believe there is more work to be done, including the appointment of an Indigenous person to the highest court in the land.”
Jamal’s personal story is an inspiring tale of cultural collision and inclusion.
“I was born in Nairobi, Kenya in 1967 to a family originally from India,” he wrote in his Questionnaire. “In 1969, my parents immigrated to the U.K., in search of a better life. Because I attended Anglican schools, I received a hybrid religious and cultural upbringing — 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.
“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,” continued Jamal.
Jamal also outlined his wife Goleta’s personal journey, coming to Canada with her family as refugees fleeing the religious persecution of Iran’s Bahá’í community during the Iranian Revolution. “Her family was also welcomed by Canada, settling in Innisfail, Alberta. I have since become a Bahá’í, attracted by the faith’s message of the spiritual unity of humankind, and we are raising our two children in Toronto’s multi-ethnic Bahá’í community,” he wrote.
“These personal experiences have unavoidably exposed me to some of the challenges, interests, and aspirations of immigrants and visible and religious minorities as they seek to integrate their families into Canada. These experiences of the diversity of Canadians have been broadened and deepened over the course of more than 20 years of professional life.”