By Jim Hynes
A recent McGill Law graduate and a current Masters student in the Faculty of Law have been named Black History Month Laureates by the Quebec organizers of the annual event.
Tamara Thermitus, who is pursuing an LLM, and Anthony Morgan, who graduated last December, have been honoured along with 10 other laureates for their contributions to the life and culture of Quebec’s Black community. Each is profiled in a calendar produced by The Roundtable on Black History Month.
Thermitus, profiled in the month of March and chosen in the Professional category, is a civil litigation lawyer with the federal Department of Justice. Last spring, the 46-year-old native of Haiti, who grew up in Sept-Îles, Que., became the first black woman and the first female lawyer in the ministry to be awarded the Quebec Bar’s Prix Mérite for her distinguished career and involvement in the legal community. Thermitus, Chief of Staff to the Deputy Minister of the Office of Indian Residential Schools Resolution Canada in 2003, and Director of Policy and Strategic Planning in the same office from 2004 to 2006, was among the first to raise Bar members’ awareness of issues related to racial discrimination within the profession and in the legal system.
“These prizes give you the opportunity to make yourself heard on the issues you believe in, so on a personal level I’m happy that my work is being recognized,” Thermitus said. “But there’s also the idea that when you receive a prize, you become a model for people. But the idea of being a model can also be problematic. Because if you are in a situation where there is a problem with how diversity is managed, like the fact there is still discrimination in society, it can be seen as justifying the system.
“The idea that in the States some people say that because Barack Obama is the President it means we are in a post-racial society isn’t exactly true,” Thermitus said. “Yes we’ve achieved some things for sure, but there are still a lot of blacks, racialized minorities, and Aboriginals who are still suffering. So you have to use the little bit of power that you’ve been given to make sure that when you speak it’s not about yourself, but about issues and about the work that still needs to be done. And a lot still needs to be done.”
Morgan, 25, smiles down from the calendar’s month of June, where he is profiled under the Up & Coming category. A Toronto native of Jamaican origin who hopes to pursue a career in legal advocacy on behalf of socially disadvantaged and marginalized people, Morgan is getting ready to head to Ottawa to article at the Occupational Health and Safety Tribunal.
“I’m honoured and humbled that other individuals have recognized my contributions to the community, whether that be in Toronto or here in Montreal,” Morgan said. “Black History Month to me is important given the lack of representation of blacks in our curriculum and even our public consciousness in Canada.
“That said, I would love for us as a multicultural society to get to a point where Black History Month becomes irrelevant. Because right now, one of the main reasons why the celebration continues, and why it keeps getting so much support, is that for 11 months there is very little mention of blacks in the public sphere. And if there is it’s always negative, or related to criminality, or sports. But then you have this opportunity to say ‘there’s more complexity there, there are more layers, there are different kinds of contributions.’ So I’m happy to take that opportunity today.”