Using law to advance social justice

Amélia Souffrant has won multiple awards for her leadership and community engagement

Her Quebec Bar exams now behind her, Amélia Souffrant (BCL/JD ’23) looks forward to starting a clerkship at the Federal Court of Canada in August. It‘s one of the country’s most coveted assignments for new law grads and the latest in an impressive series of achievements.

While at McGill Law School, Souffrant won multiple awards for her leadership and community engagement, which has taken various forms, from fighting against racial profiling to launching a book club for young Black women.

Souffrant says she was drawn to study Law, “to understand what goes on behind institutions, and in the courtroom. No matter what I ended up doing in the future, having that skill set would be a really good asset.”

During her four years at McGill, Souffrant also did a minor in Sociology.

Chose McGill to develop her English

“It got me to put things into perspective, about what law is, where it came from, how we can use it in the future for social justice purposes,” she says.

The Montreal-born francophone grew up in the West Island and went to French schools until she chose McGill, mainly to develop her English.

“I knew that being able to speak both languages could open doors for me,” she says. “It wasn’t easy at first!”

But McGill’s bilingual program meant she could submit work in French and take some classes in that language while she worked her way up to fluency in English.

A favourite Law class was on critical race theory, taught by Sarah Riley Case, SJD, Assistant Professor at the McGill Faculty of Law. Students were encouraged “to see how law was used, how it has an impact on the history of communities, whether of Black people or Indigenous Peoples,” Souffrant says. The seminar class format allowed “a chance to engage with classmates, and to bring in your own perspective and to hear others’.”

Co-president of the Black Law Students’ Association

While at McGill, Souffrant, of Haitian descent, became involved with the Black Law Students’ Association (BLSA). When co-president during her third year, she chose to expand on the “See Yourself Here” initiative (one she had benefitted from) that invites Black CEGEP and undergraduate students to the Faculty and supports their application process.

“They could submit their CV, cover letter, all their docs, and law students could review them,” she says. Souffrant also identified scholarship opportunities and bursaries “for students who might be interested in legal studies but are not sure it’s for them, or that they have the means to do so.”

It was through a BLSA function that she met Mariame Touré, a law student at Université de Montréal who wanted to start a book club for young Black women. Souffrant connected with her over the shared experience of not seeing herself represented in the school curriculum.

Black Girls Gather book club won Forces AVENIR award

With Touré and others, Souffrant created Black Girls Gather. It’s based on the West Island and has 15 to 20 members. Participants read and discuss books by Black authors while at the same time building networks of support and mentorship.  The initiative earned the group a Forces AVENIR award in 2021 in the Arts and Culture category.

Reading has always been important to Souffrant. Her mother taught her five children how to read at an early age. Souffrant, the youngest of four sisters (she also has a younger brother), wanted to “read everything my sisters were reading and to be able to talk about it with them. As kids it really brought us together.”

“I could go to the library, borrow as many books as I wanted, and have access to all these different worlds, these stories, these characters.”

Souffrant’s favourite recent book is The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennet. “It’s a story of love, talks about race, talks about family. It’s representative of the book club because there are a lot of themes we discuss with the girls.”

Fighting racial profiling

Through social media, Souffrant learned about and then joined the racial profiling committee at Clinique juridique de Saint-Michel, founded by lawyer Fernando Belton to tackle racial profiling. Students were trained in providing legal support to clients who were victims of Charter rights violations. Souffrant says, “I felt like I was giving back to my community. And at the same time, I was able to learn a skill set. It’s important for every lawyer to know how to deal with issues of race, issues of racial profiling.”

Souffrant also helped Belton build material for a racial profiling course that he first taught at Université d’Ottawa. When she became BLSA McGill co-president, she advocated for him to teach it at McGill. “I never actually got the chance to take the course with Fernando, but I’m glad to see students benefit from his immense knowledge on the matter!” she says.

In 2023, Souffrant was awarded a Lieutenant-Governor of Quebec Youth Medal for her community involvement.

In addition to her classes at McGill and volunteer work, Souffrant studied law in Amsterdam for a semester, did a clerkship at the court of Quebec and participated in a moot court.

Currently working at McCarthy Tetrault, Souffrant will return to the firm to article after she completes her Federal Court clerkship. After that? She’s unsure, but drawn to litigation.

Whatever else the future holds, she says she will definitely continue her community work.

“My legal education is a really important tool not everyone has access to. I want to use it in a way that I can give back to my community,” she says. “It’s important for me to be able to give back in any way, shape or form I can.”

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