Black History Month: Honouring Juanita Westmoreland-Traoré

I am not a great fan of relegating a specific month to honour persons of other cultures or races. I believe it would be better to integrate broad teaching about cultures within the education system as a regular feature of the curriculum throughout elementary and high school. I also do not appreciate that blacks were given the coldest month of the year to celebrate their achievements around the world. Nonetheless, as last year, I have decided to dedicate one blog post in February to a black person in the legal realm whose achievements should be acknowledged.

This year, that person is Juanita Westmoreland-Traoré who was born in Verdun, Quebec, in 1942. After receiving her law degree from the Université de Montréal and a doctorate from the Université de Paris, she began practising law in 1970. In addition of having been one of my teachers in law school, she is also the first appointed black woman judge in the history of Quebec. She also holds the distinction in Canadian history of being the first black dean of a law school (Windsor law school 1996–99).

I could continue to list all of her degrees, awards, honours and achievements (and there are many), but that would not completely tell you what makes this black woman special to me and you.

In my opinion, her biggest achievement has been her ability, despite climbing the legal echelons to success, to maintain her initial focus, which was the promotion of human rights, social justice, the right to equality and her commitment to serve her community.

In addition, through her leadership, she has opened new horizons for women of all ethnic origins in the legal profession, and made the face of the legal community more representative of today’s society.

This year, a bursary “Bourse Juanita Westmoreland-Traoré” is being implemented in her honour at the faculty of political science and law of l’Université du Quebec à Montreal. This initiative coincides with Westmoreland-Traoré’s retirement from the Court of Quebec in 2012 and aims to highlight her trailblazing path and the outstanding contribution she made in the legal sector and in her community.

This is a grant in the amount of $3,000 to be awarded annually to a first-year law student that will use their legal training as a tool for change and in the service of the community, engaging in promoting activities related to human rights, social justice and equality rights of disadvantaged and racialized persons.

The launch of the grant is scheduled for March 25, 2013 and will be held at UQAM.

It is a fitting tribute that promotes her ideals well.

Westmoreland-Traoré continues her fight against discrimination, against exclusion and for equity and justice for all wherever she can. We hope through this bursary, others will be challenged to continue her work.

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