Empowering Change: Black Law Students Enrolment in Canadian Law Schools

Author: Gideon Christian, University of Calgary

Last week’s journey to Toronto with the University of Calgary’s Black law students for the 33rd National Conference of the Black Law Students Association of Canada (BLSAC) was more than a trip; it was a profound emotional journey for both me and my students. This event was not just a conference; it was a historic gathering of some 600 Black law students (and aspiring Black law students), the largest of its kind in the annals of BLSAC, marking the biggest assembly of Black law students in the entire history of Canada. In a profession where Black individuals and people of colour remain starkly underrepresented in Canada, this milestone is a beacon of hope, a symbol of progress in the making.

[The University of Calgary delegation to the 33rd National Conference of the Black Law Students Association of Canada held in Toronto. Click photo to see image at full size.]

The representation from the University of Calgary was particularly striking to me. We had 30 Black law students in our delegation – a number that resonates deeply with me. Consider this: Five years ago, you would find scarcely 5 Black students at our law school. Now, we boast over 30, representing some 80% of the Black law student population in the province of Alberta. The dramatic increase in Black law students’ enrolment at the University of Calgary law school was so evident that the University of Calgary chapter of the Black Law Students Association was awarded the Large Chapter of the Year Award at the 33rd Conference. This significant increase in enrolment is a testament to the strides the University of Calgary has made, making this Black History Month particularly significant for me as a Black faculty member at this law school.

The stark underrepresentation of Black students in Canadian law schools has long been a critical issue, one that mirrors broader societal inequities in education, opportunity access, and professional growth. Despite Canada’s evolving demographic landscape, the persistently low numbers of Black law students underscore systemic, financial, and cultural hurdles that deter or deny Black students from pursuing legal education. Recently, BLSAC published some important statistics on the Black law students’ enrolment in Canadian law schools. Their findings serve as a stark reminder that Canadian law schools must significantly enhance their efforts to increase their Black student populations. I urge you to read the publication to understand how your law school or alma mater measures up in addressing this important issue.

The importance of nurturing a diverse legal community cannot be overstated. Diversity within law schools lays the foundation for a legal profession enriched by varied perspectives, experiences, and interpretations of justice. It’s imperative that law schools across the nation intensify their efforts to recruit Black students, recognizing and addressing the multifaceted barriers that hinder their admission and progression.

The University of Calgary law school’s Black Student Equitable Admissions Process (BSEAP) exemplifies the proactive measures needed to foster a more inclusive and equitable legal education landscape. Such initiatives are crucial steps toward dismantling the systemic barriers that have long excluded Black students from the legal profession. The University of Calgary chapter of the BLSAC deserves some commendation for their efforts in initiating the BSEAP.

The call to action extends beyond academia to encompass the entire legal profession, including law firms and our professional bodies and associations. It is a collective responsibility to support, mentor, and advocate for the inclusion and advancement of Black law students and professionals.

The recent BLSAC conference in Toronto is a vivid illustration of the ambition, potential, and resilience within the Black law student community. It’s a clarion call to all stakeholders in the legal field to commit to meaningful change, ensuring that the legal profession reflects the diversity and richness of Canadian society. Let’s embrace this moment as a turning point, working together to create a more inclusive, equitable, and diverse legal landscape for the future of legal education and the legal profession in Canada.

– Gideon Christian

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