Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Thursday nominated the first person of color to the top court in Canada, a country in which nearly one in four people identify as a minority.
Mahmud Jamal has been an Ontario Court of Appeal judge since 2019, after having previously taught at two of Canada’s top law schools and worked for decades as a litigator — including appearing in 35 appeals before the Supreme Court.
“He’ll be a valuable asset to the Supreme Court — and that’s why, today, I’m announcing his historic nomination to our country’s highest court,” Trudeau said on Twitter.
Jamal must still be vetted by the House of Commons justice committee, but this is a formality.
He was born in 1967 into an Indian family in Nairobi and raised in Britain before moving to Canada in 1981.
Canada is a multicultural nation with almost one quarter of its population of 38 million identifying in the last census as a member of a visible minority group.
But recent attacks on Muslims, its historical treatment of indigenous peoples — labeled by a commission as “cultural genocide” — and police brutality against Black people and other ethnic minorities have highlighted the ongoing legacy of racism in Canada.
Trudeau, who last year took a knee in solidarity with US protestors marching against racism, said many white Canadians had awakened “to the fact that the discrimination that is a lived reality for far too many of our fellow citizens is something that needs to end.”
“Systemic racism is an issue right across the country, in all of our institutions,” he said.
In a job questionnaire Jamal said that his hybrid religious and cultural upbringing and his experiences in Canada — along with those of his wife — “exposed me to some of the challenges and aspirations of immigrants, religious minorities, and racialized persons.”
“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,” he wrote.
“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 color of my skin.”
His wife, he said, immigrated to Canada from Iran to escape the persecution of the Baha’i religious minority during the 1979 revolution.
“After we married, I became a Baha’i, attracted by the faith’s message of the spiritual unity of humankind, and we raised our two children in Toronto’s multi-ethnic Baha’i community,” he said.
Jamal will replace Justice Rosalie Abella, the nine-person court’s longest serving justice who is due to retire on July 1.