Our Social Impact
Greetings to our community! At the heart of the African Canadian Civic Engagement Council (ACCEC) lies an unwavering commitment to championing justice, equity, and empowerment for all people of African descent in Canada. Our impactful work resonates across diverse communities of African descent, from grassroots initiatives such as quality programming to influencing pivotal government policies. ACCEC’s mission extends beyond individual cases, encompassing the collective struggles and aspirations of the entire African descent population. We traverse the intricate tapestry of Canadian society, touching the lives of our community members and engaging with various levels of government for systemic change. From shaping legislative policy changes to fostering cultural sensitivity within the all levels of systems and departments, including the immigration system, criminal justice system, and child welfare system— ACCEC is dedicated to fostering a Canada where African-descent communities are equal, thriving, and respected members of society, and where they have the resources and support, they need to fully participate in and contribute to society.
Systems Level Impact
On September 21, 2022, a significant development unfolded for the African Canadian Civic Engagement Council (ACCEC). The Office of the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, led by Honourable David Lametti, reached out to us regarding Bill C-40, the Miscarriage of Justice Review Commission Act (David and Joyce Milgaard’s Law). This bill was introduced in the House of Commons as a tribute to David Milgaard, who was wrongfully convicted and later exonerated, and his mother Joyce, a staunch advocate for the wrongfully convicted.
The Minister’s office requested ACCEC’s insights on a pivotal report by the Honourable Harry LaForme and the Honourable Juanita Westmoreland-Traoré. This report was a foundational piece in the proposed creation of the Miscarriage of Justice Commission, envisioned as an independent entity to review criminal cases for potential miscarriages of justice. This new body was set up to replace the existing system under the Criminal Code, where such reviews were managed directly by the Minister’s office.
Bill C-40 aims to reform the justice system’s approach to wrongful convictions. Its focus is on easing access for groups often marginalized in the justice process, including Indigenous peoples, Black and racialized people, women, and other marginalized communities. Key reforms proposed in the bill include the establishment of an independent Miscarriage of Justice Review Commission, an overhaul of the review process, and empowering the Commission with investigative authority and resources to support applicants. A significant aspect of the bill is its emphasis on diversity among the Commission’s members and the inclusion of a dedicated victims’ services coordinator.
In response to the Minister’s request, ACCEC studied and conducted an in-depth analysis of the proposed bill and the LaForme-Westmoreland-Traoré report. On October 28, 2022, we submitted a comprehensive written response to Minister Lametti. Our feedback highlighted the importance of the Commission’s engagement in outreach efforts with potential applicants, ensuring they have the necessary support to navigate the new system. We stressed the critical need for the Commission to give special consideration to the unique challenges faced by Indigenous and Black applicants.
Our submission was well-received, as indicated by a follow-up communication from a policy advisor in Minister Lametti’s office. They acknowledged the value of our comments and questions raised during the technical briefing on Bill C-40 and expressed a desire to further discuss our points. This interaction underlines the government’s commitment to inclusive policymaking and recognizes the ACCEC as a crucial stakeholder in shaping a more equitable justice system.
ACCEC’s detailed feedback on the recommendations for Bill C-40, the Miscarriage of Justice Review Commission Act, reflects a comprehensive approach to enhancing justice for marginalized communities. Our suggestions are designed to ensure the proposed commission effectively addresses systemic racism issues and upholds equitable representation and support for those affected by miscarriages of justice.
Expanding the Commission’s Mandate: ACCEC proposed that the commission’s mandate should not be limited to wrongful convictions but should include all forms of miscarriage of justice. This broader scope would allow the commission to address a wider range of systemic issues within the criminal justice system.
Diversity in Commission Composition (Recommendation 5): We endorse the recommendation for diversity in the commission’s composition but suggest further enhancement. Specifically, we recommend that there should be at least one Indigenous and one Black commissioner in each of the three segments of the commission:
- A third with expertise in the causes and consequences of miscarriages of justice.
- A third composed of qualified lawyers.
- A third representing groups that are overrepresented in prison and disadvantaged in seeking relief.
Additionally, we emphasize the need for gender parity and geographic equity in the commission’s structure.
Substantive Equality and Anti-discrimination Measures (Recommendation 18): ACCEC agrees with the essence of this recommendation. However, for enhancement, we suggest:
- Explicitly aligning with the Truth and Reconciliation and the UN declaration of the International Decade for People of African Descent, with a focus on justice as a key pillar.
- Specifically addressing the overrepresentation of the Black population in the criminal justice system in the commission’s reporting, including Black identification, gender, age, linguistic diversity, disability, and other relevant personal characteristics.
Jurisdiction for Systemic Reform (Recommendation 25): ACCEC concurs with the recommendation that the commission should undertake systemic reform work. We further propose that the commission should have the authority to make recommendations for changes and improvements to the federal government regarding the criminal code.
Proactive Outreach and Support (Recommendation 26): ACCEC supports the proactive approach of the commission. We believe the commission should collaborate with grassroots community agencies in communities most impacted by overrepresentation in the criminal justice system. This strategy would address the low application rates and lack of awareness about the commission’s process.
Support for Reintegration (Recommendation 50): ACCEC agrees with the recommendation for statutory and financial support for the reintegration of applicants. We propose allocating additional resources to provincial legal aid commissions/councils to assist applicants during and after their legal proceedings.
Handling of Solicitor and Client Privilege (Recommendation 27): Contrary to the recommendation, ACCEC believes the Commission should retain the discretion to require a waiver of solicitor and client privilege in appropriate cases. This is particularly important in cases involving allegations of ineffective assistance of counsel and for minority communities facing language and other intersectional barriers. ACCEC stresses the criticality of this discretion in cases of alleged ineffective counsel, where a lawyer’s poor performance may have adversely affected their client. Additionally, they underscore its significance for minority communities, particularly those contending with language challenges and various intersecting forms of marginalization.
In our feedback, we express appreciation for the government’s commitment to improving the review process for potentially wrongfully convicted individuals. We also highlight that the establishment of an independent commission is in line with ACCEC’s strategic pillar of Access to Justice for marginalized communities.
We conclude our recommendations by reaffirming our readiness to provide further feedback and looking forward to the implementation of the independent commission. Our contributions aim to ensure that the commission not only addresses individual cases of miscarriage of justice but also tackles systemic issues and promotes equitable justice for all, especially for marginalized and historically impacted communities.
This story is a testament to ACCEC’s role in advocating for justice reforms and our ongoing efforts to ensure that the voices of African Canadians and other marginalized communities are heard in the corridors of power. Our engagement in this legislative process marks a significant step in our journey towards a more just and equitable society.
Recognition of the African Canadian Civic Engagement Council’s (ACCEC) critical role and expertise in matters of justice and equity. The opportunity to provide input on such a significant piece of legislation exemplifies the impact and influence of ACCEC in shaping policies that directly affect our communities.
It is also of utmost importance for ACCEC to acknowledge the immense contributions of two key members of our legal directory, lawyer Idowu Ohioze from Andrew Law and lawyer Paul Moreau. Their legal expertise and dedicated efforts were instrumental in drafting our policy response and presenting it to the Senator. Their involvement not only highlights the caliber of professionals within our legal directory but also is a testament to the collaborative nature of our work at ACCEC.
The African Canadian Civic Engagement Council (ACCEC) has achieved a groundbreaking milestone in our mission to advance, empower, and uplift our communities. Our active role in leading Alberta’s Black Justice Strategy and our contribution to the Canada Black Justice Strategy have been transformative for Alberta!
Black communities in Canada continue to grapple with the deep-seated impact of systemic racism. This manifests in a variety of forms, ranging from implicit bias to explicit acts of anti-Black violence and discrimination. These challenges are rooted in our history of colonialism, slavery, and segregation, leading to disparities in education, healthcare, and notably, the criminal justice system Despite the resolute efforts by our communities to confront these injustices, we continue to see glaring disparities in areas such as education, healthcare, and notably, the criminal justice system.
To respond to these ongoing challenges, the federal government sanctioned the development of Canada’s Black Justice Strategy. This initiative’s second phase involved gathering insights from diverse Black communities across the nation. The strategy aimed to formally address anti-Black racism and systemic discrimination, focusing particularly on the disproportionate representation of Black Canadians in the criminal justice system, both as offenders and victims. In line with this, Justice Canada has partnered with 12 Black-led community-based organizations to lead consultations and engagement activities across Canada. For the province of Alberta, the African Canadian Civic Engagement Council (ACCEC) was entrusted with this role. Consultations took place throughout September 2023.
At the forefront of addressing systemic racism in Canada, a challenge deeply rooted in our nation’s history, ACCEC has shown leadership in the Black Justice Strategy. This vital federal initiative aiming to tackle the disproportionate representation of Black Canadians in the justice system. We united a diverse array of voices across Alberta, especially those most overrepresented in the justice system and typically excluded in consultations. This includes Black incarcerated individuals, youth, 2SLGBTQ+ members, refugees, religious and gender minorities, victims of crimes and many more.
We successfully employed a mixed-methods approach, with both in-person and virtual focus groups creating engagement barrier free, as well as an online survey, to gather invaluable insights. This holistic approach ensured full acknowledgment and respect for the diverse perspectives and experiences within the Black community.
Our commitment to Afrocentric principles sets ACCEC’s work apart. By centering these worldviews, we created a respectful and culturally relevant space. Every voice significantly contributed to building a more just and equitable society. Our primary objective is to ensure equitable access to justice for Canadians of African descent and equal protection under the law. These consultations, involving interviews and focus groups with Black stakeholders and non-Black criminal justice experts, contributed to a comprehensive report shaping the future of the Black Justice Strategy. This initiative also aligns with the United Nations’ International Decade for People of African Descent, advocating for global justice system reforms.
We extend our deepest gratitude to everyone who participated, shared their stories and lived experiences, and provided insights. You are the heart of this work, and your contributions are crucial in shaping a more just and equitable future for all. This is just the beginning of our journey. We’re committed to continuing this work alongside you, advocating for justice and equality in every aspect of our society. Stay tuned for more updates, as we maintain this incredible momentum!
Thank you for your trust in us, your support and participation. Together, we are not just making a difference – we are transforming our future. Let’s continue this remarkable journey towards a just and equitable society for all! Here’s to many more milestones and achievements. Thank you, Alberta, for being the catalyst for change!
The African Canadian Civic Engagement Council (ACCEC) is significantly shaping the criminal justice system, particularly within Western Canada’s diverse immigrant and refugee population of African descent communities impacted by mass incarceration. ACCEC leads in creation and evaluating the impact of anti-Black racism, colonization, displacement, and enslavement on sentencing and parole eligibility for people of African descent. We recognize the unique challenges and historical contexts these individuals face, which are pivotal in judicial and correctional environments. Our ongoing advocacy with the Parole Board of Canada and Correctional Service Canada focuses on incorporating these considerations into their frameworks. ACCEC has developed learning series that equip Parole officers with the necessary tools to address the cultural and historical needs of Black offenders, enhancing opportunities for rehabilitation and reintegration.
ACCEC is recognized and award-winning across Alberta for its specialized re-entry, rehabilitation, and integration programs designed for African-descent community members, particularly those incarcerated or convicted. Our rehabilitation efforts are grounded in an African Indigenous worldview, addressing ancestral knowledge and multigenerational trauma, which is critical for effective and culturally sensitive rehabilitation for public safety. ACCEC developed comprehensive learning series and training sessions for the Correctional Service Canada (CSC) and the Parole Board of Canada. These sessions focus on trauma-informed care and culturally sensitive approaches, alongside the unique social, historical, and cultural needs of African descent offenders. Our advocacy also extends towards legislative implementation of these practices. ACCEC offered 11 learning series for CSC program officers and parole officers presenting comprehensive understanding the complex sociocultural dynamics affecting offenders of African descent. Our work with the Correctional Service of Canada plays a significant role in shaping correctional policies and practices. This collaboration aims to reduce recidivism and enhance successful community and cultural reconnection for Black incarcerated persons, addressing systemic gaps. Recognizing the critical role of parole officers in the reintegration process, our training underscores the importance of their role in risk assessment, parole granting, and support for offenders during their re-entry into society. ACCEC’s approach is tailored to each individual’s unique experiences, considering factors such as displacement, intergenerational trauma, and experiences of racism. This human centered effective methodology is vital for personalized rehabilitation processes. In conclusion, ACCEC’s work embodies a holistic, culturally informed approach to criminal justice, focusing on the specific needs of the African descent population in Western Canada. Our comprehensive training, program development, and collaboration with CSC significantly enhance outcomes for individuals within the criminal justice system and promote public safety through informed and anti-racist culturally sensitive correctional practices
For the past seven years, the African Canadian Civic Engagement Council (ACCEC) has been at the forefront of pioneering specialized pre-sentencing reports in Alberta. These reports provide comprehensive insights into the backgrounds and social contexts of members of the Black community, and the specific circumstances leading to their involvement in both the criminal justice and immigration systems. ACCEC has been dedicated to contributing to the advancement of sentencing principles as they pertain to individuals of African descent for ACCEC’s pre-sentencing report assessment. By providing judges with a framework to consider the unique circumstances and experiences of Black Albertans, ACCEC relentlessly advocated for equitable justice and fair representation within the judicial system. ACCEC’s mission focuses on illuminating the lived experiences of Black individuals, highlighting the pervasive impact of anti-Black racism. Central to ACCEC’s efforts are the specialized pre-sentencing reports, known across Canada as the Impact of Race and Culture Assessment (IRCA). Far from being mere paperwork, these reports are powerful narratives that interweave personal stories, societal impacts, and a call for the acknowledgment of anti-Black racism and a rehabilitative approach to sentencing.
ACCEC’s pre-sentencing reports have become a cornerstone of the organization’s work, heavily relied upon by many Black Albertans, law firms, and the judicial system in Alberta. These reports offer a complete view of an individual’s social location, history, and background, detailing the specific factors that contributed to their involvement in the criminal justice system. By contextualizing the experiences of individuals from the Black community of African descent, ACCEC’s reports provide deep insights into historic and intergenerational trauma and a comprehensive understanding of the individual’s community and social location. This nuanced approach has enabled judges to make informed decisions for sentencing, rehabilitation, and community re-entry, taking into account the unique challenges faced by Black community members.
The driving force behind these impactful reports has been the dedication of ACCEC’s leader, the President and CEO. With extensive knowledge in social work, African Indigenous Knowledge Systems, and trauma-informed care, she has tirelessly offered her skills and time without compensation as ACCEC has not received any funding for the implementation of this program. ACCEC’s reports have been groundbreaking, influencing one of Alberta’s first case law that cited anti-Black racism and rehabilitation outcomes.
ACCEC’s CEO has demonstrated an exceptional commitment to pioneering pre-sentencing reports in Alberta, especially for individuals of African descent, while continually enhancing the overall quality of these reports over the years. Her personal journey, marked by the loss of family members to the justice system and a lineage of political prisoners, imbues her work with a deep sense of community connection and purpose. This commitment is not just theoretical; it involves the development of comprehensive training programs and supervision methods and extends to her active participation in writing and co-authoring these reports.
Our efforts at ACCEC, particularly through vigorous advocacy and lobbying, have recently achieved a significant breakthrough in Alberta. Writers of pre-sentencing reports, once unrecognized, are now rightfully compensated for their contributions. However, this recognition comes with a requirement: all writers must complete a specialized training program, provided by ACCEC or Nova Scotia. Despite this progress, we face a significant hurdle – there is a noticeable lack of support for ACCEC’s training initiative. Although we have made considerable progress in acknowledging and financially compensating the writers, garnering robust support for their training is a critical area that still requires attention and action.
Despite facing challenges such as limited resources and lack of government support, ACCEC has developed its training programs, drawing upon leadership’s knowledge, skills, and professionalism, and by collaborating with scholars. This approach has enhanced their methodologies and the overall impact of their work. Today, ACCEC’s contributions are recognized not just within the Alberta judicial system, but also nationally. ACCEC stands as the certified training authority in Alberta. However, in contrast, other Black organizations in Eastern Canada, who both pioneered and developed similar pre-sentencing reports in Toronto and Novas Scotia, have received millions in funding for developing their trainers and paying their writers. In stark contrast, ACCEC has received no such support, yet they have still managed to develop one of the most advanced training courses, harnessing the professional and personal lived experiences and expertise of their leadership. ACCEC’s contributions extend beyond pre-sentencing reports. ACCEC has been instrumental in preparing bail plans and immigration assessments of pre-removal risk assessment, all driven by a profound commitment to justice and community. ACCEC efforts aim to significantly reduce the overrepresentation of Black individuals in the criminal justice system, promoting an equitable and understanding approach to public safety.
The African Canadian Civic Engagement Council advocated and lobbied for the City of Edmonton to adopt, implement, and resource the United Nation’s Decade of People of African Descent and effectively implement the legal frameworks necessary to recognize the distinct needs and protections of human rights for this group in Edmonton. ACCEC’s efforts were successful such that the City of Edmonton has joined the United Nations and governments across the globe in recognizing that people of African descent represent a distinct group whose human rights must be promoted and protected everywhere. Through collective grassroots community activism, the city of Edmonton is committing to strengthen national, regional and international action and cooperation in relation to the full enjoyment of economic, social, cultural, civil and political rights by people of African descent and their full and equal participation in all aspects of society.