Inside Osgoode Hall Law School - L. Anders Sandberg


It is a lovely sunny but not too warm day in August and I am doing a campus tour with Kim Anderson and her research team from the University of Guelph. Kim is a Métis Professor and Canada Research Chair in Storying Indigenous Relational Futures. One of her current projects is on decolonizing the place narrative of Guelph which will result in a co-produced museum exhibition with Guelph Civic Museums.  Accompanying Kim are Dawn Owen who has held several leadership roles in Ontario’s public museum and art gallery sector; Janna Martin, a community-based researcher and PhD student; Professor Amina Lalor at the School of Architecture at Laurentian University; Professor of Political Science Andrea Paras who, with her students, is aspiring to create an Alternative Campus Tour at the University of Guelph; and Megan MacDonald who is finishing up a BA in Environmental Governance.

It is a little intimidating to have such a powerful group visiting, and I stumble over a few of my words as we begin the tour. But the group members are generous and patient and things soon settle down into a productive conversation. And Vera, my wife, is also there to lend support. As is always the case, we cover a lot on the 4-hour tour but here I will only recount our visit to the Osgoode Hall Law School.

Law Schools are intimidating places. They ooze history, wealth, power, and authority. We gather outside the Law School. I quickly recount one of my previous stories about Osgoode Hall Law School that covers its name, Osgoode, and some of the character traits of Mr. Osgoode himself. I tell the group that Mr. Osgoode was the first Chief Justice of Upper Canada. In his short time in the colony, Osgoode was a “dutiful servant of the state”, which at the time meant the colonial state, who advocated for and promoted an authoritarian and partial judiciary. In the process, he paid little attention to Indigenous property regimes, became a major land holder, supported the buying and selling of slaves in the colony (though taking an anti-slavery stance with regards to the international slave trade) and fabricated an aristocratic image of himself that concealed a more modest background.

Inside Gowlings Hall

Our purpose behind visiting the inside of the Law School is to explore the presences and absences of Indigenous and Black peoples, two historically marginalized groups, who the Law School has made and is making serious efforts to attract as students, faculty and staff. And there are now several non-Indigenous, Black, and Indigenous faculty and staff members and students in the School who are keenly aware and/or write informatively about Indigenous and Black people in the context of legal history. Some of them are deeply cognizant of and have written extensively about colonial and Canadian law, including Aboriginal law, as a discriminatory and structurally constraining system that is still very much alive today. They are also critically aware of the existence of Indigenous law, the set of laws many Indigenous people still adhere to, seek to revive and implement and that one of Osgoode’s former faculty members, John Borrows, has implemented as a degree program at the Law School at the University of Victoria.

But how is the presence of Indigenous and Black perspectives on and participation in the law expressed inside the Law School, in its symbols and iconographies that sit on the walls of its halls? How are some of the Indigenous and Black peoples’ presences expressed for casual visitors (like us) and for those who move through the Law School in the every-day? This write-up begins to answer these questions. It is an elaboration of our tour, a souvenir to the visitors from Guelph, and a challenge to who else might care to read it.

We enter the building and note the photographs of the present and former Deans in the entrance, most of them but not all white and male. We then step into the entrance hall of the school, Gowlings Hall, named after a big international law firm. This is the firm that activists pushed to apologize for posting a computer screensaver in its Canadian office where one of its employees boasted about her daughter having a Black male friend, Daniel, who she described as “very nice and extremely polite” (Krishnan, 2021). Gowling is not alone as a sponsor of the Law School. Most of the classrooms are named and labeled after prominent law firms in the province and beyond. We note but don’t belabour this point but it is a reminder of one very dominant set of actors in the space.

Osgoode Hall Law School Coat of Arms

We then stop at the School’s Coat of Arms that is prominently displayed at the centre of the Hall. Coats of Arms are symbols of privilege and have a long history. They were first conceived as representations of wealthy families but have since become formal representations of other institutions, such as businesses, and public and educational establishments. Trained professionals construct them following specific conventions and procedures. The Osgoode Coat of Arms was carved from wood by Donald Black of North York who has produced some 40 coats of arms since Canada’s centennial in 1967, among them coats of arms for the provinces, Ireland, Scotland and each of the faculties of the University of Toronto. The Osgoode Hall Law School’s Coat of Arms was sponsored by Atul Tiwari, one of Osgoode’s alumni, and his wife Roisin, both involved in the wine industry.

The Osgoode Hall Coat of Arms recalls and honours specific histories and traditions while forgetting others. The open or barred helmet is a sign of the nobility that rebelled against King John of England in the thirteenth century. The nobles then insisted that they be treated fairly under the rule of law rather than be subjected to the arbitrary powers of the King. This principle was expressed in the Magna Carta of 1215 and is illustrated in the Coat of Arms by the Doric pillar and the white ribbon with the text Magna Charta Angliae wrapped around it. The beaver on top of the pillar represents Canada.

The Magna Carta in the Coat of Arms is not an innocent feature. It constitutes an expression of class privilege by providing the protection of “individual rights and the foundation of good government” for the nobility but remaining elusive to the population at large.  Jill Lepore (2015) claims the Magna Carta’s provisions of “due process” have been highly selectively and poorly enforced throughout history. But perhaps more importantly, the equality of men, never mind women and people of colour, in particular the legacies and continuing expressions of Anti-Black and Anti-Indigenous racism, remain a pipedream now and in the foreseeable future. Yet, here, in its banality and hyper-visibility, the Magna Carta in the Coat of Arms asserts those very values.

The Coat of Arms, again, honours William Osgoode by reference to his alma mater law school, Lincoln’s Inn in London, England. It is depicted in the upper righthand corner of the shield itself. The description that accompanies it explains that Lincoln’s Inn is represented by “grist-mills which are used in grinding grain.” But this is not strictly correct, the symbols are in fact mill rinds, “the iron fixings for the millstones in a corn mill.” They represent industry, the iron industry presumably, that made milling that much more efficient by producing mill rinds. The mill rinds come from the arms of Richard Kingsmill, a bencher of the Inn who played a leading part in acquiring some of the land the Inn was built on during the sixteenth century (The Honourable Society of Lincoln’s Inn, n.d.). The purple lion represents power and was derived from the coat of arms of the Earls of Lincoln. Noblemen like Kingsmill and the Lincolns did not hesitate to use their “arbitrary powers” to manipulate the law to boost their profits. In 1590, one Richard Beckinsawe petitioned the Privy Council on behalf of 500 persons living on Kingsmill’s Hampshire manors alleging ‘breach of sundry customs, innovations of titles, encroachment of pasture’ and ‘alterations of tenures’ (The History of Parliament, n.d.)

The Coat of Arms also honours John White, the colony’s first Attorney General, by providing the symbol of his alma mater Law School in the lower righthand section of the shield. Inner Temple is represented by the Pegasus, an all-pervasive symbol of the school that is associated with poetry. The Inner Temple Library indicates that in the 16th and 17th centuries, the law schools in London were one of the most vibrant literary communities in England, influencing all aspects of life: “During that period, the practice of young men at the Inns writing and sharing poetry helped to create and solidify a particular sort of professional community, assisting writers in becoming part of London’s social world while marking them out as dutiful servants of the state”(Inner Temple Library, 2017). In later years, however, the Library asserts, the association with poetry is “perhaps not quite as strong.” John White owed his Attorney General’s position to Osgoode but had a less successful career. He was soon frustrated in executing his legal duties, quarreled incessantly over his pay, failed in his own legal private practice, and lived and died heavily in debt. He is mostly remembered for leaving his wife, keeping a mistress with whom he had two daughters, and having an illicit affair with the wife of the clerk of the Executive Council which landed him in a duel, where he was shot, and died a few days later (Firth, 2003).

On top of the Coat of Arms is an image of the portico of the east wing of Osgoode Hall in downtown Toronto. It is foregrounded by a lighted lamp which symbolizes the enlightenment of learning. At the bottom of the shield is a white band with the law school’s motto: Per Jus Ad Justitiam (Through Law to Justice).

The Law School takes its Coat of Arms seriously. In 2011, an unveiling took place with the artist, Donald Black present (Osgoode Hall Law School, 2011). The event is memorialized in a video posted at the School’s website. And since then, the Coat of Arms has received further attention by the addition of a couple of symbols, two owls dressed as lawyers that flank the original Coat of Arms and white roses surrounding it. The owls represent wisdom and is also the name of Osgoode’s sports teams and the roses are the emblem of the Duke of York, connecting the law school to York (University), a name with its own deep and problematic colonial legacy. There is a framed print of the Coat of Arms in the Osgoode Library.

I don’t tell the group all this information. It would have been too much, in fact the group has noticed something else that they seem more interested in and that stands out in the entrance hall, two spectacular pieces of Indigenous wood carvings. I let the group know they are called the Black Hawk and the Red Eagle and that they were carved by Gitxsan artist Ya-Ya Heit. The group members would like to know more but I resist their request. I have learnt this from Thomas King (2003, 7) who once wrote that one of “the great tricks of storytelling” is to never tell everything at once, but to make your audience wait and to keep everyone in suspense.

We then enter the library and stop by a painting by Osgoode friend and supporter R. Roy McMurtry. The painting depicts Osgoode Hall downtown, where the School was housed before it moved to York in 1969. It was commissioned by Dean Jim McPherson and donated to Osgoode in 1993. We learn from the plaque beside the painting that McMurtry was a sketching partner of Group of Seven member A.J. Casson, and that he “primarily paints vibrant landscapes that one Globe and Mail reporter aptly described as ‘jubilantly colouful’.” McMurtry is one of the School and York’s heavyweights, with a distinguished political and legal career, an elite athletic background, Attorney-General of Ontario, Chancellor of York University from 2008 to 2014, and, as indicated here, an accomplished artist. McMurtry is also honoured outside the Law School by the Roy McMurtry Green, a green space, though it was recently halved by the construction of a second Student Union Building.

Osgoode Hall downtown Toronto. Painting by Roy McMurtry


From the McMurtry painting we proceed to a bronze bust of George Carter, a 1948 graduate of the School who became Canada’s first native born Black judge, a provincial court judge, appointed by McMurtry when he was Attorney General in 1979. The bust carries a plaque which lists Carter’s major contributions to his profession and to the Black community. His daughter Linda documented his life in a 2010 film called The Making of a Judge. At a ceremony honouring Judge Carter in 2014, a short sequence of the film was played and in it he recalls his first encounter with his fellow students and noted that “there wasn’t one brother in there.” He also recounts:

I had to start my humble beginnings so I started to do work for others … a lot of these lawyers were making money in the real estate. They didn’t want to go to court so they gave me the court work you see and that way I became very skilled at the rules of practice in the laws of evidence. I found that if you could do the work they didn’t care what colour you were.

Carter is generous in his assessment. Yes, he was paid for what he did and rightfully so, but it was in an ancillary role where he performed work which white lawyers chided. Both Carter and McMurtry, then Chancellor at York, were present at the unveiling of the bust. McMurtry, according to Linda Carter, helped bring “the commemorative sculpture to fruition.” We look closely at the bust, and one of the group members notes that the bust is discoloured in places and wonder why. I wonder too now that I have compared photos of the bust when first unveiled with its present state. Perhaps it is the way bronze ages rather than something more sinister.

Judge George Carter

McMurtry’s and other artwork in the library and elsewhere in the building are attributed to the names of the artists who created them on a note or plaque. But there are exceptions. Across from the McMurtry painting there are a three Indigenous art pieces without any attribution at all. There is no indication of where they come from or who sculpted them. Two of them are partially obscured by a plant and one of our group members resolutely pulls the plant away from the sculptures to make them more visible.

Indigenous art without attribution

As we exit the library, there is a little alcove to the right which contains a few chairs but it is otherwise empty. It is a display space that is part of the Osgoode History & Archives Project. In 2018, Osgoode Hall honoured its most famous Indigenous graduate, Harry Laforme, in the space with a display of documents and writings from his career. Laforme is a member of the Mississaugas of the Credit Nation, the current treaty holders of the Toronto region. Laforme made a career promoting Aboriginal law as a legal expert, lawyer, judge and teacher. In 1989, he led the Indian Commission of Ontario and in 1991 he served as Chair of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal land claims. In 2004, he was appointed a judge of the Ontario Court of Appeal, the first Indigenous person to serve in that position in Canada. In 2017, he was awarded an honorary doctorate by Osgoode Hall Law School. All this information was contained in the display that is now gone. Meanwhile, alumni Joseph D. Sorbara, a prominent Liberal politician, developer, and once Chancellor of York University (like McMurtry), is permanently recognized with a plaque at the space because it was his “generous gift” that “made it possible.” This is of course not strictly true. The space was there from the beginning, Sorbara merely donated money or bought the space to have his name displayed.

I ask the tour group to think about this space and contemplate whether there are any other signs of Laforme in the Law School. The group, however, wants to know more about Ya-Ya Heit but I resist again, pulling another “Thomas King” on them.

We now turn to the hundreds of photo composites of Osgoode’s many graduates that are mounted throughout the walls of the building. They include all the graduates of the School from its downtown location that have travelled to the present location at York. Some of the group members feel a little uncomfortable in their presence, most of them showing pale males in their dark lawyers’ robes and white bibs. But I want to show one composite in particular, the class of 1938, whose cohort had the only Indigenous graduate of the School between the years of 1865 to 1965. And there he is, a young man, even boyish looking, Norman Lickers, a Haudenosaunee Seneca from Six Nations in Brantford. The absence of Indigenous graduates is likely due to the provisions in the Indian Act that compelled status Indians to enfranchise (that is give up their Indian status) if entering a professional field. The height of his formal legal career was his appointment as committee counsel and liaison officer for Special Joint Committee on the Indian Act in 1946, a job he executed with skill, sensitivity, and insight.

Norm Lickers

But twelve years after his graduation Lickers was disbarred by the Law Society of Upper Canada. We don’t know what occasioned his disbarment, but it is believed he may have made a mistake issuing a mortgage. It was not uncommon for the few BIPOC lawyers to be disbarred at the time. Some scholars believe racism played a role in these actions. They recognize the more difficult environments such lawyers faced, making it hard to find clients while at same time being held to a higher standard than other lawyers. After his disbarment, he first worked as a farmhand for a relative but later served as a band councillor and spokesperson for his community. Amongst other actions, he formulated articulate rebuttals to the Liberal Government’s White Paper in 1971 that proposed to abolish the Indian Act.  Jacqueline Briggs (2010) has written a paper about Lickers where she questions the dismissal calling attention to the harsh rules he was judged by:

We must remember that like most social activities, professionalism is a two-way street; we owe it to Lickers’ legacy to reflect not only on the professional responsibilities of individual members to the Law Society, but also on the responsibilities of the Society to the members whose lives will change utterly based on its decisions (Briggs, 2010).

Briggs’ statement reveals perhaps the most well-known contrast between Canadian versus Indigenous law, the difference between a punitive versus a restorative justice system. The consequences of his disbarment were heavy for Lickers. It brought him undeserved shame. He never told his grandchildren about his legal background. It is heartening, therefore, that one them, Kathleen Lickers, has become a renowned Indigenous Counselor and Builder of Bridges, who received the 2018 Law Society Medal Toronto. At the time of her award, she had practised law for 25 years but felt she had not yet “experienced her ‘biggest achievement’.” At the time of the award, Kathleen stated that she “believes that First Nations are not only witnesses to their oral traditions but are the knowledge keepers of this profound legal order.” She also thought “that this province’s legal profession has much to learn from the Indigenous community and specifically, from our legal traditions” (Law Society Gazette, 2018). Perhaps her “biggest achievement” will be related to this statement, a growing recognition for Indigenous law and restitution for her grandfather.

We walk upstairs, take a left, and walk to the end of the corridor, and there, among the class of 1977, we find a younger version of Harry Laforme, in long hair and for the time fashionable eye glasses. Perhaps he appears somewhere else in the Law School, but, if so, I haven’t been able to find him.

Judge Harry S. Laforme

Over time, Laforme has grown suspicious of Aboriginal law. On a panel at Massey College, he stated that the Canadian legal system, specifically section 91(24) of the Constitution Act, 1867, is insufficient in redressing the wrongs inflicted on Indigenous peoples. This is the section that provides the Parliament of Canada with exclusive Legislative Authority in relation to the classes of subjects “Indians, and Lands reserved for the Indians.” It is, Laforme claimed, an obstacle or obstruction to any progress of Indigenous peoples. According to the courts, he stated, the Government of Canada gets to decide how Indigenous peoples live from cradle to grave and what rights they have. The Constitution also gives jurisdiction to the Indian Act which stipulates, amongst other provisions, that the Minister of Indian Affairs can override an Indigenous person’s will and take administration of their estate because they are Indians.  There is clear need to move beyond Aboriginal law though Laforme felt that he is “too old to take on that project…” (Massey Dialogoues, 2020).

We are now getting a little closer to Ya-Ya Heit. But before I speak further about him, we visit another remote space on the second floor. In one of the backrooms, the Faceless Doll project is displayed on a permanent basis. It is a memorial to missing and murdered Indigenous women developed by Osgoode students and the Native Women’s Association of Canada.

Faceless Dolls Project


I had intended this to be part of a positive step in the Law School’s acknowledgement of the harms done to Indigenous women and the failure of the legal system to protect them. It is especially important to the Indigenous women in the group and I knew that Kim had put together a book on the subject. And, yes, the group members appreciate the gesture but also feel the display needs an update (being from 2013), notice water damage on the wall as a sign of disrespect, and feel that the signs on the walls urging visitors not to rearrange the furniture (which is obviously meant to be rearrangeable) as disruptive of the solemn message of the memorial.

Faceless Dolls Project display. Note water damage and disruptive signs urging visitors not to rearrange rearrangeable furniture


We now, finally, turn to Ya-Ya Heit. Here, on the second floor, we can see his two stunning cedar wood carvings in more detail. At Osgoode’s website, the carvings are said to “represent the connection between Osgoode, its physical location on First Nations land and the power of reconciliation and healing.” I at first thought it strange that a West Coast Indigenous artist is featured on lands occupied traditionally by the Anishinaabe, Haudenosaunee and Huron-Wendat. But the answer lies in the close friendship between Ya’Ya and Laforme. At the time of the announcement of the commission, LaForme praised Heit as “one of my favourite people in the world … one of the most special artists the Aboriginal community has produced.” He also displayed a walking stick carved by Heit for him. Laforme describes it not just as a talking stick or a piece of art but as “my life. Everything that’s been put into this has something to do with me or my community”( AMMSA 2013).  Perhaps their relationship is both a point of promise and regret, promise because of the international relationships among Indigenous peoples and their collective identity and struggle but regret because of the absence of any signs of local Indigenous groups. Heit himself once spoke to this point indirectly when he referenced his all-time favourite carving, At the Playground, located at the Kispiox School, in his home village, a “9’x9’ carved and painted panel made with love and red cedar and more love” (Linkedin, n.d.).

Ya-Ya Heit's wood carvings in Gowlings Hall


Just like in the case of the “Indigenous art” in the library, we are looking in vain for any attribution to Heit’s carvings. We ask whether this is an inadvertent oversight or part of a larger pattern of, once again, neglecting to acknowledge the significance of Indigenous art. For Heit, it feels like a lost opportunity given that “politics and justice are a major influence on his work”.

Heit was born into the house of Geel, the leading Fireweed clan house in Kispiox. His Gitxsan name is Axgagoodiit. It was the action of the Gitxsan Nation which resulted in the landmark Delgamuukw v. British Columbia Supreme Court decision in 1997 affirming that Aboriginal land title exists in law and that oral evidence is permissible in Canadian courts of law. The Delgamuukw Case is named after Ya-Ya’s uncle Earl Muldon who worked hard to validate oral accounts as evidence in the courts (Vancouver Community College, 2021). Heit was in fact part of a group of people who did background research for the court case that led to the decision.

Heit was likely all too aware that Delgamuukw has its limitations given the courts’ refusal to recognize Gitxsan and Wet’suwet’en title in the fight again the Coastal Gaslink pipeline. Geoff Plant, former BC attorney general and treaty minister during the Delgamuukw trial, points out that title may exist in law but also needs to be proven in practice. He also asserts the absolute dominance of Canadian law when stating: “There is almost no case where Aboriginal title confers an absolute right … Canadian law is always about balance. There are always cases where the greater good will prevail over a private right, no matter how important or passionately held” (Bennett, 2020; see also Borrows, 1999). One wonders about the words “balance” and “greater good” in this statement when Canadian/Aboriginal law always trumps Indigenous law.

Heit has addressed Aboriginal law provisions with his art in the past. One of them is a square pole that features wigged judges together with a heron and eagle, Indigenous symbols of justice, a beaver as a symbol of Canada, and a child as symbolic of future generations at the Federal Court building at 180 Queen Street West in Toronto (AMMSA, 2013). The statue is called Aspirations of Canadian Justice and in it Heit declares that: “While growing up I was told that Canada might just have the best legal system in the world. So I will always expect, truth, honour and honesty to prevail.” When I first read this statement, I took it as an endorsement of the Canadian legal system, but I now look at it differently. I sense a trickster in this work. Perhaps it is a reflection of a careful negotiation between Heit answering the terms of agreement of his client (the Federal Court), paying respect to Canadian law (the best legal system in the world) while at the same time sneaking in a few doubts and qualifications. “Aspirations”, after all, do not mean achievements; “Canada might just have” does not mean Canada has; and “will always expect” does not mean the expectations will be met.

Heit’s art also touches upon pain and healing in his community. In the 1990s, he carved Me & My 2 Dead Brotherz, which commemorates two of his clan brothers who died in the HIV-AIDS epidemic that appeared in the Kispiox Valley at the time. Interestingly, Heit has lent his art for use in the Learning Ensemble, an offspring of the Madness Canada website, a set of web-based critical teaching resources on mental health issues which is in part supported by York University (madness folie, 2019). In Heit’s Unit, his art is employed to recognize colonialism and the Indian Act’s impact on the mental health of Indigenous peoples.

In different contexts, Heit is more explicit about his critique of Canadian Aboriginal law. He names one of his monumental poles as Who the Hell would want these chains? It depicts three of his Ancestors who were, he states, free, above an image of himself, and then below him a set of chains that represents the Indian Act, responsible for the alcoholism, the health and the economic struggles in his community (madness folie, 2019). I imagine it could be a very appropriate addition to the art work of any Law Faculty or legal institution. I am not quite sure where it is now, but in 2014 Heit had hoped that it would one day be displayed in the Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg (Harvey, 2014).

In a video statement in conjunction with an award, Ya-Ya shows some of his other trickster qualities (BC Achievement Foundation, 2015). In it he claims he is not selling much of his work, but saving it up for a one-man art show, thereby missing a lot of paydays, but it matters little because he is a really good fisherman and hunter. One strategy he uses not to sell his stuff is by not quite ever finishing them. Still, he says, “I can make anything, any size, from anything and I just love that.” One unique thing he does is to cast some of his silver jewellery to make it available for more people. In fact, he muses, he also casts it in plastic and chocolate in order for children to wear it and enjoy in other ways.

Ya-Ya Heit passed away in August 2021. He leaves an impressive legacy, a legacy that is not confined to the arts alone, but also the law and its surrounding politics.

Before we exit the second floor we quickly note yet another reference to Mr. Osgoode, the presence of a display of the William Osgoode Society, the fund-raising arm of the School, which pays tribute to the multiple donors to the school. They are categorized in groups according to the amount they give, and their names are listed on a series of glass displays. Many of them are foundations. Linda McQuaig writes that they typically disburse their “funds towards charitable endeavours that create personal legacies for themselves – their alma maters, hospitals, opera houses and art galleries, where their donations are prominently proclaimed and celebrated.” Meanwhile, only a pitiful amount is given to organizations supporting Indigenous people (.2 per cent in 2020) and racialized communities (.1 per cent in 2020) (Ibid.).

Donor recognition at Osgoode Hall Law School


We end up at the entrance to the building again, and we now confront the display that I quickly passed by when first entering the building. I had meant this to be an end with a positive message, though not without complications and qualifiers. In front of us is a display, entitled Growing Strong: A Celebration of Black Excellence (n.d.), of all the Black students who have graduated from Osgoode from 1900 to 2015. It was created by the Osgoode Black Law Students Association in 2016. It is a celebration of a group of marginalized students who against all odds made it and graduated as lawyers. But the display at this particular location didn’t come easy. The photo was first displayed in Osgoode’s External Relations & Communications Office, which oversees alumni relations. The Black Law Students Association described this area as “a low traffic area leading to washrooms and elevators” (BLSA, 2018, 18).

A Celebration of Black Excellence


The placement of the display in the more prominent location only happened in the wake of Anti-Black tensions resulting from two posters depicting Canada’s first legal professionals and other accomplished Black Canadians were defaced in Gowlings Hall on January 31, 2018, during Black History Month. The defacement occasioned a 19-page report from the Black Law Students’ Association documenting a litany of other Anti-Black racist incidents and making recommendations on how to address them. Among the recommendations, the students asked for Canada’s first Black, Indigenous, women, and various immigrant community legal pioneers to be permanently framed and prominently placed in Gowlings Hall. None of these initiatives have been fulfilled though the information is provided on the Faculty’s website.

But the more prominent position of the display does not mean that it has always been seen. When I came there with a group on December 16, 2021, a scissor fork lift covered the display. I did not reflect much on it at the time, thinking that it was a temporary thing. But when I returned on September 26, 2022, the forklift was still there! This time, one of the group members called the Law School about it and I haven’t seen it obstructed since.

Scissor fork lift blocking A Celebration of Black Excellence display


Yet again, my group members are not fully satisfied, they comment on the difference in quality between the display and its neighbouring sign, a plaque dedicated to the Jay and Barbara Hennick Centre for Business and Law. They also wonder what the connection is between the two displays.

A Celebration of Black Excellence display beside the the Jay and Barbara Hennick Centre for Business and Law


There are many legal scholars and much legal scholarship that are critical of the treatment and participation of Indigenous and Black people in the law, and about Aboriginal law, and that advocate for the recognition of Indigenous legal systems. Faculty members and students at the Osgoode Hall Law School are very much part of these developments. However, when it comes to the symbols, signs, and messages in the most visible parts of its building, the spaces that members of the Faculty and visitors walk in the everyday, there is little that tell us about the diversity of legal regimes, including Indigenous ones, and the possibilities they hold for a different world. Perhaps it will come. In the meantime, perhaps our tour can fill some of that void and contribute to some of the thinking and action in that direction.



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