Trailblazers in Canadian Legal History: Justice Donald McLeod

During Black History Month, Irwin Law would like to highlight the Honorable Justice Donald F. McLeod. 

Justice McLeod today is regarded as a visionary and trailblazer, although he came from humble origins. After immigrating from England to Canada, he was raised by a single mother living in low-income developments in Toronto and Scarborough. At ten years old, Justice McLeod remembers dreaming of being a lawyer upon realizing the that the lawyers “were pretty powerful people.” 

Despite his significantly low grades in high school, Justice McLeod earned a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science, graduating from McMaster University in 1991. With determination, he received his law degree in 1995 from Queen’s University. He is now recognized as the first Black judge to graduate from Queen’s University since the Law School’s inception in 1957. In 1998, Justice McLeod was called to the bar, fulfilling his dream of becoming a lawyer. He was appointed to the Ontario Court of Justice on October 2nd, 2014, and he continues to serve as a judge at the courthouse.

Justice McLeod is passionate about mentoring the next generation and strives to do so through his initiative, the 100 Strong Foundation. The Foundation is a non-profit organization that Justice McLeod and his colleagues founded in 2012. The central focus of the Foundation is to empower young Black boys of today to change the narrative and redefine Black excellence. Through fostering self-love, leadership, and ambition, the 100 Strong Foundation gives the youths the opportunity to blossom into resilient men and seek out success in both their education and personal lives.

The Federation of Black Canadians (FBC) is another initiative Justice McLeod founded, this one dating back to 2017. It was started to provide an additional voice of reason during a period when so much injustice towards Black Canadians was occurring. The organization partnered with other groups across Canada to foster change in such areas as anti-Black racism, economic security, higher education, criminal justice reform, community building, and health improvement. The years of 2018 to 2021 were trying times for Justice McLeod. While holding a leadership position in FBC, allegations concerning judicial misconduct were made. He faced disciplinary actions but later was cleared of all charges by the Ontario Judicial Council, in June of 2021. 

Other notable career highlights include over fifteen years as the founding partner of McLeod Group, Barristers & Solicitors. He was also the 2014 recipient of the Honourable Lincoln Alexander ‘53 Award by the Black Law Students Association. Within the same year, he received the prestigious Presidents Award from the Harry Jerome Awards, and two years later he was awarded the Visionary Award from the Afroglobal Excellence Awards. Justice Donald McLeod has acknowledged that his journey has not come without trials and uncertainty. However, he holds true to the principles of being intentional and purposeful in all that he does. He believes in sowing seeds in the Black community today to pave a way forward for the next generation.

“I was not born a judge, I was born a Black man. My person is not defined by my station in life but rather by the colour you see when you see me — I am a Black man.” —Justice Donald McLeod.

By Symone Taylor, DDSB Grade 12 student

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