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Hon. Juanita Westmoreland-Traorédouard

Hon. Juanita Westmoreland-Traoré

Reason for inclusion / First
: First Black Canadian to be appointed to the Québec Bench

Bio / Key facts: DOB - DOD, Place of Birth, Occupation: The daughter of Guyanese immigrants, Justice Westmoreland-Traoré was born in Verdun, Montréal on 10 March 1942. She was admitted to the bar in Québec in 1967.  She began practicing law in 1970 with the law firm Mergler Melançon and later opened her own practice in 1976.  In 1999, she became the first Black Canadian to be appointed to the Bench in Québec for the District of Montréal.

Early years/ Motivations: Westmoreland-Traoré’s childhood was marked by hardship but also by family support and love. An only child, she lost her mother as a young child. She attended six different elementary schools, moves brought about by the employment barriers her father faced but which also brought her closer to her extended family.  The importance of education was instilled in her by her grandmother and other family members. Westermoreland- Traoré also credits two teachers for her personal and professional growth: Bernard Mergler, one of the first lawyers to champion the rights of political refugees, taught her about the practice of law; and Violent Grant, her music teacher, who taught her about her African heritage and ways to reconnect with the richness of African history.

Westmoreland-Traoré received her Bachelor of Arts degree in 1963 from Marianopolis College (Québec). In 1966 she graduated with a law degree from the Université de Montréal, the only Black student in her class.  She also holds a Doctorate of State in Public Law and Administrative Legal Sciences from Université de Paris II.

Specializing in immigration and citizenship law, human rights law, family law, and non-profit organization law, Westmoreland-Traoré was legal counsel, in 1982, at the Black Women’s Congress of Canada, the Black Community Centre and the Québec Association of International Cooperation Agencies. She was also a part-time Commissioner of the Canadian Human Rights Commission in 1982 and then in 1990 became an arbitrator with the Commission.

She has held various other public sector positions always with a social justice focus. She was the first Black female law professor at the Université de Montréal (1976) and at Université du Québec á Montréal (1976-1991). In 1979, she assisted with the Report on the Black Community Expectations on the Public Education System for the Québec Superior Council of Education. From 1979 to 1983, she was a member of the Office de Protection des Consommateurs du Québec. In 1983, Westmoreland-Traoré was a commentator on the Implementation Committee’s Annual Report and in 1984 was a member of the Advisory Committee of the Ordre national du Québec. From 1985 to 1990, she became the inaugural Chair of Québec’s Conseil des communautés culturelles et de l’immigration, an organization whose establishment she play an integral role in. From 1991 to 1995, she became the first Employment Equity Commissioner of Ontario.  In 1995, she served as a United Nations adviser to the Commission of Truth and Justice in Haiti.

She also has an exceptional record of community service as a board member for the League of Human Rights, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association Council and the Executive of the Canadian Rights Foundation.

Key accomplishments/contributions: In 1996, Westmoreland-Traoré became the first Black Dean of a law school in Canada. During her 3 year tenure as Dean of the University of Windsor’s Faculty of Law she was admitted to the Ontario Bar Association (1997) and appointed to the Criminal and Penal Division and the Youth Division of the Court of Quebec (1999). This marked the first judicial appointment of a Black Canadian in Quebec’s history.  

Westmoreland-Traoré was a strong advocate for equality and diversity of the judiciary. She was a board member of the Canadian Chapter of the International Association of Women Judges from 2003 - 2009 and a co-chair of the Equality and Diversity Committee of the Canadian Association of Provincial Court Judges from 2004 - 2010.

Reflecting on her trailblazing achievements, Westmoreland-Traoré told Pride News in 2015: “I was not always conscious or focusing on the fact that I might be the first. That’s the reality of the situation. Yes, it was a position or a challenge that I was looking for and I organized myself to succeed”.

She has been widely recognized for her successes as an academic, lawyer and judge. In 1991, she was appointed Officer of the National Order of Québec in recognition of her significant contributions to the Québec society. In 2000, she received the Alan Rose Prize for Human Rights from the Québec Regional Committee of the Canadian Jewish Congress. In 2001, she received an honorary doctorate for work in human rights and for victims of discrimination from the Université du Québec á Montréal (UQAM). In 2003, she was given the Jackie Robinson’s Achievement Award by the Montréal Association of Black Business Persons and Professionals. For her commitment to ending discrimination in Canada, she was presented with the Touchstones Award from the Canadian Bar Association in 2005 and the Québec Human Rights Commission’s Rights and Liberties Prize in 2008.

Later years/ Present day: After serving 13 years on the Bench in Québec, Justice Westmoreland-Traoré retired in 2012. Even in retirement she remained actively involved in the field of law, serving as a supernumerary (part-time) judge until 2017. She also continues to speak about human rights and the impacts of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms regarding justice issues.

On 26 June 2017, Westmoreland-Traoré received an honorary Doctors of Laws degree from the Law Society of Upper Canada. This was in recognition not only of her social justice commitments while an academic, lawyer and judge but also of her personal journey into a field that at the time was almost exclusively male and white.

Other / Interesting facts: In 2013, the Université du Québec à Montréal's Département des Sciences Juridiques created the Juanita Westmoreland-Traoré scholarship. This is an annual award of $3,000 to an undergraduate law student who promotes human rights, social justice, and equality issues.