Reasonable Doubt: Will Black Lives Matter Pride protest make any difference?


Black Lives Matter Toronto (BLM-TO)​ stopped the Toronto Pride parade for 30 minutes July 3 to stage a protest about Pride’s inclusivity​ problems​, and issue a list of nine demands that a Pride​ director initially accepted.​ In addition to an outpouring of support, the actions of BLM members have also received intense backlash. In this week’s column, I will address the critical role protest​ and other forms of direct action​ plays ​not only in social change but also in our justice system.

​T​he law ​responds to social progress it does not lead social progress. Lawmakers generally make ​needed ​changes only after political will has ​reached a critical mass. Try to think of a single meaningful legal change on a social justice issue that was not backed by a vibrant, grassroots social movement. My guess is you can’t.

In order to have a fair legal system, ​we need both just laws and people willing to enforce them in fair ways. Some laws are not ​​discriminatory​ in principle​, but ​are in how they are enforced. For example, carding is not an inherently racist ​practice, but it can be used in racist ways​.​ ​Police​ stop some races more than others due to a host of ​​cultural​ and structural​ forces​ as well as individual beliefs.

Changing hearts and minds is an essential part of bending the arc of our legal system towards justice and fairness. The more voters believe in social justice, the more likely it is that our politicians will create just and inclusive laws. The more people who believe in social justice, the more likely it is that the many people who run our legal system (police, judges, lawyers, and the many other kinds of civil servants) will enact laws in a fair and inclusive way.

Social protest has historically played a crucial role in changing our legal system. Why? Because it works. Direct action has a way of speeding things up. Direct action forces discussion and brings injustice to light. As explained by Martin Luther King Jr.: “Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community, which has constantly refused to negotiate, is forced to confront the issue.”

​Because of a 30 minute pause, ​ BLM not only ​force​d​ Pride organizers to confront their position and previously failed discussions on inclusivity it forced a national​ conversation about race​, its intersections with sexuality and gender ​and the imperative to address inclusivity within social movements. It’s these kinds of discussions – in the media, at the office, around the dinner table, on social media – that are crucial to meaningful social and legal change.

The negative response to direct action is sometimes a key part of its success.

Direct action pulls out negative, discriminatory beliefs – like we are seeing in social media (All lives matter!) and through death threats against BLM members – where they can have a light shone on them, debated and hopefully changed.

Any critical, right-thinking person must recognize that Canada has deep-rooted problems with racism​. It is, frankly, not something that should be up for debate. How else could we possibly explain statistical evidence showing the racial disparities in wealth, income, health, foster care​​,​ incarceration​ and violent interactions with police? ​The short answer: you can’t.​ In fact, in some ways racial disparity may be worse in Canada than the United States.

You can debate the finer points of BLM’s tactics. Right-thinking people can disagree on the best way to go about social change.

But that would be​ missing the larger point​:​ ​we need groups like BLM to create these kinds of national, change-making discussions on racial disparity that will eventually lead to​​ changes in our legal system​.

Joseph Fearon is a personal injury lawyer with Preszler Law Firm LLP. Reasonable Doubt appears Mondays. Follow @JWCFearon on Twitter.

A word of caution: You should not act or rely on the information provided in this column. It is not legal advice. To ensure your interests are protected, retain or formally seek advice from a lawyer. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of Preszler Law Firm LLP or the lawyers of Preszler Law Firm LLP.



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