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Ontario judge says he did sever ties with Black federation on fear of suspension

An interior of a courtroom at Old City Hall court in Toronto. Nick Westoll / File / Global News

TORONTO — A judge accused of lying to a disciplinary committee said on Tuesday that he did indeed give up all involvement with a Black federation he helped found out of fear he would be suspended from the bench.

Testifying at a hearing into his alleged misconduct, Ontario court Judge Donald McLeod said he resigned from his roles on the Federation of Black Canadians in mid-2018.

At the time, the disciplinary committee was weighing in on a complaint about McLeod’s efforts as a member of the federation’s steering committee and its lobbying of the federal government. The complaint turned on whether he was compromising his position as a judge by being a part of an activist group.

Read more: Ontario hearing for judge accused of perjury over Black federation role begins

McLeod, who has won widespread accolades for his work on Black issues, said he was surprised to learn he was under threat of judicial sanction and worried what would happen if that became public.

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“It left me in an unenviable position,” McLeod said. “Now they were going to suspend me. I’m the only Black judge on the Ontario court of justice. It would cause harm to my reputation.”

McLeod had founded the federation in 2016. It describes itself as a national, non-partisan, non-profit organization to advance the social, economic, political and cultural interests of Canadians of African descent.

The activist organization lobbied government on issues they considered key, including on behalf of Somali child refugee, Abdoulkader Abdi.

Read more: Ontario moves to change judicial appointments in effort to boost access to justice

Faced with suspension pending a ruling on the complaint against him, McLeod said he felt he had no choice other than to inform the Ontario Judicial Council in 2018 that he was no longer active with the federation.

“I had to just go,” he said. “Then I was gone and all communication (with the federation) would have ceased.”

A panel of the Ontario Judicial Council is looking at whether McLeod committed perjury when he told the first panel he was no longer active with the group.

“Justice McLeod resumed a leadership role in the FBC,” according to the allegation against him.

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For example, in December 2018, evidence before the hearing was that McLeod was involved in an email chain with members of the federation. He explained they had reached out to him about proposed changes the organization wanted to make.

McLeod said he offered information that only he had as a former member of the steering committee.

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“I’m probably the only one who has the experience of the organization from the very beginning,” McLeod said. “They would need my historical knowledge in order to see if this could actually be done.”

After the initial complaint was dismissed in Dec. 20, 2018, McLeod said he resumed limited, non-lobbying activities with the federation. He said the ruling had clarified what judges could and could not do, and he acted within those limits.

“What the ruling does is it now gives us the four corners that we can work within,” he said.

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He said he did chair meetings but did not vote, except once accidentally on a routine motion, and absolutely refrained from any advocacy and had no role in any fundraising..

A newspaper broke the story of his new troubles and suspension with pay in September 2019 on a day he was achieving a prestigious award from United Nations in New York.

“This has been a very tough run,” he said.