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Ontario judge made mistakes but can keep his job, judicial council decides

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

TORONTO — A judge accused of lying about his activities with a Black activist group made mistakes but should face no sanction, the Ontario Judicial Council has concluded.

In its decision, a council disciplinary panel found Ontario court Judge Donald McLeod had neither perjured himself nor provided misleading statements at an earlier disciplinary hearing. Aspects of his conduct were “incompatible with judicial office” but were not serious enough to warrant punishment, it said.

“Justice McLeod should seek advice before engaging in community activities that are not clearly recognized as permissible,” the panel said.

The perjury accusation arose in March 2019 out of an earlier complaint that McLeod’s lobbying efforts on behalf of a group he co-founded, the Federation of Black Canadians, had compromised his position on the bench.

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

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The council dismissed the initial complaint despite finding he had crossed the line into advocacy in part because he said he had cut all ties with the federation.

However, allegations then arose McLeod had resumed a role with the federation and had lied during the earlier hearing about having given up all involvement with the group. Ultimately, the panel found McLeod was neither wilfully blind nor reckless in his testimony.

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

While members of the public might have assumed McLeod was involved in authoring a letter the federation sent then-immigration minister Ahmed Hussen about Abdi in February 2018, his role was administrative, the panel found.

“We are not satisfied that Justice McLeod initiated the February 2018 steering committee letter to Minister Hussen or, in effect, cheer-leaded it,” the panel said.

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

The panel did say it could not endorse his actions in continuing to carry out “administrative tasks” related to the letter, even if he did stay away from contributing to its content.

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

“He was not participating as a member or participating in the decision-making,” the panel concluded. “He simply provided input and advice.”

The panel did find McLeod went too far when he gave a public speech at a summit that included requests to the federal government in February 2019.

“The context in which the speech was made brings it close to the line of impermissible advocacy or lobbying,” it said.

McLeod has won widespread accolades for his work on Black issues, something the panel acknowledged.

“We endorse and adopt the first panel’s statements about the important role Justice McLeod can play as a racialized judge in the justice system, in the Black community and in Canadian society at large,” it said.

At the same time, it warned him to be more careful in future about his community activities.

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