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U of T Law Introduces Course on Critical Race Theory

A course on critical race theory in the Canadian legal context available now

On September 9, the Law Records office notified upper year students that a new course was added in the Winter term on the topic of critical race theory (CRT). 

The three-credit course will be taught by Nancy Simms, Director for Human Rights, Equity & Inclusion at Humber College. The seminar is described as applying CRT to issues of racism and inequity within the context of the Canadian legal system. 

CRT was one of the topics presented in last year’s joint professionalism training (JPT) seminars for 1Ls. The session was titled “Critical Race Theory: Racism in Society and the Justice Sector” and was delivered by U of T’s Anti-Racism and Cultural Diversity Office director, Jodie Glean.

After the seminar, there was discussion about adding a class on CRT to the school’s course list. The positive feedback received for Glean’s JPT session presumably influenced the Faculty’s decision to once again offer a full-length lecture series for this academic year.

Commenting on the course, Professor Simms says it is her goal to work alongside each student to build a learning community that will advance CRT and its role in Canada’s legal system. 

“The possibilities of using CRT as a tool to advance social justice in law is timely. Kimberlé Crenshaw says it best: ‘We are a society that has been structured from top to bottom by race. You don’t get beyond that by deciding not to talk about it anymore. It will always come back; it will always reassert itself over and over again,’’’ says Simms. 

The process of establishing the course has not been without its challenges. Following the censure against U of T, Lincoln Alexander School of Law professor Joshua Sealy-Harrington passed up an offer in August 2021 to guest lecture on the topic at the Faculty. In an earlier tweet, he contended that the law school was suppressing speech about “one of the most oppressed racialized communities in the world.” 

Human rights lawyer Fathima Cader also declined an offer to teach a CRT or Race & the Law course, noting in a tweet that “it would be inconsistent with principles of either course to teach them while [the CAUT censure] remains ongoing.”

Some applauded Sealy-Harrington’s and Cader’s decision while others expressed their dismay at the course. One Twitter user said that they were “sorry for the students,” criticizing the choice of instructor. They stated that Simms’ background was in equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI), and that CRT is not the same as EDI. 

However, law students at U of T have expressed support for the Faculty’s decision to introduce CRT to this year’s curriculum. Faisal Bhabha (2L JD/PhD), who sat on the waitlist for the class, welcomed the new addition. “I want to expand my understanding of perspectives on the law, and I hope to understand CRT on its own terms—the questions and concerns that animate it, and how it situates itself within legal scholarship,” says Bhabha. 

The course is worth three credits and will satisfy students’ Critical Perspectives requirement. 

Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this article did not contain information on Fathima Cader’s invitation to teach. The article also incorrectly stated that the CRT course is a new addition at the Faculty; the course was offered in the 2020-2021 academic year albeit under a different instructor. The headline, deck, and content have changed accordingly.

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