A Jamaican immigrant, Tulloch was named the first Black Chief Justice of Ontario. This appointment is just the latest for Justice Tulloch, who joined the bar in 1991. He was also the first Black justice to sit on a Canadian appellate court when he was elevated to the Ontario Court of Appeal in 2012. A shining star in the Black community and a leader for a growing crop of socially aware and active judges, Tulloch is known as a passionate lawyer dedicated to his craft.
“I didn’t go to law school to make money. I would say I’m very idealistic,” said Tulloch in an interview with Scotiabank CEO Brian Porter last year.
In 2018, Justice Tulloch led a review of police street checks for the Ontario government. The study revealed just how discriminatory the practice of carding was while doing nothing to reduce crime. While the Ford government did not take up his 129 recommendations in Ontario, Tulloch has a reputation for being respected across the political spectrum. A Liberal government named him to the Ontario Superior Court in 2003, and a Conservative government chose him in 2012 as the first Black member of the Ontario appeal court.
However, Tulloch has not always been in lockstep with all Black activist groups in Canada. He was criticized for his participation in a five-member panel of the Ontario Court of Appeal that ruled against giving Black offenders special treatment in sentencing, similar to special considerations given to Indigenous offenders. In the case of Kevin Morris, a Black 22-year-old first offender from Toronto, who had been convicted on four charges, including possession of a loaded weapon, the court struck down an earlier decision to give Morris a lighter sentence for his crimes due to “his disadvantages linked to racism affecting his life choices.” In a controversial decision, the appeals court increased Mr. Morris’ sentence from one year to two, saying that it did not believe racism overwrote free will:
“We strongly doubt that more lenient sentences for the perpetrators of gun crimes will be seen by the law-abiding members of the [Black] community as a positive step towards social equality.”
The appeals court failed to see how the precedent of applying different sentences due to the specific circumstances of Indigenous peoples in Canada could be directly applied to all racialized groups. While many social justice groups and people in the Black community saw this as a failure of Tulloch and the other judges to use the law in a socially aware manner, the court saw no justification in the law to do so.
Whether you agree or disagree with his ruling, Tulloch says he lives by his principles, not popular opinion. A big part of what formed those principles was his upbringing. Emigrating from Jamaica at the age of nine, Tulloch was the son of an Apostle minister. Like his hero Martin Luther King Jr., it’s easy to see how being raised in the church gave him his moral character. He then studied Economics and Business at York University Business before attending Osgoode Hall Law School. He later served as Assistant Crown Attorney in Peel and Toronto and worked in private practice, specializing in criminal law. Against this background, he has defined his dedication to the law as a method of socioeconomic change.
“I believed in my heart that if you understand the law, you can use it as a tool for social change. And that’s what motivated me to go to law school. I understood that for me to do that, I needed to be the best that I could possibly be,” said Tulloch in the same Scotiabank interview.
Tulloch cherishes Canada for its openness and commitment to justice, citing Trudeau Sr. and John Diefenbaker as role models. He especially highlighted Trudeau’s creation of the Charter of Rights & Freedoms, and Diefenbaker's expansion of immigration to non-European peoples. This ruling allowed his family to settle here.
“We must recognize that we must all work together regardless of our background to improve our society. That’s the approach I’ve taken all my life and learned from others who’ve contributed their time and spent their life in the service of making this society a better place.”
As the head of Canada’s busiest court, Tulloch has a lot on his plate. The Court Of Appeal in Ontario is the highest in the province and is the second last stop for people to have their cases relooked before going to the Supreme Court. Only two percent of the cases heard by the Court of Appeal go to the Supreme Court of Canada. So for most cases in Ontario, the court Tulloch helms will be the final decision maker for issues affecting everyday Ontarians.
One high-profile story Tulloch may have on his docket is the Ford government’s appeal against the scrapping of their controversial Protecting a Sustainable Public Sector for Future Generations Act. Known more commonly as Bill 124, this legislation by the provincial government capped public sector wages to a one percent annual increase over three years. Unions, rights groups and public employees have criticized the bill as anti-worker and misguided, given the incredible toll public sector workers faced during the pandemic, especially nurses and teachers.
With the Ford government dead set on appealing the Superior Court’s decision to scrap the law, Tulloch may have to deal with one of the most contentious appeal cases in a long time. But he is ready for the task.