Feb. 23, 2022

UCalgary Law alumnus puts focus on racial justice while rising through legal system

Joshua Sealy-Harrington applies his passion for critical race theory across multiple areas of law
Joshua Sealy-Harrington

When one practises law at Ottawa’s Power Law firm, is studying for a law doctorate at Columbia University, and teaches law at Ryerson University’s Lincoln Alexander School of Law, it’s easy to assume law is a person’s passion.  

But for Joshua Sealy-Harrington, JD’13, law is a means to a deeper end.  

“I’m mainly passionate about racial justice issues, and just see law as a necessary site for advancing racial justice,” says Sealy-Harrington.  

He says his interest in racial justice has grown over time as he experienced and witnessed the pressing and systemic character of racial inequality.  

It was in law school at the University of Calgary, under the mentorship of professor Jonnette Watson Hamilton, that Sealy-Harrington was first exposed to the academic intersection of law and racial justice through critical race theory, and his interest in the area grew from there.  

The further I got into practice and graduate legal study, the more it became quite apparent that law was one of the primary tools for creating not only racism, but race itself.

While the law has historically played a role in creating racial injustice, Sealy-Harrington also believes it can play a significant role in remedying that injustice. To that end, he has taken on cases and done advocacy work to further racial justice in the law. 

“It’s work that aligns with my political values and it’s work that is also very interesting,” Sealy-Harrington says.  

Holistic approach to advocacy

This advocacy takes on several different forms. It can be more formal through his firm, Power Law, with him acting as lead counsel for different non-profit organizations (for example, representing the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association before the Supreme Court of Canada in R v Chouhan). Or it can be informal, with him presenting about critical race theory to various organizations and writing about racial justice either academically or in op-eds

As race is something mediated through legal and cultural institutions, Sealy-Harrington says, a holistic approach to racial-justice advocacy is necessary.  

Such advocacy work was something he had always wanted to pursue as a career, but it wasn’t until later in his undergraduate degree in mathematics at the University of British Columbia that he made the decision to pursue law at UCalgary.  

JSH and mum

Joshua Sealy-Harrington with his mother, Patricia Sealy.

One person who was initially hesitant about this decision was his mother and fellow UCalgary Law alumna Patricia Sealy, LLB’98, who was concerned about what her son’s experience in law school and legal practice would be. 

“From a young age, Joshua always followed his heart, regardless of what his peers might think, and I was worried that the law’s relentless pressure to conform would limit his creativity and passion,” says Sealy.  

She wanted her son to be happy, and she had seen so many young lawyers who admitted they were not. However, she now says he has found where he needs to be.  

“He found his path,” Sealy says. “Critical race theory is his passion.” 

Sealy-Harrington has applied that passion to many areas of the legal profession. Beyond the work he does at his firm, he has taught law at the University of Ottawa and is currently a faculty member in the Lincoln Alexander School of Law at Toronto’s Ryerson University. He is also working toward his Doctor of the Science of Law (JSD) at Columbia University.  

Legal practice and teaching inform each other

He says, in the long term, he would like to continue his work both in legal practice and the legal academy, as the two inform each other.  

“Advocacy really does nourish the scholarship that I write,” Sealy-Harrington says. “It orients me towards what issues matter and gives me concrete circumstances to draw inspiration from.” 

Sealy-Harrington has won awards for both his advocacy work and his teaching. In terms of the advocacy award, he says he doesn’t do his advocacy for accolades, but because the work itself is important.  

When it came to his teaching award, he says he was thrilled and it was very generous of his students to nominate him, but that his teaching is driven by his care for the student experience.  

“I really care a lot about the students I teach,” says Sealy-Harrington. “I care about helping them find their place in the law or elsewhere, and hoping that they have an enjoyable experience in school and can take away things that are meaningful to them.” 

About Black History Month

During Black History Month, people in Canada celebrate the many achievements and contributions of Black Canadians and their communities who, throughout history, have done so much to make Canada the culturally diverse, compassionate, and prosperous nation it is today.

The theme for 2022 is February and Forever: Celebrating Black History today and every day.

Learn more