“This  sample window on  Media Coverage reflects  the broad impact of Esmeralda Thornhill’s initiatives and actions at levels personal and professional, individual and collective , as well as  local, national and global.”

Gazette des femmes, 1992

” Un Quebec feminin et pluriel  (extrait) “

[…] Esmeralda Thornhill, avocate, membre du Congres des femmes noires du Canada, lance ensuite un vibrant appel a l’ouverture: « Le féminisme quebecois ne peut plus se voir comme monolithique. Il doit intégrer  l’aspect des differences raciales, changer son discours et surtout affronter le racisme qui colore encore ses pratiques. » […]


“Un Quebec feminin et pluriel” Gazette des femmes — Magazine intelligent et féministe, Montreal le 1er septembre 1992.

Réseau Éducation-Medias, 1994

Une tâche noire dans la neige blanche (extrait)

[…] Vedette du documentaire Tropique Nord, la journaliste Michaëlle Jean parle d’une réalité parfois douloureuse, toujours sensible : la place des Noirs au Québec. (…) Elle était en train de se rendre malade à travailler deux fois plus fort pour éviter l’erreur qui mettrait fin à sa carrière. Un jour, elle assiste à une conférence d’Esmeralda Thornhill, une avocate noire canadienne de la Commission des droits de la personne, qui raconte que plein de jeunes travailleurs noirs sont en train de se tuer au travail pour assurer leur survie. Elle s’est vite reconnue. « Je me suis dit : ” C’est moi ça ! ” À partir de ce moment-là, je me suis libérée de ce carcan et j’ai été enfin Michaëlle Jean. » 


Michelle Coudé-Lord*, « Une tâche noire dans la neige blanche », – Réseau Éducation-Medias,  Journal de Montréal. Le 30, avril 1994, vol. 18, no 4, p. 24-25.

*Michelle Coudé-Lord est journaliste aux affaires sociales, santé, depuis 15 ans au Journal de Montréal.

PRIDE News Magazine, 1996

” African Canadian Woman New Black Studies Chair “


“African Canadian Woman New  Black Studies Chair,” PRIDE News Magazine, Canada’s Daily African Canadian and Caribbean News Magazine, Toronto 1996.

Dalhousie News, 1996

Medgar Evers College of The City University of New York awards Esmeralda Thornhill an honorary Doctor of Laws

HALIFAX, N.S., Dec. 16, 1996 — Esmeralda Thornhill, the first holder of the James Robinson Johnston Chair in Black Canadian Studies, has been awarded an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from Medgar Evers College of The City University of New York.

She is the first Canadian to be awarded an honorary degree through Medgar Evers College. Medgar Evers College is part of The City University of New York, the leading urban university in the United States.

Medgar Evers College has a policy to honor those who have demonstrated exemplary academic achievement, as well as unselfish service to the community. In his citation, Dr. Edison O. Jackson, the President of Medgar Evers College, highlighted her “visionary leadership as a force for social change,” her “seminal academic scholarship,” and her “pioneering international human rights and creative work.”

Professor Thornhill accepted the honor at the college’s Convocation Dec. 4, in Brooklyn, N.Y. In her acceptance letter, Dr. Thornhill said she is both honored and humbled by this public recognition that validates herself, the Chair and Black people in Canada.

“As first holder of the James Robinson Johnston Chair in Black Canadian Studies, I have the responsibility to anchor and define the contours of this national initiative, established to bring into the academy, Black culture, perspectives, reality, experiences and concerns. In consequence, such recognition infuses me with added strength to forge ahead and face the tasks and challenges undaunted,” said Dr. Thornhill.

The James Robinson Johnston Chair in Black Canadian Studies is based at the Dalhousie Law School. Dawn Russell, the Dean of the Dalhousie Law School, said this honor brings credit to the Johnston Chair, to Dalhousie and to the Black community across Canada.

Dr. Deborah Hobson, Dalhousie’s Vice-president (Academic and Research), said: “This international recognition for Dr. Thornhill illustrates the calibre of leadership she brings to the James Robinson Johnston Chair in Black Canadian Studies at Dalhousie University. This honor emphasizes the significance of the Chair’s focus on the Black experience, a unique contribution to academic scholarship nationally.”

The City University of New York has 10 senior colleges, six community colleges, a technical college, a graduate college, a law school, a medical school, and an affiliated school of medicine. The City University of New York has 210,000 students at campuses throughout five boroughs of the City of New York.

Contact: Esmeralda Thornhill, (902) 494-2967


Medgar Evers College of The City University of New York awards Esmeralda Thornhill an honorary Doctor of Laws, Dalhousie News, 1996.

Community Contact, 1997

Montrealer Esmeralda M.A. Thornhill is a very special and distinguished woman

She is one of the very few Blacks in Canada to rise ro the top of the legal profession and meet the challenges inherent therein with the effectiveness, confidence and panache of one whose ancestry and background are steeped in the practice and wisdom of the profession.

Born in the rural parish of St. George, Barbados, Dr. Thornhill came to Montreal at the age of eight with her parents Olrick and Hilda Thornhill. At that tender age she experienced the shock of cultural and educational transition, which undoubtedly contributed to the development of her peculiar consciousness of race, racism, and their indelible impact on Black culture and reality.

Dr. Thornhill has successfully broken through the exclusionary barriers of the tightly -shut social networks of the legal profession to become a tenured Full Professor of Dalhousie University, Nova Scotia, where, in July 1996, she was appointed the first holder of the distinguished James Robinson Johnston Chair in Black Canadian Studies.  This national initiative commemorates the life and legacy James Robinson Johnston who was the first member of the African Nova Scotian Community to break through and graduate from university, and to practise law in Canada.

Dr. Thornhill accomplished this feat by pursuing goals with determination and  passion, and by exercising her intellect to its limits. After graduating from university, she pursued Post Graduate Studies in Spanish, French , and Pedagogical Sciences at the Université de Montréal and McGill and Denver Universities. Fully trilingual, she joined the teaching profession, and , for more than two decades, was an educator in the Quebec Public School System, in higher education  and in public education.

This linguist’s decision to switch from a successful teaching career to pursue studies in law was an adolescent dream long deferred. She obtained a law degree from the Université du Québec a Montréal as well as a Diploma in International and Comparative Law from the University of San Diego (Paris, France). She then went on to complete international internships examining “race” as a social construct both in England and in France at UNESCO headquarters.

In 1987-1988 Dr. Thornhill deepened her education and sharpened her skills in her capacity as an International Fellow with the Washington-based Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law where she was engaged in doing anti-apartheid Legal Education and Non-Governmental Organization Advocacy. Indeed she was very instrumental in mounting and managing the U.S. based campaign to Save the Sharpeville Six.

With a blossoming career enhanced by solid professional experience, and accumulated expertise, Dr. Thornhill found herself better positioned to more easily champion the causes for which she had fought long and hard,  and which remained dear to her, notably — Equality under the Law for all Peoples of African Descent, Justice for all, and Respect for and a meaningful implementation of human rights. She served three terms as a Government appointed member of the Conseil général of the Barreau du Québec, and then as a member of its Comité sur les Communautés culturelles. This was but one among numerous appointments to a broad variety of advisory boards, task forces, working groups,  and editorial committees which this brilliant lawyer  would hold,  positions which would enable her to wield tremendous influence through her leadership, speeches and writings.

High on the list of such contributions is her 1988 appearance as an expert witness on Racism before the Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Prosecution of Donald Marshall Jr., a Mi’k Maq Indian  of  Nova Scotia who was wrongfully convicted of murdering a young African Nova Scotian and subsequently sentenced to a life term of imprisonment.  Equally important were  her pivotal roles both as the driving force to bring February Black History Month to the Province of Quebec’s Public Agenda, and as the legal advisor for the City of Montreal’s Declaration for  the Elimination of Racism.

Professor Thornhill’s professional life of very active public and community service has taken her on lecture engagements and human rights interventions not only right across Canada, but as far afield as Uganda, Germany and South Africa. In 1999, in her capacity as a co-sponsoring member of the Alexander Pushkin Bicentenary International Steering Committee, she travelled to Moscow and St. Petersburg in Russia to participate formally in an International Bicentenary Symposium commemorating the birth of Alexander Sergeevich Pushkin, “the Father of Russian Literature”, whose obfuscated African ancestry still remains by and large unknown to the world.  

Dr. Thornhill has excelled as an academic. In the area of “Race”, she is an acknowledged authority and scholar who has researched, written and lectured extensively on the “material reality” of Racism in Law, Education, Labour and Public Services, addressing with equal ease judicial, legal, academic, government, public and grassroots audiences. She has developed, co-developed, and instituted Law and Humanities courses addressing  the issue of  “race”. As a concrete example, in 1983,  she conceptualized developed and taught the first university-accredited course in Black Women’s Studies offered in Canada at Concordia University. She is the author of several ground-breaking writings, many of which are now employed as core readings in academic institutions across Canada dealing mainly with the law as it pertains to women’s issues, justice, equality and race. In recognition of her multi-disciplinary training and experience, and of the expertise, and versatility she brings to the Academy, Dr. Thornhill is currently cross-listed as a Canadian Studies Specialist and as a Graduate Faculty member in the Inter-University M.A. in Women’s Studies Programme (Dalhousie-Mount St.Vincent-Saint Mary’s).

Her expertise is widely acknowledged and sought after locally, nationally, and internationally.  

Her numerous citations and awards include the coveted 1992 “Quebec Woman of the Year Award for Humanitarian and Social Action” (Salon de la Femme du Québec). Dr. Thornhill’s brilliant contributions to the field of education and to humanity did not go unnoticed by the academic world. And so it was that  in December, 1996 the City University of New York conferred on her the degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa, and in June, 1997, Concordia University invited her to accept an Honorary Doctor of Laws degree as well as to deliver the 1997 Arts and Science Convocation address.

Dr. Thornhill is a member of the Quebec and Nova Scotia Bars. She is also appointed to the provincial Panel of Boards of Inquiry Chairs for the Nova Scotia Human rights Commission, and has been recently invited by the President of Howard University (Washington, D.C) to serve on the Advisory Board for the National Human Genome Center. A  published poet in English, French and Spanish, she attempts to bring balance and harmony to her life through Parenting, Gardening and the practice of Tai Chi.

Well deserving of every honour conferred upon her Dr. Esmeralda M.A. Thornhill  will continue to serve as a reasoned and wise voice for the causes which have helped to define her career. She is one of the leading role models for Peoples of African Descent, and for Black women in particular in this country. Community Contact wishes her  many many more years of success and contribution to Canada.


“Montrealer Esmeralda M.A. Thornhill is a very special and distinguished woman”. Community Contact, Montreal 1997 

Hearsay Magazine, 1997 

The  James Robinson Johnston Chair in Black Canadian Studies

Established as a national initiative to bring Black perspectives, culture, reality, experiences and concerns into the Academy, the James Robinson Johnston Endowed Chair in Black Canadian Studies is  named for the first member of Nova Scotia’s Black Community to graduate from Dalhousie University in 1898. After his untimely death in 1915, Canada’s largest

indigenous Black Community had to wait a full half century before another Black lawyer could again break through and graduate. Among the institutions of higher learning across Canada vying for the honour and prestige of proclaiming itself hearth and home to the Chair, Dalhousie University emerged successful  and Dalhousie Law School is the fortunate Faculty to welcome this unprecedented Chair.

Appointed as full professor tenured in the Faculty of Law, the first holder of  this distinguished Chair,  Dr. Esmeralda M.A. Thornhill, brings to Dalhousie Law School a rich background of  solid multi-disciplinary academic training in Law, Languages and Pedagogy, complemented by

two decades of seasoned experience in the field of Human Rights. She also comes with a clear vision for the James Robinson Johnston Chair. In her own words, the Chair should serve as a “beacon of possibilities … It should be an indicator of the amplitude and scope of what can, and should be . Accomplished vis-à-vis meaningful institutional change. With the Johnston Chair and its Special Library Collection,Dalhoousie University has the unique opporyunity to become a mobderl and beacon of possibilities for other institutions of higher learning across Canada and beyond.It can accomplish this by creating, fostering and maintaining an environment that is hospitable and welcoming to change —- an environment that, like a beacon, will attrract and light the way, nationally, starting with my home faculty, Dalhousie Law School, and my home institution, Dalhousie University.

The role of first holder of the Chair is one that is certainly significant and onerous, but it is also extremely challenging. As first appointee, she has the responsibility to anchor and define the contours of the James Robinson Johnston Chair in such a way, that, commensurate with its mandate it will be the catalyst to introduce meaningful institutional change, change that makes a

lasting difference. Throughout the first months, ( in addition to a lot of observing and gathering of information, ) the presence and impact of the Chair has already been felt,  creating  a ripple effect of awareness and new partnerships both within Dalhousie and in the Nova Scotia public.

Along with getting familiar with Dalhousie, much time  has been spent  preparing and finalizing teaching materials for the two (2) courses taught during the winter term: International Human Rights Law: Facing “Race” As A Factor (Law),  and The Evolution of Canadian Identity: Exposing A Negative, Completing A Picture (Canadain Studies). The area of curriculum development was also addressed. In collaboration with other racial minority colleagues, a new Law course was crafted, proposed and approved for the 1997-1998 academic year: Critical Race and Legal Theory: “Race”, Racism and Law in Canada.

In addition, a sustained presence on the public place and collaboration with key multipliers in the form of keynote lectures addressed to the Association of Crown Prosecutors of NS (Facing the Factor of “race”), to the Association des juristes francophones de la Nouvelle-Ecosse (La Chaire d’études noires canadiennes James .Rrobinson Johnston), and to the CAUT Status of Women Conference (?Doing Equity…For Show, or For Sure); panel presentations at  a Regional  Round Table commemoration of Multiculturalism and  at an international Human Rights  conference of Judges (Is There A Human Rights Backlash?) This particular intervention resulted in the CIAJ  Bulletin deciding to reprint, in toto, in its December issue for French-speaking members of the judiciary,the ground-breaking 1993 essay authored by the Chair, Regard sur le racisme: perspectives juridiques  à  partir d’un vécu noir.

Committee duties and responsibilities on the Chair have not been limited solely to within the

Law School. Outside expectations and demands for the presence and insights the Chair has to offer have, for example, included  Canadian Heritage’s Matthieu Da Costa National Award National Advisory Committee, the Nova Scotia Barristers’ Society Race Relations Committee and the Halifax Black History Month Association, Black Lawyers Association of Nova Scotia.

In addition to all of these challenges it has been of the utmost importance for the Chair to set about proactively taking certain important initiatives that would serve as blueprints charting the

course for future orientation and direction(s) of the Chair. Setting in place and defining the details of the  particular infra-structure that will support the James Robinson Johnston Chair. The components which form an integral part of the Chair: the Special Library Collection, the Graduate Scholarships, and the Eminent Speakers’ Roster: as well as those innovative features deemed essential to complement and enhance the Chair and its mission: defining the public

image and “look” of the Chair via a Web site and a Signature Book Mark for example. Outreach initiatives to connect such communities of interest as Black Legal Educators across Canada, the African Canadian Education Services Division of yhe Nova Scotia Department of Education,  the Black Cultural Centre for Nova Scotia, the North Branch Library of Halifax, and local Black Community organizations such as the North End Community Health Centre and  the African Canadian Employment Clinic.

dies Indubitably, while the challenges are many, the expectations nurtured and cultivated by all sectors of a demanding public are even more daunting proving incntovertibly how such a national and institutional corrective is long overdue. 


The James Robinson Johnston Chair in Black Canadian Studies, Hearsay Magazine, Schulich School of law, May 12th 1997.

CBC Moncton Radio Interview

The Good Question

I preface my remarks with the following observation:

In a report submitted to the B& B Commission, entitled Negro Settlement in Canada, 1628-1965,   H.H. Potter of Montreal re-affirmed the existing and commonly held widespread belief  that:

Except for Negro settlements in SW Ont. and in parts of NS, no historical continuity worth mentioning lies waiting to be discovered.

As a result, most scholarly attention on Black history in early Canada has centred on Upper & Lower Canada …what is now today’s   ON & QC, to the detriment of other areas of Canada such as e.g. the Maritimes Prairie Provinces .

Names like Olivier Lejeune and Marie-Joseph-Angelique becoming increasingly familiar to Canadians / us as we learn more and more of the Black   presence in Nouvelle France.

And yet, I would submit to you that the history of the Maritime provinces remains like a field lying fallow, awaiting rigorous scholarly attention.

For example, the 1st documented evidence of a Black presence in Canada is a Maritime Region one, that referring to Mathieu Da Costa, who, during the Champlain-Poutrincourt expedition of 1608 served as interpreter to between the   French explorers and the Mi’k Maq Indians — a clear indication that this particular voyage was not Da Costa’s 1st  visit to Canada! 

Now, Da Costa was a free Black man, of Portuguese origin, became a member of Canada’s earliest Social Club, The Order of Good Cheer, and he was buried at Port Royal, (the settlement founded by Champlain after his 1st 

ailed attempt on St. Croix Island, in the Bay of Fundy).

According to historian WA Spray, there is no doubt that the Acadians who lived in Acadia also owned slaves; in fact he indicates  that  one Black man was reported to have died in 1606 at   Port Royal.

When it comes to NB proper, as far as I know, the first record of a Black man in the  province of New Brunswick dates from the last decade of the 17th century. This man was brought to NB much against his will. He is reputed by historians (e.g. W.O. Raymond) to be  “…. probably the 1st of his race to set foot within the borders of NB”. 

This man, a native of Marblehead , Mass., was carried to the   St. John River by the French, who had captured him during a raid down into New England. 

He was subsequently  freed in 1696 by Major Benjamin Church   who led an attacking  force from Mass. which  raided the French settlements on the St. John River. 

When Church returned to Boston, he took this man with him. (Spray 13)

According to Spray, there is no recorded evidence that Black people lived in any of the French settlements in NB before the last decade of the 17th century. Nevertheless, since there were Black people in New France and in what is now NS in the early part of the 17th century  it is very probable that Black slaves were brought to what is now NB. (cf. RDD – Sutherland).

(..And, I would submit to you, lots of history to be uncovered and recovered! )

The first New England settlers to come to what is now NB began to settle on the St. John River as early as 1763; some of them brought with them enslaved Black people.(p.14)

The year 1767 marks the first documentary evidence of Black people living in these settlements that were formed after 1763 is the mention by settler James Simonds of  a Black servant named West.

It should come as no astonishment that the 1775 official census records no Blacks in the area  — since quite often, Black slaves were not considered persons important enough to be recorded in a population census; being considered and treated as chattel property, slaves would more often than not be included in those inventories listing horses, cows, oxen and other chattels 

After the conquest of Nouvelle France, a number of disbanded soldiers settled in parts of Cumberland County, (NS & NB) with one particular group settling near Aulac & LaPlanchein what is now NB.

In various records, there is ample evidence to show that Black people lived in Canada and NB long before the arrival of the UE loyalists. 

There is also sufficient evidence to show that slavery was an accepted fact in Canada during the French Regime. 

However, after the arrival of the Loyalists, slavery became   much more widespread in NB. Also with the arrival of the Loyalists around came the 1st free Blacks to settle in NB. ( Spray 15)

Largest number of Black people ever to come to NB arrived in the years 1783-84 with the United Empire Loyalists, those persons who were   with the UEL (30,000 to 35,000). 

Province of NB created to satisfy those loyalists who came, among them several thousand Black people who came enslaved, indentured and as free loyalists. (16)

The most direct authority on the subject is 1972 book by WA Spray, The Blacks in NB Brunswick Press, 1972.


“The Good Question,” CBC -Atlantic Canada- Moncton  Radio Interview

Débats du Sénat (hansard)

La justice





La Nouvelle-Écosse-L’exclusion d’un juge du Tribunal de la famille des nominations effectuées récemment au Tribunal unifié de la famille-La position du gouvernement

L’honorable Donald H. Oliver: Honorables sénateurs, ma question s’adresse au leader du gouvernement au Sénat. Elle porte sur un article paru hier dans le Globe and Mail sous le titre «Une femme premier juge noir au Québec: une nomination accueillie comme un pas vers la reconnaissance de la modernité en politique». Juanita Westmoreland-Traoré, fille d’un porteur, qui est arrivée à la force des poignets au poste de doyenne d’une faculté de droit, devient le premier juge noir du Québec. L’article rapporte qu’elle a été nommée à la division de la famille et à la chambre criminelle de la Cour du Québec. Il indique également que le Québec était l’une des dernières provinces du Canada à nommer une femme juge et que la Nouvelle-Écosse avait nommé un juge de race noire en 1986. Il s’agit de Son Honneur Corrine Sparks.

Le leader du gouvernement au Sénat peut-il expliquer pourquoi la juge Sparks a été exclue de la liste des juges du Tribunal de la famille de la Nouvelle-Écosse nommés récemment par la ministre de la Justice Anne McLellan au Tribunal unifié de la famille de la Nouvelle-Écosse?

L’honorable B. Alasdair Graham (leader du gouvernement): Honorables sénateurs, je ne crois pas qu’il convienne de parler d’exclusion. Tous ceux qui connaissent le travail de madame la juge Sparks applaudissent tout ce qu’elle a fait dans le système de justice pénale de la Nouvelle-Écosse. Cependant, dans sa sagesse, madame la ministre de la Justice a de toute évidence trouvé des candidats qui lui ont paru qualifiés pour ces postes, et a fait ses recommandations en conséquence.

Le sénateur Oliver: Honorables sénateurs, Mme Esmeralda Thornhill, de la chaire James Robinson Johnson d’études sur les Noirs au Canada, à l’Université Dalhousie de la Nouvelle-Écosse, a écrit ceci dans un communiqué largement diffusé: «L’information selon laquelle Son Honneur la juge Corrine Sparks n’avait pas été nommée au nouveau Tribunal unifié de la famille de la Nouvelle-Écosse a été accueillie avec incrédulité et consternation dans les milieux juridiques et la collectivité noire en Nouvelle-Écosse et dans l’ensemble du Canada.»

Le leader du gouvernement au Sénat peut-il dire si on prévoit la désigner lors de la prochaine série de nominations à la Cour suprême?

Le sénateur Graham: Honorables sénateurs, le sénateur Oliver conviendra sûrement qu’il serait inconvenant de répondre à une question sur les plans que pourraient avoir madame la ministre de la Justice, son ministère ou même le premier ministre, en ce qui concerne l’éventuelle promotion d’un juge donné de quelque région que ce soit du pays.

Cependant, si on laisse entendre qu’il y a eu discrimination en l’occurrence, je rejette d’emblée cette allégation au nom de la ministre de la Justice. J’ai l’assurance que quiconque examinera le bilan de l’actuelle titulaire du ministère de la Justice et du gouvernement actuel trouvera des preuves concrètes d’engagements personnels à accroître la représentation des groupes minoritaires au sein de la magistrature.[Français]


Débats du Sénat (hansard). 1e Session, 36e Législature, Volume 137, Numéro 127, Le mercredi 14 avril 1999. L’honorable Gildas L. Molgat, Président.

Black Issues in Higher Education, April 24, 2003

UNC-Chapel Hill Conference explores roots and experience of Black Canadians.


Some folks are under the misperception that Canada’s Black population consists largely of descendents of escaped African American slaves, that Canada never had slavery, and that the country is devoid of racism. Not so, said experts at a recent conference here aimed to overturn these and other myths about Black life north of the U.S. border.

Sponsored by the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill’s Institute of African American Research, the free public conference, entitled “Engaging North America: Illuminating Black Canada,” featured films, lectures and a jazz concert, all designed to shed new light on the history and experiences of Black Canadians.

According to one presenter, Canada’s Black population is largely urban, with more than 240,000 living in Toronto and another 101,000 living in Montreal. Together, these urban dwellers comprise roughly 67 percent of the total African-Canadian population. The country also is home to more than 15,000 Blacks living in rural enclaves such as southwestern Ontario, Alberta and Saskatchewan.

“This area of research and community of peoples has long been overlooked,” said Dr. William A. Darity Jr., a UNC professor of economics and sociology. “This conference represents an exciting cultural bridge linking communities of people often thought of as disparate, but who are actually part of the same fabric of continental American history.”

The modestly attended conference featured presentations by Esmeralda Thornhill, a law professor at the Dalhoise School of Law in Halifax, Nova Scotia; Canadian poet and scholar George Elliott Clark; and a concert by the Joe Sealy Quartet of Canada. Two films by Nova Scotia filmmaker Sylvia Hamilton were also featured: “Speak It (From the Heart of Nova Scotia)” and “Black Mother, Black Daughter.”

COPYRIGHT 2003 Cox, Matthews & Associates

COPYRIGHT 2003 Gale Group


Black Issues in Higher Education, Noteworthy news. April 24, 2003

Hearsay Magazine, 2005-2006

Esmeralda M.A. Thornhill

In addition to her appointment as Full Professor in the Faculty of  Law,  Professor Thornhill holds cross appointments in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences—in  Canadian Studies, Women’s Studies and  Russian Studies, where, along with that Department’s Chair, Professor John Barnstead, she co-taught in Fall 2005 the jointly crafted new Afrocentric course, Black Identity in Pushkin. 

Throughout the school year, Dalhousie Law School students at all levels  had the opportunity to benefit from Professor Thornhill’s knowledge and expertise: She delivered the Orientation to Law Lecture on  The Implications of ‘Race’ and Culture for Legal Education and the Legal  Profession to the First Year Cohort, taught  a  module in the 2006 Pre-Law  Programme for Indigenous Black and Mi’k maq students, and taught upper year electives in Administrative Law and in her designated areas of teaching, Critical Race and Legal Theory and Human Rights (domestic and international).

Besides serving on Faculty Statutory Committees, during the year, Professor Thornhill was actively engaged in  University governance—as  a Faculty representative  on Dalhousie Senate, as a member of Senate  Special Committee of Inquiry, and as a member of Senate Steering Committee. She also served on one of the SSHRC Adjudicating Committees.

Professor Thornhill continued  to generously make her expertise available to the non-academic Community by delivering the Keynote Address at a 2005 Canadian Race Relations Foundation national consultation on A National Anti-Racism Policy, and by conducting a 2006 February Black History Month Awareness Training and Development Workshop for Health Canada, Atlantic Region, Calibrating the Factor of ‘Race’ in Health: Teasing out the Material Reality of Racism.

In April 2006 she represented Dalhousie Law School (in fluent Spanish!) at the annual NACLE Conference held in Monterrey, Mexico where she was invited to moderate a session on Human Rights. A member of the Quebec Bar,  in May she attended the 2006 Congrès du Barreau du Québec held in Montreal.

Professor Thornhill’s local, national and international public service commitment, includes the following appointments:  member of the Nova Scotia  Psychiatric Facilities Review Board, Trustee of the National Film Board of Canada, and Member of the National Human Genome Centre  at Howard University (Washington, DC)

In May 2006, the Fulbright Foundation awarded Professor Thornhill a 2006-2007 Canada-US Fulbright Visiting Professor Award for residence at Temple University’s Department of African American Studies. <>


Esmeralda M.A. Thornhill, Hearsay Magazine, Schulich School of law, July 2005-June 2006.

University of British Columbia, 2004

Deficits Corrected or Created? “Race” and the Use, Misuse, and Abuse of Multicultural Policy and Practice in Canada

As part of a series of public presentations titled “Indigeneity, Internationalism, Globalization: Challenges for Multicultural Education,” The David Lam Chair in Multicultural Education presents:

Dr. Esmeralda Thornhill, Professor of Law & first holder of the James Robinson Johnston Endowed Chair in Black Canadian Studies at Dalhousie University

Wednesday March 3, 2004 at 7 p.m.
Buchanan A, Room 204, 1866 Main Mall, UBC

Free admission. All are welcome.

For more info:

The Centre for Feminist Legal Studies is pleased to welcome Prof. Esmeralda Thornhill as a speaker in its lecture series, Thursday Mar 4th, 2004 12:30-1:30pm in Room 157. The topic of her talk is “ tba”. Prof. Thornhill teaches law at Dalhousie University and was first holder of the James Robinson Johnston Endowed Chair in Black Canadian Studies (1996-2002). She has researched, written, and lectured widely on the “material reality” of Racism in Law, Education, and Public Services to legal, academic, government, public, and grass- roots audiences. For more info contact the CFLS at (604) 822-6523 or 


The Legal Eye, University of British Columbia,  Vol 1 No 3  Feb /March 2004.

Hearsay Magazine, 2008 

Esmeralda M.A. Thornhill

Professor Thornhill spent a fulfilling 2006-2007 sabbatical leave academic year at Temple University as a Canada-US Fulbright Visiting Professor in residence at the Department of African American Studies.>

As Fulbright Scholar, she was invited to guest edit an unprecedented issue of the Journal of Black Studies (JBS), the most  widely read publication of its kind on four continents. Theto the Call from African Canadian scholars both in Canada and in the US  was so ovewrwhelming that it resulted in the publication of a double issue of the JBS, entitled, Blacks in Canada: Retrospects, Introspects, Prospects. This interdisciplinary multidisciplinary  collection presents various aspects of the Black experience as lived in Canada.

While at Temple Univervsity, Professor Thornhill taught and lectured at both the undergraduate and graduate levels in the Departments of African American Studies, Law, and Education. She was also invited to teach Humanities at Lincoln University, the oldest HBCU in the US. As Fulbright Scholar she presented papers at the National Council for Black Studies (San Diego) and at the Cheikh Anta Diop Conference ( Philadelphia).  

Professor Thornhill also engaged in public education beyond the Academy. Not only did she present two public lectures at the African American Museum of Philadelphia, but she also participated as an invited special Guest on the WURD live Open Line radio Programme. 

Before leaving Temple, Professor Thornhill successfully organized a Mini-Film Series of NFB Films which, as a Trustee of the NFB,  she gifted to Temple. 

Upon her return to Dalhousie, Professor Thornhill resumed her teaching duties in the areas of Administrative Law, Human Rights Law and Critical Race and Legal Theory. She also co-taught with Professor John Barnstead  the module on Richard Wright and Dostoevsky in the upper year course in Russian Studies, Dostoevsky and Western Literature .

In addition, she continued as a participant in university governance, serving on faculty committees as well as on Dalhousie’s Senate and Senate Steering Committees.


Hearsay Magazine, Schulich School of Law, 2008 

Avocats hors province, Le journal du Barreau, 2017

Profile d’une avocate: Dr. Esmeralda M.A. Thornhill LL.D., LL.D.,LL.B., Dip. Int. & Comp. Law, M.A., Dip. Ed., B.A. Hon. 

Qui est Esmeralda M.A. Thornhill?

Membre des Barreaux du Québec et de la Nouvelle-Écosse  depuis 1987 et 1998 respectivement, Me Esmeralda Thornhill a quitté le Québec en 1996 pour travailler à Halifax, N-É,  comme professeure titulaire en Droit a l’Université de Dalhousie.  

Avocate, linguiste et pédagogue de formation, écrivaine, conférencière, professeure titulaire, et agente d’éducation aux droits de la personne  d’expérience, et enfin éditeur de livres et organisatrice communautaire par conviction,  Esmeralda M.A. Thornhill est un pur produit du  système d’éducation québécois— un système qui a su aiguiser de façon pointue sa pensée critique, un système qui l’a conscientisée et qui l’a politisée.

Façonnée dans le creuset de la belle province

En plus d’une solide formation scolaire et universitaire qui l’a bien équipée pour faire une carrière professionnelle, son expérience comme hôtesse à l’Expo ’67  lui a ouvert grand les yeux sur le reste du monde et l’a sensibilisée  en particulier aux abus et violations des droits de la personne.  Expo ’67 lui a aussi donné le goût de voyager et de perfectionner sa formation à  l’échelle international.  Des stages à Paris en droits humains avec l’UNESCO et à Washington DC au sein du mouvement anti-apartheid avec le Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law ponctuent son parcours professionnel avec des points saillants tels que déléguée officielle au XIe Festival International de la jeunesse (Cuba, 1978), membre de la Mission d’Observatrices Internationales aux  premières élections de l’Ouganda, experte invitée et par l’Institut de Education de l’UNESCO à Hambourg et à Genève par le Comité pour l’élimination de la discrimination raciale (CERD) de l’ONU, membre du Conseil consultatif du National Human Genome Centre de l’Université de Howard à  Washington DC., ainsi que conférencière invitée à la manifestation commémorant le 1er mai 2001 à Vienne et co-organisatrice du Symposium International marquant le Bicentenaire d’Alexandre Pushkin (Moscou, St Petersbourg).

Après avoir complété une spécialisation en espagnol et latin (McGill 1969) visant à la longue une carrière soit  médicale, soit juridique, Me Thornhill a pris un détour pour embrasser les sciences de l’éducation avant de retourner une décennie plus tard aux études juridiques (UQAM). Pédagogue de coeur, elle a enseigné dans les écoles secondaires publiques de Montréal pendant sept ans  avant de  passer à la fonction publique.  Elle a fait carrière pendant une vingtaine d’années comme agente d’éducation à la Commission des droits de la personne du Québec où elle a défriché de nouveaux champs en éducation anti-raciste. L’expertise que Me Thornhill a développée pour cerner, articuler et combattre “la réalité matérielle du racisme”  a été sollicitée depuis lors par de nombreuses institutions telles que La Commission royale d’enquête sur la poursuite de Donald Marshall Jr., par des organismes juridiques, universitaires ou gouvernementaux, par des syndicats, des employeurs, des institutions d’enseigne-ment ou encore des groupes communautaires.

Pionnière à plusieurs niveaux

Pionnière à plusieurs niveaux, Me Esmeralda Thornhill est notamment responsable de la conceptualisation, du développement  et de l’enseignement du premier cours universitaire accrédité offert au Canada sur les Études sur les femmes noires,   Black Women: The Missing Pages from Canadian Studies (l’Institut Simone de Beauvoir, Concordia 1983 et 1988).  Elle est  reconnue  dans l’Agenda des femmes 1992 comme le cataliseur qui a su inscrire Février, mois de l’histoire noire dans l’agenda publique québécois (1989).  Elle est responsable de la mise sur pied du Congrès des avocats et juristes noirs du Québec – devenu l’Association des avocats et notaires noirs du Quebec (1984-1985). Elle est membre fondatrice  du Congrès des femmes noires du Canada (1976-1980),  première femme de couleur  nommée au Conseil du statut de la femme du Québec (1987-1991), au Conseil d’administration de l’Office national du Film et au Conseil général du Barreau du Québec, servant sous trois bâtonniers.  Elle a de plus servi d’éditeur pour des publications sans précédent, notamment pour The Journal of Black Studies, Blacks in Canada: Retrospects, Introspects, Prospects, et a co-édité un numéro thématique de La Revue femme et droit, Racism….Talking Out.

Première détentrice de la Chaire Johnson 

Son rayonnement professionnel  a attiré l’attention de  l’Université de Dalhousie en Nouvelle-Écosse  qui  l’a invitée à inaugurer et diriger La Chaire James Robinson Johnston d’études noires canadiennes (1996-2002) — une initiative nationale sans  précédent  mise en place pour intégrer au sein même de l’Académie la culture, les réalités, les perspectives, le vécu et les préoccupations de la collectivité noire.

Comme détentrice de la Chaire  Johnston, Me Esmeralda Thornhill  a poursuivit son oeuvre de pionnière.  Pendant ses vingt ans comme professeure titulaire en Droit au Schulich School of Law, elle a ouvert de nouveaux  chemins pour développer et enrichir le  curriculum juridique, en particulier en ce qui touche à la théorie critique de la ‘race’ et du droit,  à la place légitime de “la réalité matérielle du racisme”  dans le discours juridique et dans l’enseignement du droit,  tant sur les plans de l’éthique professionnelle, des droits de la personne que du droit international.  Me Thornhill compte à son actif des cours innovateurs tels que Critical Race and Légal Theory: A Survey of ‘Race’ and Law in Canada; International Human Rights Law: Facing ‘Race’ As A Factor, The Implications of ‘Race’ and Culture for Legal Education and the Legal Profession.  Grâce à sa formation et son expérience interdisciplinaire variée, elle a aussi défriché de nouveaux chemins au sein d’autres disciplines telles que les études russes et canadiennes: Black Identity in Pushkin, The Evolution of Canadian Identity: Exposing A Negative, Completing the Picture.

Reconnaissance méritée 

Poète publiée et conférencière éloquente, souvent sollicitée tant aux niveaux local, que provincial, national ou international, Me Esmeralda  Thornhill est déjà reconnue publiquement pour ses apports à la société québécoise: Elle est citée dans l’ouvrage, Ces 350 femmes qui ont bâtit Montréal, présentée dans l’Agenda des femmes du Québec 1991 ainsi que dans 100 Outstanding Black Canadians.  En 1992 le Salon de la femme du Québec lui a conférée le titre de Femme de l’Année pour l’Action humanitaire et sociale.  Récipiendaire  de deux doctorats honorifiques en droit (City University of New York 1996, Concordia 1997), on l’a nommée  en 2006-2007 Canada- U.S. Fulbright Visiting Scholar  à l’Université de Temple et en 2012 elle a acceptée l’invitation de l’Université McGill pour servir comme sa première O’Brien Fellow in Residence.

A priori,  toute femme noire ou racisée est forcée de tracer son parcours et de naviguer sa vie à travers les interstices entre la ‘race’ et le genre.  Par conséquent, l’identité à la fois noire et femme de cette avocate l’oblige constamment à  interroger inlassablement tous les facteurs contextualisant  et ayant un impact sur son existence.  Pour cette raison, Esmeralda Thornhill est un produit critique du Québec.  Mais plus important encore, l’approche ou la perspective critique de Me Esmeralda Thornhill face au droit s’avère surtout en quelque sorte un  reflet de la fonction critique que le Québec assum par rapport au reste du Canada.


AHQ (Avocats hors province) Journal  du Barreau du Quebec,  mai 2017