Professor Julie Ada: empowering young advocates to dismantle systemic barriers

Faculty of Law - Common Law Section
Visiting professor
Social justice
Human Rights, Justice, Equity and Inclusion
Black History Month

By Common Law

Communication, Faculty of Law

A woman stands in front of shelves of legal books in a library
Professor Julie Ada is guiding her students through the challenging terrain of anti-Black racism in the Canadian legal system.

Bringing a wealth of knowledge, passion and commitment to the role of the Allan Rock Visiting Professor, which she began in the fall of 2023, Professor Ada is educating the next generation of legal practitioners in critical race theory and the law's role in perpetuating racial inequalities.

She is currently leading an upper-year course titled "Race, Gender, and Legal Culture," which examines the role and effect of racism and gender in Canadian legal culture, with particular attention paid to anti-Black racism. The goal is for students to gain a greater understanding of the manifestations of anti-Black racism in Canadian legal doctrine and system of justice. The seminar also introduces students to critical race theory and its contemporary debates and students are encouraged to analyze the role of the law in perpetuating racial inequalities and explore ways to dismantle such systemic issues.

Reflecting on her teaching philosophy, Professor Ada remarks, "I think of my classroom as more than a place for learning. The types of courses I teach, as part of my Allan Rock professorship, engage with potentially sensitive and difficult subjects. And so, I try to approach each course in a way that makes students feel safe and comfortable to share their thoughts, ask questions, and confront challenging issues arising from the readings."

A graduate of uOttawa’s Faculty of Law with a PhD earned in 2017, Professor Ada became a professor in 2021. She completed her first LLM at the University of Cape Town, South Africa, where she specialized in International Human Rights Law, followed by a second LLM at McGill University with a specialization in Comparative law. 

The Allan Rock Visiting Professor is supported by the Allan Rock Fund, established in 2016 to honor Allan Rock at the completion of his second term as President of the University of Ottawa. The fund aims to combat anti-Black racism by enhancing access to justice and fostering racial justice within the Faculty of Law. It supports internships, fellowships, and mentorship programs for Black students, as well as visiting professors who are members of the Black community.

During the Fall term, Professor Ada taught a Directed Research Project course on Equal Justice Advocacy, aimed at encouraging doctrinal or inter-disciplinary research on issues advancing equality for marginalized communities. Students developed research topic themes relevant to racial injustice, anti-Black racism, and addressing theoretical, substantive, procedural or administrative aspects. 

The topics explored by students reflected the depth and breadth of the impact of racial injustice in various facets of Canadian society. Some of the research topics included the legal aspects of the school-to-prison pipeline, which predominantly affects Black youth and other racialized youth in Ontario’s education system, and how a paternalistic portrayal of refugees in Canada perpetuates assumptions about their vulnerability and compromises their agency. 

Zaina Abusayma, a 3rd-year student who participated in Professor Ada's Equal Justice Advocacy course, shares her experience, stating: "Professor Ada's Equal Justice Advocacy course truly stood out during my time in law school. Her open-mindedness, dedication to social justice, and emphasis on intersectionality, combined with her genuine and kind guidance, shaped my research on the sensitive topic of medical assistance in dying (MAID) in the prison system. Undoubtedly the faculty's best, she inspires not only academic but also personal growth."

Professor Ada is grateful for the opportunities provided to her in the role of Allan Rock Visiting Professor. "I thank Professor Rock for creating this program and I thank Dean Kristen Boon, the University of Ottawa, and the Faculty of Law for the opportunity. I have had a chance to exchange ideas, to build important relationships and connections with students and faculty members," she says. "A unique strength of uOttawa law is its sense of community. The law school brings together people from different backgrounds and promotes an inclusive and collaborative learning environment."

Through her insightful perspective and dedication to fostering safe and inclusive learning spaces, Professor Julie Ada is instilling in her students a greater understanding of the intersectionality of race, gender, and legal culture in Canada and helping to create a more inclusive and just legal education for all.