» Go to news main

Law School Alumnus Douglas Ruck Wins 2024 Aurum Award

Posted by Emily MacKinnon on May 24, 2024 in News, Awards, Alumni & Friends
Doug Ruck (BA '72, LLB '77) (Provided Photo)
Doug Ruck (BA '72, LLB '77) (Provided Photo)

This story originally appeared in Dalhousie University Alumni NewsDoug Ruck is finding a better way.

When Doug Ruck (BA ’72, LLB ’77) was a child in the 1950s, his family moved to a white suburb in Dartmouth. The residents petitioned to keep them out, saying a Black family moving in would reduce the value of the neighbourhood’s properties.  

Ruck remembers his parents, Calvin and Joyce, explaining to Ruck and his siblings that they could not be “free-wheeling or loosey-goosey” in their attitudes, even in their own backyard. Ruck learned at a young age that the necessity of being courteous and introspective was even more important for Black people. “We were being watched very closely, being judged very closely,” Ruck says. “How we behaved, how we spoke, how we dressed, it was all significant.” 

Building community

You could be forgiven for assuming that moving into a neighbourhood with such outright disdain for his family would make Ruck bitter and jaded. In fact, the opposite is true. Under the tutelage of his father, the late Senator Calvin Ruck (DSW ’79, LLD ’94), he learned the importance of building community.

Senator Calvin Ruck was an impressive man. Revered for his social and civil rights work, Ruck says his father “the Senator” and his father “the man” were one and the same. Striving for equality was baked into his personality, home life and work — and he instilled those same values in his children.

Ruck remembers his father building a skating rink in their backyard each winter. “He did that for several reasons,” Ruck explains. “We had a place to play, but also, it meant other children in the neighbourhood would come to our yard. It was a focal point.” Over the years, the rink became a wintertime tradition the families in the neighbourhood looked forward to, and Calvin would decorate it with lights and seating.

“He knew there were people who didn’t want us there, but his belief was we shouldn’t walk around with a look of hatred on our faces or a sense of anger,” Ruck says. “We will speak out if the need arises and do so forthrightly, but we will be courteous and work to become an integral part of this community.”

Legal education at home and at Dal

Ruck says the notion of community-building was integral to his father’s work and was a lesson Ruck absorbed early on. For instance, Calvin organized a drycleaning service for the families of neighbouring Preston, N.S., a primarily African Nova Scotian community. He would pick up and drop off items, going into homes (sometimes for hours while Ruck waited in the car reading books). He would discuss water and electricity services, schools, landscaping — you name it, Calvin wanted to hear about it. As Ruck grew older, he was invited into these conversations about injustice and inequality. Eventually, he found his input was being sought.

By the time Ruck entered law school at Dalhousie in 1973, having completed his undergraduate degree at the University of King’s College, where today he serves as Board of Governors Chair, he was well on his way to becoming a respected civil rights activist. But as one of three Black students in his law class, he says his primary feeling at that time was isolation. And not because people weren’t around to talk to, but because he just didn’t know who was safe.

“I wasn’t going there lamenting the state of the world every day to my fellow students,” he says. “I had no reason to discuss these points with them. I didn’t wish to show that vulnerability.”

Instead, he dedicated himself to his studies, graduating in 1977 and opening his own private legal practice. Ruck worked for years in labour relations and human rights law, applying his father’s lessons to his work and becoming a sought-after voice in matters of equity, diversity and inclusion. In 2021, Ruck was inducted into the Bertha Wilson Honour Society by Dalhousie's Schulich School of Law, which celebrates the impact alumni make on a local, national and international scale.

Not just a ‘tick-the-box’ exercise

For a time, Ruck was Nova Scotia’s ombudsman, considering and investigating complaints from people who believed they had been treated unfairly when accessing government services. In 2020, he led a team to identify systemic anti-Black racism at the Nova Scotia College of Physicians and Surgeons. In 2021, he undertook a review of systemic discrimination in the Nova Scotia Barristers’ Society.

That work led to Ruck being regularly contacted to deliver talks and workshops about identifying and mitigating workplace discrimination. A good starting point, he says, but it’s not a one-and-done conversation; not an exercise that merely ticks a “diversity education” box.

“What you hear in an hour is just scraping the surface,” Ruck says. “Afterwards is the time to start getting deeper into the issues and expose the trauma, the anxiety, and become comfortable being uncomfortable. Because it’s not a comfortable conversation.”

Going forward

Calvin dreamt of a society in which discussions of race-based equity and inclusion were no longer necessary. Ruck now knows that likely won’t happen in his own lifetime, but he is encouraged by the fact that we are having these conversations at all, and that they’re getting more complex. Having folks coming to the table, even if it’s to dispute what he says, is a step in the right direction, Ruck says. At least they’re engaging.

While attitudes and behaviours have not undergone a seismic shift to the point that there is no longer a need to be vigilant, Ruck says he is encouraged that we continue to have meaningful conversations on the streets and in boardrooms. “All of these factors help to foster equitable and inclusive workplaces,” he says.

“Such initiatives provide me with hope and a sense of well-being, as I see that the work of my father and mother and the efforts of so many others who have also walked this path were not in vain.”