Get to Know the Speaker – Part 1: Akwasi Owusu-Bempah

Posted by TEDxToronto on October 16, 2018

Over the past 10 years, TEDxToronto has been proud to host some of the most innovative, intellectual and inspiring individuals, all sharing their expertise on a wide range of topics. With this year’s theme, IDENTITY, we decided to give everyone an inside look into some of the upcoming TEDxToronto 2018 speakers.

Tell us about your career. Where did you start and where are you headed?

I started my career as an academic at Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana and returned to the University of Toronto, in 2016. I really like being at U of T and don’t see myself leaving this institution anytime soon. Being at a major research institution provides an opportunity to engage in interesting large-scale studies, while also enabling me to work directly with practitioners, policymakers and members of the general public.

What makes the discussion around race, crime, criminal justice and policing relevant right now?

This is a discussion that has long been relevant and will remain so for the foreseeable future. Our criminal justice system disproportionately targets poor, racialized and otherwise marginalized communities. Racial profiling, mass incarceration and the war on drugs are a few of the key issues. These are all related. We have some great academic work that has exposed inherent injustices in our justice system and great advocacy and practical work trying to correct some of the problems. We still have a long way to go though.

What do you think is the biggest opportunity for Canada when it comes to cannabis legalization?

I think the opportunities on the business side are huge. Canadian cannabis companies have a first mover advantage given the fact that we are the first G7 country to legalize on a national scale. This means that Canadian cannabis companies which have established themselves at home can (and are) putting down roots around the world. Continued federal prohibition of cannabis in the United States has been a big win for Canada.

I think the important thing to recognize, though, is that we also have an opportunity to create meaningful social change as we move towards legalization. The war on drugs in Canada, as elsewhere, has had a devastating impact on many Canadians. The job opportunities and sources of tax revenue generated by legal cannabis can be used to repair some of the hams of prohibition.

Name one TEDx talk that had a big impact on you. What made it compelling?

I particularly like Bryan Stevenson’s TED talk because he breaks down many of the issues that I contend with in my own work in such a relatable and accessible manner.


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