By Neil Armstrong
|Photo contributed The late Justice George E. Carter|
Justice George E. Carter’s love of language, respect and love for family, and paying it forward are among the fondest memories his family and friends have of him.
The first Canadian-born black judge had a curious mind which his daughter, Linda Carter, says he demonstrated in a story he told about attending church with his mother as a child and wanting to know where the offering was being taken up the aisle when it should be going to God.
Carter, 96, passed away peacefully on June 7 surrounded by his family at home in Toronto. A funeral service was held at the Glendale Chapel on June 12 and interment followed at the Beechwood Cemetery.
Born on August 1, 1921 to parents, John Carter and Louise Braithwaite Carter, who were from Barbados, he was the oldest of 14 children and worked as a train porter to help pay his tuition at Trinity College, University of Toronto.
He graduated with a B.A. in 1944 and that same year went into the Canadian army where he served active duty in the infantry corps and went to camps, like Ipperwash, during World War II.
In 1945, he articled with B.J. Spencer Pitt, the only black lawyer practising in Ontario, and in 1948 graduated from Osgoode Hall Law School.
Carter subsequently opened his own Bay Street office which covered real estate, family and criminal law. He practiced law for 31 years before being called to the bench in 1979.
Becoming the first Canadian-born black judge, he served for 16 years on the Ontario Provincial Court and was later appointed to the Ontario Court of Justice.
“You have to document your history. If you don’t document your history somebody else will do it and make it theirs, basically,” says Linda who made a documentary film, “The Making of a Judge,” about her father in 2010.
Sunday nights after dinner was when he would tell stories for years and she felt they had to be documented.
“I know he went through a lot of racism, a lot of stuff at that time. At the time even the beaches were segregated,” she said about her father and his 13 siblings growing up in Toronto.
Justice Carter saw Marcus Garvey and heard him speak and his wife got an autograph.
Roy T. Anderson, who is making a film entitled “Marcus Garvey: The Untold Story” interviewed Justice Carter about the Pan-Africanist and founder of the Universal Negro Improvement Association.
"I was 16-years-old when I entered that church. That was the first time I saw the man in the flesh. I’m sitting in the pew, and he’s coming down the aisle. The place is full of people. It’s crowded. I guess they wanted to see this man...,” said Carter about Garvey visiting the African Methodist Episcopal Church on Soho Street in the 1930s.
Linda loved hearing her father talk about his father’s love of language and how his dad went to work on the Panama Canal and he took a trunk of books with him.
“Daddy use to say grandpa used to always say ‘get it in your head, get it in your head because once it’s in your head nobody can take it out.’ So the love of knowledge, education – those were very important to him,” she said, noting that Justice Carter spoke Latin, German and French.
She said he believed in helping people. “The house was always full. If somebody didn’t have a family the Carters would adopt them and still doing that.”
Linda said Christmases were wonderful when his six sisters would be around and they cooked for about forty family members.
The family still gets together for birthdays and Father’s Day, and they have planned a Nine Night for June 16.
“One of the things that dad said, that he was glad to get on the bench so that he can help his people there because he saw that there was a lot of young people in the courts and they needed help,” she said, noting that Justice Carter would want people to remember him by helping one another.
Kathy Grant was introduced to Carter by her mother in 2005 at the annual Harry Jerome Awards. Like him, she has a love for history and would talk to him almost daily from 2010 when they reconnected at the screening of the film about him, to this year.
“There were always so many stories to tell, like stories about the Home Service.”On April 27, 2014 a bronze bust was unveiled in the Osgoode Hall Law School Library commemorating Justice Carter’s leadership and contributions to Canadian society.
Carter was a recipient of the Harry Jerome lifetime achievement award, Osgoode Hall Law School of York University award for excellence, and honorary life membership to the Ontario Judges Association.
He was honoured by the Canadian Association of Black Lawyers (CABL) and is a recipient of Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee medal and an honorary doctorate from Queen's University.
Justice Carter was predeceased by his wife, Kay, and was the father of Linda (Tom), Evan (Ann), Jacquie (Michael) and Ralph (Holly).
He was grandfather to Jessica, Micah, Emily, Annie, Kathleen and Andre, and was the great-grandfather of Aina and brother of Doris.
[This story has been published in the North American Weekly Gleaner, June 21-27, 2018.]