Thirty four years after he was appointed the first Canadian-born Black judge, George Carter’s historical achievements in law and other interesting facets of life are the subject of a documentary screened last week at the Law Society of Upper Canada (LSUC).
The Making of a Judge, produced and presented by his daughter, Linda Carter, tells the story of man who emerged from a humble background to serve in Canada’s military, work as a porter which was the only job available to Black men in his era, graduate from law school and then serve with distinction on the Bench in Ontario.
Carter was the province’s second Black judge after Guyanese-born Maurice Charles who broke the glass ceiling in 1969.
“It’s important that his story is told because of all the firsts and how it ties in with a lot of our community’s history,” said curator and historian, Dr. Sheldon Taylor. “Also, by putting his story in a visual context, it becomes a learning tool for this particular generation that doesn’t want to read a book that’s about 400 pages. Give it to them in 45 minutes and let them see for themselves because they are so untrusting of the world they live in that they are more visually tactile.”
OMNI TV funded the 45-minute documentary that includes a clip of late United Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) president and activist Ed Clarke giving a testimonial to Carter a few months before he died just over a decade ago.
Taylor highlighted the significance of the launch taking place at the LSUC which is responsible for the self-regulation of lawyers and paralegals in the province.
“This is a hell of an accomplishment because, in the past, we would come down here because of a legal case,” he said. “Today, we are celebrating a man who has made a significant contribution and he’s not telling a bitter story. What he has done is taken limes and made lemonade and that’s the lesson we have to pass on to our kids because in effect what they are doing is taking lemonades and making lime out of them. He has done the reverse.”
The first of 14 children, Carter gained his inspiration from his parents who stressed the value of education, his Jewish schoolmates from whom he developed camaraderie and relationships and the UNIA centre in Toronto which was a meeting place for the city’s African Canadians to gather and to have their spirits lifted by such powerful leaders as Paul Robeson, A. Phillip Randolph and Marcus Garvey.
Carter, who turns 89 on August 1, helped establish legal aid services and the Adoption of Coloured Children agency. He was also very familiar with the role and practice of land registry law.
“Land registry in Ontario is very important and in the old days before there were computers, you really had to have the mind and understand the procedures if you were going to be a lawyer in real estate,” Taylor said. “He had that ability and I believe he learned it from B.J. (Bertram Joseph) Spencer-Pitt (he was Ontario’s fifth Black lawyer after Robert Sutherland, Delos Davis and his son Frederick and Lionel Cross). That was so important because it taught him about Toronto and the significance of touching documents and books.”
Carter articled with Spencer-Pitt who mentored many young Blacks and also provided free legal service to members of the African-Canadian community.
Carter’s daughter said she started putting together the documentary three years ago.
“Dad is a great story teller and he has many wonderful stories of when he was growing up,” said the actress and model. “I consider him the griot of the Black Canadian experience in Ontario. He’s also modest and he’s done so much for this community. I wanted to screen the documentary now so that he can appreciate it.”