By RON FANFAIR
Of the 287 judges that comprise the Ontario Court of Justice, just six are Black. The overwhelming racial disparity bothers Central East regional senior judge Gregory Regis and retired judge Vibert Rosemay.
They expressed their concerns at a tribute last Sunday for Justice Irving Andre who successful defended his doctoral thesis – The Significance of Race in the Sentencing of Drug Couriers – six months ago.
Regis asked Member of Provincial Parliament Bas Balkissoon, who attended the event, to convey his displeasure to Premier Dalton McGuinty and Attorney General Chris Bentley.
“This is not acceptable and we need to change it,” said Regis. “This is a great opportunity to get the ball rolling as we congratulate Irving.”
Rosemay spoke of the many times that defendants from different countries have appeared in his court, relying on the mercy of their defense lawyers and interpreters trying to make as accurate a translation as possible on their behalf.
“Canada is no longer bi-cultural or bilingual,” he said. “It’s a multicultural country and the only way Canada can stand up and say to the world we are proud of the diversity that exist in our country is to ensure that this diversity begins at the top. People who come from other countries and embrace Canada as their new home should be entitled to feel that when they enter the justice system, they are a part of it.
“If we can produce someone like Justice Andre, think of the number of people like him that are waiting out there but are not yet seen on the Bench.”
In addition to Regis and Andre, the other Black judges on the Ontario Court are Hugh Fraser, Micheline Rawlins, Kofi Barnes and Lloyd Dean whose great grandfather Delos Davis was Canada’s second Black lawyer. Dean, who presides in Windsor/Chatham, is also the cousin of former National Football League (NFL) head coach-turned-TV-analyst Tony Dungy.
Rarely does a judge earn a doctorate and Andre’s unique achievement was celebrated by family, friends and judicial colleagues. He’s the only judge in Ontario’s Court of Justice to hold a Ph.D. in Law.
“This is one of the most gracious privileges I have had in my life,” said Rosemay in his tribute.
The two first met when Andre appeared before him as a crown attorney and later as a defense lawyer.
“Irving is one of the most effective and efficient defense lawyers I have ever encountered and I saw in him a person who was judicial material,” said Rosemay. “He had every quality that a proper judge should have and I told him he should pursue becoming a judge….The day I placed the judicial robe on him when he became a judge was indeed one of the greatest days in my life.”
Central West senior regional judge Kathryn Hawke and Andre have been colleagues since meeting when they were lawyers.
“Everything he has done professionally since I have known him has exemplified professional excellence,” she said. “He’s a man of humility and great care for others and someone who I like to turn to for advice. He may be a judge, but he’s not judgmental and I always find in his office someone I can talk to who can put another perspective on things.”
Friend and lawyer Dhaman Kissoon predicts Andre will be appointed to the Supreme Court while Justice of the Peace Dr. Odida Quamina said one of the best kept secrets among us is the kind of work that he has done and is doing.
“You also still remind us that schooling is important,” Quamina said.
The Commonwealth of Dominica Ontario Association (CDOA), of which Andre is a longstanding member, organized the tribute titled A Celebration of Excellence.
“You have indeed cemented the way for others to achieve,” CDOA president Veronica Shillingford told Andre. “You have showed us that we can be successful through hard work, perseverance and determination and you have made us proud to be Dominicans and, by extension, Caribbean people.”
Andre left Dominica in 1982 to pursue post-graduate studies in History at John Hopkins University in Baltimore. He spent two years there before coming to Canada to join his wife, Kathleen, and enter law school.
He was fired two weeks into his first Canadian job on the graveyard shift at a Mississauga car parts factory. That, however, did not deter him from attaining his goal to become a lawyer.
The father of two worked as a claims adjuster with the Workers Compensation Board and delivered newspapers and flyers on weekends before enrolling in law school in 1985. A year later, he was accepted into the night court prosecutor’s program that allowed him to prosecute highway traffic infractions.
Andre graduated from Osgoode in 1988, winning the Immigration and Labour Law prizes. He was called to the Bar two years later and articled in the Ministry of Labour’s Legal Services branch for 11 months before becoming a Crown attorney. He served as an assistant Crown attorney prior to entering private practice.
A prolific writer, Andre has compiled several books including A Passage to Anywhere and Distant Voices, and biographies of Dominica’s first minister Franklin Baron, the island’s first premier and first surgeon, Edward LeBlanc and Dr. Desmond McIntyre respectively, and Charles Maynard who is Dominica’s ambassador to CARICOM and the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States. He has also collaborated with close friend, U.S.-based attorney Gabriel Christian on In Search of Eden which is a social and political analysis of Dominica from 1967 to the present and For King & Country: The Service and Sacrifice of the British West Indian Military.
Two years ago, Andre was presented with Dominica’s second highest honour – the Sisserou award – for his contribution to Literature.