Denied the opportunity to be awarded an honorary degree because of illness, George Carter – the first Canadian-born Black judge – has finally received just recognition for a lifetime of service.
The legal trailblazer was among 25 recipients of the province’s highest official honour, the Order of Ontario, presented last week at Queen’s Park.
Just hours before joining family members last November for the drive to Queen’s University in Kingston, the nonagenarian fell ill.
This time around, Carter was not to be denied.
“He relishes the recognition and enjoyed the ceremony,” said his daughter Linda Carter who produced The Making of a Judge that tells the story of her dad 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.”
The first of 14 children, Carter was motivated by his parents who stressed the value of education, his Jewish schoolmates from whom he developed camaraderie and relationships and the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) Centre in Toronto which was a meeting place for the city’s Black community to gather and have their spirits lifted by inspirational leaders, including Paul Robeson, Asa Philip Randolph and Marcus Garvey.
Graduating from Osgoode Hall Law School in 1948 and called to the Bar a year later, Carter articled with Bertram Joseph (BJ) Spencer-Pitt, the only Black lawyer practicing in the province at the time, before opening his firm in the city in 1952.
He practiced in the areas of real estate, and criminal and family law for 31 years until being appointed the province’s second Black judge in 1976. Guyanese-born Maurice Charles, who died last year, broke the glass ceiling seven years earlier.
A provincial court judge for 16 years, Carter – he served in the military for a year – was a Toronto Negro Veterans and Toronto Negro Business & Professional Association founding member and an Ontario Black History Society member. He also played a key role in the establishment of Legal Aid Ontario and the Adoption of Coloured Children Agency.
Carter, 92, joined former Member of Provincial Parliament and House Speaker Alvin Curling and lawyer and activist Avvy Go as the distinguished Ontarians to be honoured for exemplary achievement.
A total of 619 provincial residents have been appointed to the Order of Ontario since its establishment in 1987.
Previous appointees include educators Dr. Avis Glaze, Kamala-Jean Gopie and Harold Brathwaite, entrepreneur Delores Lawrence, author Austin Clarke, human rights and union activist Bromley Armstrong, former Member of Parliament Ovid Jackson, Dr. Howard McCurdy, the first tenured Black faculty member in Canada, and the late Harry Gairey and Lincoln Alexander.