Home / Letters / A Response To Your Article That Discusses The Absence Of Diversity In The Canadian Judiciary
A Response  To  Your  Article  That  Discusses  The   Absence  Of  Diversity In The  Canadian Judiciary

Osborne G. Barnwell, a lawyer, who has been doing battle in the diversity-deficient Canadian judicial system, for 25 years, says in his letter to the editor, below: "When you are as Black as I am, there seems to be a visceral reaction, by White judges, to your presence."

A Response To Your Article That Discusses The Absence Of Diversity In The Canadian Judiciary


I am  a  Black lawyer  of 25  years  of practice   and  I  have had  the same  concerns, as those  articulated  by  the author.  Indeed,  I  need  to say  that  this  is  an excellent  article,  well  researched  and well  written.

It  should be sent  to  the Prime  Minister,  by  special delivery.  Anyway,  I digressed.

There  is  one  significant point  that  the  author  missed, and  that  is:  the  expected  comfort  that  someone,  like  me,  will enjoy  when I see a  minority  judge  on the bench.  At least   I would  not have  the  anxiety  of  being an object  of  racist  behavior.  Read  on,  you will see what  I  mean.

When  you  are as Black as  I am,  there   seems  to be a  visceral reaction, by  White  judges,  to  your  presence.  Although  I have been  in Canada  for  45  years  this  year and  really  do  not  have  what  can be described as a  thick accent  (I  love my accent so please  no  comment about  me  trying  to  kill  my   heritage),  White  judges  will start  leaning  forward,  anticipating  that  you  don’t  speak  English   or  if you spoke it,  it  is  going  to be difficult  for  them to  understand what  you  may  be saying.  In  response,  I  would  then  assure  them  that “I will speak  slowly”.  It  is  not  funny,  like  ha, ha,  at  all,  but  I  do  this  to  let  them  know  their  subconscious anti-Black  racism,  or  whatever isms  occupying  them,  is  seen  and  that  they should be embarrassed  by  it.

For  over  25  years,  I  have been  suffering  as a  Black lawyer  in this   justice system.  For  example,  one  should take a  look  at  the Federal Court (where  I  do a  lot  of Immigration work),  where  immigrants  are  at  times sacrificed.   This is  where   judges’  political  opinions  ring loud and   clear,   and where,  I  have heard  at least  one judge say,  “I  have never  met  a  refugee, who  has ever spoken  the  truth”.  That  judge said  this  just  before  he  dismissed every  injunction brought,  that  day,   to stop  their deportation.   To this day,  my   psyche  remains  damaged.

In response  to  the  heinous  conduct  of some  judges  in that  court,   I  have been beating down  the  door  of  the Canadian  Judicial  Council   (CJC)  for many, many  years.  They  now  say  that  I  am  the  guy,  who  frivolously attack  judges .  Not  one  complaint  has  ever   gone past  the threshold.

The  Executive  Director  of  the  Judicial Council  says  ah,  a  judge dealing  in immigration matters  can  do whatever  they  wish.   In my view,   it  is a Court  that   can be   unhinged  and out  of control,  when  the lives  of  the down-trodden  folks   are  before them.  That  Court  scares  me,  actually.  Of course,  not  every single  judge  falls  in this  category,  but  my  experience  in that Court , leaves a  significant  taint  on my  psyche.  Oh ,  by  the way,  there  is no  appeal   right, from a  dismissal  of say  an  injunction in Federal Court, so  whatever  that  judge  does….even  if  he  says,  Mr. Barnwell, could  you  present………. and then  falls asleep,  while  you  are  arguing, and then  wakes  up and say,  “Motion dismissed”  that’s  it.  He  has  taken   jurisdiction and  so  you are  stuck.

There  is  one  recent  (2018)  experience  I will never  forget.  It  concerns  a  woman  from  St. Vincent, in which  the  evidence  showed  that she had  been beaten  by  her  partner  in St. Vincent for  14  years.  She  eventually  ran away  and came  to  Canada.  She went  underground,  because  at  that  time,  it  was  not well established  that  one could claim  refugee status,  based  on spousal  abuse.  She  eventually  got arrested  and  at  that  time,  came  to my  office.

As usual,  these  folks  tend to have little  funds,  so  you  do  the best  you  can.  I  was  moved  by  her  case,  and  promised  myself  that  I  would  fight  for  her. Over  the years, we went  to  Federal Court, about  five  times,  and stopped  her  return  to St. Vincent,  to  the man who was awaiting  her arrival.

As  usual in these cases,  risk assessments were  done,  but  each  time  the  officers  would  turn  her down,  and each  time, we  would  get  the  Court  on  Judicial  review.  They accepted  that she was beaten,  but  they  would  ignore  the  evidence  of  her daughter,  who  submitted  affidavit  evidence  from  the  island,  where  she   would  see  her   violent,  ignorant  father, and would hear  him carry  on about   the fact  that  he  could not wait  until  her mother  returns.

The  problem for  him  is  that  he had been  ridiculed  in the village, when  his  wife  ran away . Consequently,  he  was  either  sharpening  his machete  or  maybe  buying  a gun  to kill  her.  The  truth is,  I  had  no  clue  how  he was  going  to  maim  or  kill her,  but  I  must confess,   I was  always scared  for  her.

That day when  I showed  up at  federal Court for  the  umpteenth  time  to  stop  yet  another deportation, the  judge asked  me,  “How  were you  today?”  This  is  not a  judge   with whom  I  am  that  familiar,  so  I was  curious and  so  I  said, “Pardon me?”  He  then said,  “Well  you  were  suppose  to  be  in Tax  Court  of  Canada  on such and such a date,  but   you  call  in sick  after  you  were unable  to  get an  adjournment from a  the tax  court on a case.”

Wow, what  the hell  was  that?  I was  to say  the least,  quite   frightened….no, no…not  that I have been caught  doing something wrong,   but  my goodness,  what  was this  White man  going  to  do  to  me?  I  told  the  judge  that,  in fact,  I  was  quite  ill  that day, when  I  fell  over at  my office and  one  of  my  colleagues  had  to  take  me  home,  and  I  went  to  the doctor that  very   day.  It  was  so  inexplicable that  the  following day  (a Friday)   I was  scheduled  at  the Ontario  Court  of  Appeal  to argue a  case, but  had  to seek  the adjournment.  Given  that  I could  not  prepare  for  the tax client  for  the Monday  sitting at  Tax Court,   my assistant  advised  the  Tax  Court,   and  so that hearing was adjourned.

I  then asked  the  judge,  what was this  about?  He  turned beet   red  and  indicated “nothing”.

One must  understand  that  I  am  intimately  familiar with  the  Court  process and the law  and  knew  that  the   immigration case had  considerable merit…CONSIDERABLE  MERIT.  That  day,  that  evil, racist  and cruel  judge  dismissed  the  stay  motion and issued  reasons,  as long as  your  arm.  Normally,  they  don’t  issue  such  lengthy  reasons.  I  was  in shock.  That day  I  realized  that  indeed  there  is  No  Justice…..JUST  US.

I lodged a  complaint against  the  judge,  for  breach  of  privacy,  as  he  had accessed the  Tax  Court  system  to  look  me  up and  that  he  failed  to  carry  out  his  duty  as  a judge.  As expected,  I was slammed  by  the Executive  Director  at  the  Judicial Council.  I also wrote  the Chief  Justice  of  the Federal  Court  and  the Chief  justice  of  the Tax Court.  The  matter went  nowhere.  The client went  underground and remains  underground.

That   Federal Court  is  ALL White ….I have never seen a  single  minority  judge,  over  these many  years.  So  too  is  the  Tax  Court  of  Canada,  which  only has  one  Black  woman.

In the normal course,  given my sedated  background and my  family  discipline,  going  back  to  the islands,  I  would  never  ever  be writing  this  kind  of comment,  but  then,  what  am  I doing  for  the  next  generation  coming  up?  Yes,  I must  act, lest  I  be seen as  being complicit  in  the  hemorrhaging  of  what  we  hold so  dear,  that   is:  the  due  administration of  justice.

It may seen  trite  and  rather simple,  but  I sincerely  believe  that  if  indeed  there  were  folks  on  the Federal  Court,  the Tax  Court of  Canada and the  Superior  Court  of  Justice,  with  some semblance  of  background-sharing with  those  who  appear  before  them, what  happened  to  me,  would  never  have  happened.

Oh,  I  have  not  told  you  about  the White  judge  in Superior  Court,   who   without  any  explanation,  ordered  me  to  tell  my  Nigerian  clients  to   give  in  to  the White  plaintiffs.  The  problem  with  that was that  they (the Nigerian clients) had a  great case.

I  challenged  that  judge  (Superior  Court  judge)  and  introduced  him  to a  thing  call  anti-Black  racism.  He  did  not like  it  very  much,  but  given that  I  had placed  all  of  my clients’ concerns  on the  record,  afraid  to  be  exposed,  as  I was   eager  to  take  it  to  the  Appeal  Court.  We  won the case.

Was  it worth all  of  the  trouble?  Well, I  guess  not, as  the  beat  goes  on.  Yeah,  there  is  yet another  case,  where  I   felt  uppity  during a  motion  at  the Superior  Court  of  Justice, and said  to  the  Judge,  “Please take a  look  at  the   penultimate  paragraph”  (the  one  before  the last  paragraph),  and  that  judge  shockingly  said,  in  the most sarcastic way,  ” Oh,  we  find a new word, now”. When  I  objected,  he  accused me  of  being a  race -card  puller.  I must confess,   I was  in shock,  but  I  always wanted  to be a  judge,  so  I did  not  lay a complaint.

Yet another   experience  at  Superior  Court  involved a  judge,  who  decided  to  respond  to  a  call  by  his  friend, a  lawyer,  who I had been  fighting  with,  in a  civil  matter.  I  had appealed  the  judge’s  order  to  the Ontario  Court  of  Appeal.  That lawyer  then called…yes…he  did….. because  I  got  a  notice  to appear at  Court  that day…… to  deal with  the lawyer’s  request  to  his  friend,  the  judge,  to  issue   more  fulsome  reasons.  Yes,  you  are  right…..he was asking  the  judge  to now  make  the  reasons   (well  the decision),  which  were under  appeal,  appeal-proof,  after  I  had  launched  an appeal.  Yeah,  he  did.

I  am a nice  guy, from one  of  those  beautiful  Caribbean islands and a  Pastor’s son,  who  taught  me  right,  but  WOW,  I went  crazy  that day.  I  told  the  judge  that  this  is  improper. I asked  for a   court reporter   to record  this  travesty,  but  that was  refused.  I  insisted  that what  they were doing was wrong,  but  that  did not matter.   Oh,  the  judge  told  me  I was a  liar  and, in the end,  declined  to change  his  reasons,  but  I must tell  you,  that when I  got  to  OCA (Ontario Court of Appeal), in front  of a  single  judge, as  I  was  seeking an  injunction,  that  judge  had  obviously had  conversation with  the  first  judge.  I  know  this,  because  that  judge  said  something  to  me  that  he  could  have  only  known  if  he  had been  in the  room  at  Superior  Court  and   I know  that  I did  not  tell  him what  he  shared  with me.   I lost my  innocence  that day……

Yeah,  that  was  too  much  for  me, so I  lodged a complaint against  the  first  judge  with  the CJC  and,  low and behold,  they  shot  me down.   I  was  in shock  (yeah,  I am in shock all  the  time)  and  wrote a letter  to  the  CJC,  seeking reconsideration  and  then  they decided  to  seek a  response  from  the  judge.  It was all  LIES….  yeah,  the Judge  lied  through his  teeth.  I  then  wrote,  in response, that  the  judge  was a  LIAR and  that from  that  day,  I would  never  call  him  “YOUR  HONOUR”,  because  he had disgraced  the  seat  he  sat in.

To  this  day,  I  met  the man, once,  in a  commercial  litigation case,  in which  he was  the case management  judge  and  I  knew  that  he  remembered  me.   I  kept  my  word  and  never addressed  him as “Your Honor”.   Did  that help….I don’t  know.  As  you  can see,  if  you  practice  in  these  areas, where we  are  not supposed  to be,  you   can be  torpedoed.

There  are so  many more nasty experiences   I have had, as a Black lawyer.  Last  one….I  was  in  Superior  Court and the  lawyer opposite,  was  a nice  white  gentleman, whose  brother I knew and who was  in my  class  at Osgoode  Hall, back  in the day.  The  judge was  a  White woman.  I had  with me  that day, a  Sri Lankan  lawyer,  newly called  to  the Ontario Bar, who wanted  to  audit  me…follow  me around  to  get a  taste  of  what lay ahead.  That day  the  judge  came  out  of  the blocks  with  fire  in her  nostrils.  She berated  me, talked  down  to  me,  and gratuitously  gave  me  a really  bad  time.  Of course  I  fought  back  but,  in the end,  she  dismissed  the motion.

I  then went  back, to  the back  of  the Court  room,  where  the Sri  Lankan  lawyer  was sitting, and  she  was  so  frightened.  She asked  me what  I had  done  to  the judge, and  I  indicated  that  I had never argued a case  before  her  previously.  I  forlornly  said  to  her “Welcome  to Superior  Court”.  I tried  to seek leave  at  Divisional Court, citing  racial  bias,  and  that  judge   chastised  me  and said,  “How  dare  you  raise  racism  against  one  of my  colleagues?”

Yeah,  my life  has been  punctuated  with  unsolicited excitement,  which, at  times,  frightened  the “be  Jesus”  out  of  me.  I recall  the day, when  the  judge called  me a  LIAR,  and I  cried …yeah,  this   fifty-ish old  Black  man, at  the  time…cried  all  the way  back  to  my  office.  Of course  I asked  God:  why? why? why? And  He said:  “Because  you are  strong”.

There   is one  other spiritual  revelation  I had  with  the case  and  that  is,  after  I had  been assaulted, lynched and disrespected  by  the  two white  folks  in that  room,  that  night  I  was  quite restless.  The   Holy Spirit  (no  I  am not  crazy….it  is a  fact,  which  has  characterized  my  life)  instructed  me  to  go  down  to  the computer  and  Google  the  two names  of  the  evil men,  and  wow,  there  it was:  they were  on  one  those  panels,  together, about a  month  earlier.  So what? Well,  while  this happens,  from  time  to  time, that  lawyers and  judges  sit  on  conference  panels,  this  one meant a  lot to  me.  It explained  why  a  judge could,  in  good  conscience,  accede   an  atrocious and  illegal   request  to  change  his reason,  after the  appeal  was launched.  Yeah,  it  happened  to me.

What does all of this have to  do  with  the  issue  of  a  failed Canadian  Judiciary,  where   the  commitment  to  diversity  is  NOT  borne  out by  the  faces  in  high  places?

Well, in a way,  sharing  with  you  what  goes  on  in the Courts makes  the  case,  hopefully,   that   we need  to  level  the  playing  field.  While  it  is  statistically NOT   provable,  maybe,  just  maybe,  these  rather  blood-curdling  experiences  might  not  have  occurred, if  I had  the occasion to  deal with a  Minority  judge.

Osborne G. Barnwell, BA, BCOMM, CGA, LLB, LLM  (Civil Lit)

Toronto, Ontario


  1. Not too sure about the minority judge bro. We have too many Uncle Toms in our midst, and Uncle Toms they must be to get ahead. But do they?

    I am so glad you wrote this, for when it happens to us ordinary folk, others try to tell us it is because we need a lawyer. I had a white lawyer mistreated, just for representing me and trying to do a good job. I ended up having to represent myself, but the Divisional court, with a panel of three judges, made such a fool of themselves (they think they can make a fool of me and missed the fact I was making asses of them), so the racists made a decision (it is sacrilege to call that nonsense decision for a grade 3 child could put that together) that, in effect, says I should have stolen my employer’s money and help others to take what they want, and keep my mouth shut.

    Then they wanted me to pay cost to the worst lawyer ever, who literally ran out of court when I was done talking and turned their lie right on its head. I used my cost submissions to tell them I reserve the right to be confrontational and insubordinate to every thief. I am sure they missed that point.

    When filing Notice of Motion for leave to appeal court, a white lawyer begged me to stop and not let them abuse me further. He wanted to know if I had a house, but I know the drill already, and have not even a bus shelter for them to take.

    They try to scare you by carrying highway robber by awarding cost against you. I still wonder why all these clowns are getting appointed to the Bench

  2. What a journey. Threw me right back to Mississippi burning. Remember Jesus Christ was crucified. All the best, you can do it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Scroll To Top