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Nova Scotia's first black provincial court judge dies

cbc.ca logo cbc.ca 2019-05-24 Sherri Borden Colley
a large room: Judge Castor Williams commanded respect in his courtroom at Halifax provincial court. © Mark Crosby/CBC Judge Castor Williams commanded respect in his courtroom at Halifax provincial court.

Nova Scotia's first black provincial court judge is being remembered as a "giant" of a man who helped fight for justice and against racism.

Judge Castor Williams died Wednesday. He was 80.

In 1996, Williams, born in Antigua, became the second person of African ancestry to be appointed to the Nova Scotia judiciary. Corrine Sparks was appointed as a family court judge in 1987.

a man wearing a blue shirt: Pamela Williams is chief judge of Nova Scotia's provincial and family courts. She described Castor Williams as a huge advocate for diversity and equality. © Mark Crosby/CBC Pamela Williams is chief judge of Nova Scotia's provincial and family courts. She described Castor Williams as a huge advocate for diversity and equality.

Anyone who walked into his courtroom knew instantly that Williams, who stood 6-4, commanded respect with his booming voice. He sat on the bench until his mandatory retirement at 70 and then came back on a part-time basis for five more years.

a man wearing a suit and tie © Provided by Canadian Broadcasting Corporation

His daughter, Amanda Williams, remembered well the day of his judicial appointment.

"It just instantly brought a smile to my face because it was his proudest moment, but our proudest moment," she said.

"I mean he strived for that and worked hard for that. He was not just determined, but he was such a hard worker and so disciplined and had a very high expectation of himself and also what he would bring to the bench and to the table."

a man wearing a suit and tie: Judge Castor Williams is being remembered as a “giant” of a man who helped fight for justice and against racism in Nova Scotia. © CBC Judge Castor Williams is being remembered as a “giant” of a man who helped fight for justice and against racism in Nova Scotia.

She also spoke about his legacy.

"He was all about fairness and justice, about right and wrong, but with a sense of a certain moral code but with integrity around it," she said.

a large room © Provided by Canadian Broadcasting Corporation

Pamela Williams, chief judge of Nova Scotia's provincial and family courts, said anyone who knew him recognized "he was a giant both literally and figuratively."

She also described Williams as a huge advocate for diversity and equality.

"He was an incredibly well-respected jurist who was fiercely independent but very fair as well," she said. "And he, on many occasions, sought to highlight the importance of diversity on the bench and improving the lot of African Nova Scotians in both education and in professional capacities."

a man wearing a suit and tie: Before becoming a judge in 1996, Castor Williams worked in private practice and then became a Crown prosecutor. © CBC Before becoming a judge in 1996, Castor Williams worked in private practice and then became a Crown prosecutor.

He was warm and funny outside the courtroom, she said.

"He loved to laugh. He loved to play jokes and he didn't mind it so much even if the jokes were being played on him."

Prior to his law career, Castor Williams served as a non-commissioned officer in the West India Regiment and worked with the Bank of Scotland.

a man wearing a blue shirt © Provided by Canadian Broadcasting Corporation

Upon coming to Canada, he received an undergraduate degree in political science and economics, and, in 1976, a law degree from Dalhousie University.

He had his own law practice until 1992 when he was appointed a Crown attorney in Dartmouth. He was appointed a provincial court judge on Feb. 20, 1996.

He was active in his community.

He chaired the committee behind the release of the BLAC report, which in 1994 found "systemic racism" persisted in the province's education system, and came up with 46 recommendations to bring about change.

He was also past president of the Black Lawyers Association of Nova Scotia.

Retired educator Brad Barton sat on the Black Learners Advisory Committee with Williams.

a man wearing a suit and tie © Provided by Canadian Broadcasting Corporation

"He demonstrated calmness and he always stay focused," Barton said. "And he (was) always there to help us along the way and to keep some calm."

Williams is survived by his wife, Patricia, and three children. His funeral will be held June 1 at 11 a.m. at Christ Church in Dartmouth.

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