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Reviewed by:
  • Race on Trial: Black Defendants in Ontario's Criminal Courts, 1858-1958 by Barrington Walker
  • Carl E. James, Director
Barrington Walker . Race on Trial: Black Defendants in Ontario's Criminal Courts, 1858-1958. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2010. 276 pp. Six Images. $57.00 hc; $29.95 sc; $29.95 EBUB format.

In the wake of the recent shooting incidents in Toronto (about five involving Black youth in June and July, 2012), Torontonians—and Black community members in particular—were subjected to a discourse about Black youth that was last heard seven years ago (2005) during what was dubbed the "summer of the gun." That discourse [End Page 279] presented Black youth as thugs, foreigners, gang members and consequently, potential lawbreakers who were prone to violence; and that the "Black community" bears sole responsibility for addressing the issues. For its part, "the community"—often putting aside its diversity, complexity and instability—tends to take upon itself the ascribed responsibility for "our" problems.

For instance, in reacting to "the largest mass shootings in Toronto's history,"—write The Globe and Mail reporters, Timothy Appleby and Adrian Morrow (July 19, 2012)—Toronto's mayor, Rob Ford, commented: "I'm going to hopefully meet with the Prime Minister to see if we can toughen our gun laws.... Once they're charged and they go to jail the most important thing is when they get out of jail. I don't want them living in the city. They can go anywhere else, but I don't want them in the city." Saying that he will have to find out "how our immigration laws work," Ford went on to assert, "whatever I can do to get them out of the city, I'm going to, regardless of whether they have family or friends. I don't want these people, if they're convicted of a gun crime, to have anything to do with the City of Toronto."And despite their assessment of the mayor's comments as "impulsive and careless ... some bordering on racism," Akwasi Owusu-Bempah and Wendell Adjetey (themselves Black/African Canadians), in their guest contribution to Toronto Star (Tuesday, July 24, 2012), wrote that "community members" met with the mayor "to confer about possible solutions." The authors concluded that "while the mayor appeared attentive to the community's concerns, he did not seem to appreciate the feedback he received. Ford obviously believes we can arrest our way out of the problem... [and] had no qualms telling those in attendance that he did not believe poverty is a major contributing factor—again despite evidence to the contrary."

The recent (2010) book, Race on Trial: Black Defendants in Ontario's Criminal Courts, 1858-1958 by Barrington Walker, provides important insights for understanding and framing the recent incidents in Toronto and the mayor's comments with reference to the "foreignness" of Black bodies, including his expectations of the judicial system to deal with them, and the community members' mindset of taking responsibility for the issues. The fact is: contemporary issues and related discourses pertaining to Black people are rooted in the historical, social and judicial framework of "multicultural" Canada. As such, Walker's "study of blackness through the eyes—the legal artifacts—of the dominant culture" (12) is an important reference for understanding the institutional and judicial roots of anti-Black racism. In so doing, he sheds new light—showing the contradictions—on Canada's long-held claim of being a society in which "race does not matter," and the Underground Railroad is celebrated as a symbol of the "freedom" Canada afforded Africans who escaped enslavement in the United States of America. Walker cogently shows how blackness in Canada was "quite literally a product of the law" (5), and was "sometimes considered [End Page 280] a part of Canada and at other times something foreign to it" (22). Historically, this foreignness has been particularly ascribed to those who break the law. In the case of those black people born outside of Canada, they tend to be forever immigrants; hence, once they commit a crime, efforts are made to have them deported.

Take the case of Fred Fountain, a native of Bahamas, who...


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