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Law General

Race on Trial

Black Defendants in Ontario's Criminal Courts, 1858-1958

by (author) Barrington Walker

University of Toronto Press
Initial publish date
Jul 2011
General, General, African American Studies
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Jul 2011
    List Price
  • Hardback

    Publish Date
    Oct 2010
    List Price
  • eBook

    Publish Date
    Jul 2011
    List Price

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While slavery in Canada was abolished in 1834, discrimination remained. Race on Trial contrasts formal legal equality with pervasive patterns of social, legal, and attitudinal inequality in Ontario by documenting the history of black Ontarians who appeared before the criminal courts from the mid-nineteenth to the mid-twentieth centuries.

Using capital case files and the assize records for Kent and Essex counties, areas that had significant black populations because they were termini for the Underground Railroad, Barrington Walker investigates the limits of freedom for Ontario's African Canadians. Through court transcripts, depositions, jail records, Judge's Bench Books, newspapers, and government correspondence, Walker identifies trends in charges and convictions in the Black population. This exploration of the complex and often contradictory web of racial attitudes and the values of white legal elites not only exposes how blackness was articulated in Canadian law but also offers a rare glimpse of black life as experienced in Canada's past.

About the author

Barrington Walker is Associate Professor in the Department of History at Queen's University. His research interests are Black Canadian history and the histories of race and immigration in Canada.

Barrington Walker's profile page


  • Short-listed, Legislative Assembly of Ontario Speaker’s Book Award

Editorial Reviews

‘Walker has written a well-researched, insightful, and compelling study of how race and nation was articulated, contested, and negotiated through Ontario’s courts and the trials of Black defendants.’

Labour/Le Travail vol 72:2013

Other titles by Barrington Walker