“Race,” Rights and the Law in the Supreme Court of Canada
Historical Case Studies
$85.00 Hardcover, 464 pp.
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$48.95 Paper, 464 pp.
Shortlisted for the 1998 Sir John A. Macdonald Prize for Best Book in Canadian History
Four cases in which the legal issue was “race” — that of a Chinese restaurant owner who was fined for employing a white woman; a black man who was refused service in a bar; a Jew who wanted to buy a cottage but was prevented by the property owners’ association; and a Trinidadian of East Indian descent who was acceptable to the Canadian army but was rejected for immigration on grounds of “race” — drawn from the period between 1914 and 1955, are intimately examined to explore the role of the Supreme Court of Canada and the law in the racialization of Canadian society. With painstaking research into contemporary attitudes and practices, Walker demonstrates that Supreme Court Justices were expressing the prevailing “common sense” about “race” in their legal decisions. He shows that injustice on the grounds of “race” has been chronic in Canadian history, and that the law itself was once instrumental in creating these circumstances. The book concludes with a controversial discussion of current directions in Canadian law and their potential impact on Canada’s future as a multicultural society.
James W.St.G. Walker has published several books and articles on the history of race relations in Canada, including The Black Loyalists: The Search for a Promised Land in Nova Scotia and Sierra Leone (2nd ed.). He is currently an associate professor of history at the University of Waterloo.
“Walker presents a superb study of four cases in which the Supreme Court of Canada grappled with the meaning of race....Walker writes with several audiences in mind, and his engaging prose and careful analysis should appeal to that mythical ‘well-educated general reader’ as well as those who read books for a living. There are even sections that Walker suggests can be skipped by those who do not need background on law and legal process, race theory, the historiography of the race or the methodology of history — all excellent readings for introducing students to legal history.”
— Margaret McCallum, University of New Brunswick, Acadiensis
“This book has many strengths. Walker skilfully bridges the gap between legal history and social history in a compelling introduction which ‘orients’ the reader to developments in scholarly work in the areas of race and race relations, social history, and legal history. Moreover, the author demonstrates an impressive grasp of the intricacies of legal procedure, tracing each case from lower courts through to Canada’s Supreme Court. Walker also breathes life into each of these case studies by situating them intheir historical context....There are, however, a few questions one is left with after reading thiswork....Walker’s work provides us a point from which to engage with these issues. This work, in sum, will surely cement the author’s well-deserved reputation as one of the foremost thinkers on the subject of race in Canada.”
— Barrington Walker, Atlantis
“Walker chose well, as these four cases disclose a panoply of approaches to race regulation in the era prior to human rights legislation and the Charter....In short, the cases are presented as moments at which the concept of race itself was at stake.”
— Kerry Rittich, , University of Toronto Quarterly
“...this book is a major contribution to our understanding of the interaction of race and the law in the Canadian experience. It is history told with engaging detail, in a lively and comprehensible style and embodying wise and convincing reflection. Moreover, as Walker warns us in his afterword, the story has no neat historical end. It has relevance today. The fragility of assumptions about the tolerance of ethnic difference in contemporary Canadian society, especially at street and community levels, and the difficulties the Supreme Court has had with setting the interpretative matrix of the Charter and the Constitution Act on equality issues should warn us against undue complacency and smugness in assuming that racism is dead or, if alive, can be easily and predictably suppressed by the invocation of the law.”
— John McLaren, The Canadian Historical Review