Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia's first black provincial court judge dies

Judge Castor Williams, Nova Scotia's first black provincial court judge has died. Williams was appointed to the bench in 1996.

'He was an incredibly well-respected jurist who was fiercely independent but very fair as well'

Judge Castor Williams, Nova Scotia's first black provincial court judge, died on Wednesday. He was 80. (Nova Scotia Judiciary)

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.

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.

Judge Castor Williams commanded respect in his courtroom at Halifax provincial court. (Mark Crosby/CBC)

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."

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.

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, 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."

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.

Judge Castor Williams is being remembered as a “giant” of a man who helped fight for justice and against racism in Nova Scotia. (CBC)

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.

Before becoming a judge in 1996, Castor Williams worked in private practice and then became a Crown prosecutor. (CBC)

"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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About the Author

Sherri Borden Colley has been a reporter for more than 20 years. Many of the stories she writes are about social justice, race and culture, human rights and the courts. To get in touch with Sherri email sherri.borden.colley@cbc.ca