Did You Know Who was the First Black Female Lawyer in Canada?

Violet King, First Black Female Lawyer in Canada

We’re reposting our article on Violet King from February 2016 because not enough people know about Violet King, Canada’s first black female lawyer.

Violet Pauline King Henry (1930-1981), was the first Black Female Lawyer in Canada. But you won’t find a Canadian Heritage Minute clip for her, and she’s not listed on Historica Canada’s Black History Canada Profiles.

Yet, when Violet King Henry (née King) graduated from the University of Alberta’s Faculty of Law in 1953, she was became the first Black person to graduate from the U of A law school. In 1954, after being Called to the Bar, Ms. King Henry became Canada’s first Black female lawyer.

Ms. King Henry was born on October 18, 1929 and grew up in Calgary. Her father, John,worked for the Canadian Pacific Railways (CPR) as a porter and her mother, Stella, was a seamstress. Growing up, Ms. King Henry was an active community leader. In grade 12, she became President of the Girls Association and expressed an interest in practicing criminal law.

In 1948, she entered the University of Alberta (U of A) and continued her community leadership and activism. She was Vice-President of the U of A Students Union and the university’s representative to the Union of National Federation of Canadian University students. She was also an early second wave feminist. Violet King Henry was a member of the U of A Blue Stocking Club, which was a “general discussion group for women at the University of Alberta. The emphasis of the group was on history and public affairs.” The club’s name references the Blue Stockings Society in 18th century England. This was an informal group of educated and intellectual women who discussed the topics and issues of the day. A”bluestocking” referred to women participants, who apparently wore stockings.

Violet King Henry’s Law School and Articling Years

When Ms. King Henry started law school, she was one of three women in the entire student body and was the only women to graduate from the U of A Faculty of Law in 1953. This is hard to believe given that today about 51% of Canadian law school graduates are comprised of female students. But it’s true.

After graduation, she articled  with a local Calgary lawyer Edward McCromick. However, she wasn’t only interested in criminal law. Ms. King Henry apparently acted as treasurer for a local labour union.

Upon completing her articles, Ms. King Henry was admitted to the Alberta Bar in 1954, becoming Canada’s first Black female lawyer as well as Alberta’s first Black lawyer.

Violet King Henry’s Legal Career and Beyond

After Ms. King Henry was admitted to the Alberta Bar, she practiced criminal law in Calgary. She worked at the law firm with A.M. (Milt) Harradence, a criminal lawyer who was eventually elevated to the Court of Appeal.

It’s unclear when exactly an opportunity in Ottawa came up, but Ms. King Henry left Calgary for Ottawa to work in the Department of Citizenship and Immigration. She traveled the country meeting community leaders. In April 1956, she switched her Law Society status to a non-practicing member of the Alberta Law Society.

In 1963, she moved to the United States to work with the Newark, New Jersey, YW-YMCA as the associate general secretary. Ms. King Henry distinguished herself through her hard work and focus on helping unemployed Black persons find jobs. In 1969, she moved to Chicago and was named the Director of Manpower, Planning and Staff Development for the Chicago YMCA. Not much information is available about her years in Chicago.

However, in 1976, Ms. King Henry became the first woman appointed to a senior executive position in the American National YMCA. She took on the role of Executive Director of the National Council of YMCA’s Organizational Development Group. Ms. King Henry credited her legal training as good preparation for social and community leadership work.

She died of cancer in 1981.

Not enough is known about Violet King Henry. We’ve included links to what little information we found on Ms. King Henry. We encourage everyone to learn more about Violet King Henry by reading the Canadian Legal History Blog by clicking  here, or by reading Rachel K. Bailie’s and Professor David Percy’s article here.

Do you know who Corinne Sparks is?

Justice Corrine Sparks29 years ago when Corrine Sparks was appointed to the Nova Scotia Family Court in 1987, she became the first Black Nova Scotian appointed to the bench and the first Black Canadian to serve on the judiciary.

Justice Sparks grew up in Lake Loon, Nova Scotia in a family of nine children. In 1953, this rural region of Nova Scotia was segregated. In 2016, it’s hard to imagine that portions of Canada were formally or informally segregated, but it was.

Black Canadians were segregated and marginalized; they suffered legal discrimination while helping build Canada, protect Canada’s home front in World War I and fight for Canada in World War II.

In 1950s Nova Scotia, the schools were poor and segregated. This is the world Justice Sparks grew up in. However, Justice Sparks’ parents, Helen and Spencer Sparks, stressed the importance of hard work and an education. By the 1970s, Justice Sparks completed middle school and high school, where she found teachers who recognized her potential.

After graduating high school, Justice Sparks attended Mount Saint Vincent University from 1971 to 1974, where she studied economics. She then enrolled in Dalhousie University and graduated with her LLB in 1979.

Following graduation she developed her own law practice focusing on family and real estate law.  Aware of the needs of marginalized Nova Scotians, she served on a number of charitable organizations focused on helping black children and addressing mental health needs. Justice Sparks practiced private law until her appointment to the bench.

In 1987, she was appointed to Nova Scotia’s Family Court. Justice Sparks’ pursued her academic interests by pursuing her LLM while running her practice and then serving on the bench.  In 2001, she received her LLM from Dalhousie University (1979-2001).

Justice Sparks continues to serve on the bench. She has received numerous awards and accolades including the Canadian Association of Black Lawyers Service Award in 1997, the 1998 National Association of Women and the Law, Frances Lillian Fish Award, the 2002 Congress of Black Women, Service Award and the Elizabeth Fry Society, Rebel with a Cause Award in 2003.

Role in SCC’s Decision Regarding Apprehension of Bias
In 1993, a Black youth was arrested for allegedly assaulting a police officer while he was attempting to arrest another person. The officer claimed the young man purposely ran into him with his bike in attempt to free the person under arrest.

However, the youth stated he stopped his bike and asked the police officer what he was doing. Recognizing the person who was arrested, he asked him if he should call his mother. The police officer then threatened the young man addressing the person under arrest. But the young man continued to talk to person. So, the police officer arrested the Black youth.  This case became R v S (RD).

Justice Corrine Sparks was the trial judge in R v S (RD). After reviewing the evidence, Justice Sparks acquitted the young man. She noted that the only evidence was the testimony of both the officer and the young man. She went on to note that the police officer overacted. Her remarks prompted an appeal.

Her decision was appealed on the grounds of reasonable apprehension of bias. However, the Supreme Court of Canada agreed with Justice Sparks’ acquittal of youth (RDS), allowed the appeal and restored the acquittal.

The Court noted, that “it is vital to bear in mind that the test for reasonable apprehension of bias applies equally to all judges, regardless of their background, gender, race, ethnic origin, or any other characteristic. A judge who happens to be black is no more likely to be biased in dealing with black litigants, than a white judge is likely to be biased in favour of white litigants. All judges of every race, colour, religion, or national background are entitled to the same presumption of judicial integrity and the same high threshold for a finding of bias. Similarly, all judges are subject to the same fundamental duties to be and to appear to be impartial”(paragraph 115).

To learn more about Justice Corrine Sparks, click here. To read the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision in R v S (RD), [1997] 3 SCR 484, 1997 CanLII 324 (SCC), click here.

 

Do you know who were the first Black Female Provincial Judges in Central Canada?

Juanita Westmoreland-Traoré and Micheline A. Rawlins were the first Black Female Provincial Judges appointed in Central Canada.

Who is Juanita Westmoreland-Traoré?
Juanita Westmoreland-Traoré In 1942, Juanita Westmoreland-Traoré was born in Verdun, which is now part of Montreal. The daughter of Guyanese immigrants, she entered Marianopolis College, and then went on to study law at the Université de Montréal.

During her legal studies, Ms. Westmoreland- Traoré was involved in Crossroads International, which took her to Senegal in 1964 and then to Togo in 1965.

In 1966, she graduated with her law degree from the Université de Montréal and went on to earn a Doctorate of State from the University of Paris II.

A Multifaceted Legal Career
Ms. Westmoreland-Traoré’s legal career moved from legal practice, to teaching and eventually serving in the judiciary.

She was called to the Quebec Bar in 1969 and started practicing law in 1970 at the law firm of Mergler, Melançon. Throughout the 1970s she taught at both the Université de Montréal and Université du Québec à Montréal. She specialized in a number of areas including immigration and citizenship law, human rights, family law and not-for-profit organization law.

From 1979 to 1983 she served as a member in the Office de protection des consommateurs du Québec. Afterwards, from 1983 – 1985, Ms. Westmoreland-Traoré was a Commissioner for the Canadian Human Rights Commission.

During the 1980s, Ms. Westmoreland-Traoré helped establish Conseil des communautés culturelles et de l’immigration du Québec and in 1985 became its first Chair.  In 1991, Junita Westmoreland-Traoré was named to an Officer of the Ordre National du Quebec. In that same year, she became the Employment Equity Commissioner of Ontario until 1995.

Prior to being appointed the Bench, Juanita Westmoreland-Traoré was the first Black Law School Dean. From 1996 to 1999 Ms. Westmoreland-Traoré served as Dean of the University of Windsor’s Faculty of Law. She joined Ontario’s Bar in 1997.

In April 1999, Ms. Westmoreland-Traoré was appointed to the Criminal and Penal Division and the Youth Division of the Court of Quebec and became the first Black Female Judge in Quebec.

Justice Westmoreland-Traoré served on the Board of the Canadian Chapter of the International Association of Women Judges and co-chaired the Equality and Diversity Committee of the Canadian Association of Provincial Court Judges.

Who is Micheline A. Rawlins?
In 1951, Micheline A. Rawlins was born in Montreal. Eventually, she attended McGill UnivJustice Micheline A. Rawlinsersity where she received a B.A. in 1975. From there Ms. Rawlins went on earn a LLB from the University of Windsor in 1978.

Ms. Rawlins was called to the Bar in 1982 and went on to work as an assistant Crown Attorney in Kent County.

A Passion for the Law and Community
Along with the law, Ms. Rawlins had a passion for serving the Windsor community. Throughout the 1980s, she served on the boards of a number of community agencies including Robinson House, Windsor Urban alliance, Windsor Media Council, the Girl Guides, the Boy Scouts and the University of Windsor Board of Governors.

In 1992, Micheline A. Rawlins was the first Black Woman appointed to the Ontario Court of Justice.

Justice Rawlins has received a number of honours and awards over the years.  She was awarded the National Congress of Black Women Outstanding Contributions to Women, to Law and to Canada Award in 2002 as well as the Queen’s Golden Jubilee Medal. In 2004, she was named Windsor Woman of the Year.

At the 2009 International Women’s Day Forum held at the Law Society Justice Rawlins advocated for more women on the Bench and stated that “judges must bring their personal perspectives to the bench without fear of being called less than impartial, and that the definition of perspective does not necessarily equate to male privilege.”

To learn more about Justice Juanita Westmoreland-Traoré click here. To learn more about Justice Micheline A. Rawlins click here.

Did You Know Who was the First Black Female Lawyer in Canada?

Violet King, First Black Female Lawyer in Canada
Violet King shakes hands with E.J. McCormick, with whom she articled. (June, 1954). Photographer/Illustrator: De Lorme, Jack, Calgary, Alberta.

Violet Pauline King Henry (1930-1981), was the first Black Female Lawyer in Canada. But you won’t find a Canadian Heritage Minute clip for her, and she’s not listed on Historica Canada’s Black History Canada Profiles.

Yet, when Violet King Henry (née King) graduated from the University of Alberta’s Faculty of Law in 1953, she was became the first Black person to graduate from the U of A law school. In 1954, after being Called to the Bar, Ms. King Henry became Canada’s first Black female lawyer.

Ms. King Henry was born on October 18, 1929 and grew up in Calgary. Her father, John,worked for the Canadian Pacific Railways (CPR) as a porter and her mother, Stella, was a seamstress. Growing up, Ms. King Henry was an active community leader. In grade 12, she became President of the Girls Association and expressed an interest in practicing criminal law.

In 1948, she entered the University of Alberta (U of A) and continued her community leadership and activism. She was Vice-President of the U of A Students Union and the university’s representative to the Union of National Federation of Canadian University students. She was also an early second wave feminist. Violet King Henry was a member of the U of A Blue Stocking Club, which was a “general discussion group for women at the University of Alberta. The emphasis of the group was on history and public affairs.” The club’s name references the Blue Stockings Society in 18th century England. This was an informal group of educated and intellectual women who discussed the topics and issues of the day. A”bluestocking” referred to women participants, who apparently wore stockings.

Violet King Henry’s Law School and Articling Years
When Ms. King Henry started law school, she was one of three women in the entire student body and was the only women to graduate from the U of A Faculty of Law in 1953. This is hard to believe given that today about 51% of Canadian law school graduates are comprised of female students. But it’s true.

After graduation, she articled  with a local Calgary lawyer Edward McCromick. However, she wasn’t only interested in criminal law. Ms. King Henry apparently acted as treasurer for a local labour union.

Upon completing her articles, Ms. King Henry was admitted to the Alberta Bar in 1954, becoming Canada’s first Black female lawyer as well as Alberta’s first Black lawyer.

Violet King Henry’s Legal Career and Beyond
After Ms. King Henry was admitted to the Alberta Bar, she practiced criminal law in Calgary. She worked at the law firm with A.M. (Milt) Harradence, a criminal lawyer who was eventually elevated to the Court of Appeal.

It’s unclear when exactly an opportunity in Ottawa came up, but Ms. King Henry left Calgary for Ottawa to work in the Department of Citizenship and Immigration. She traveled the country meeting community leaders. In April 1956, she switched her Law Society status to a non-practicing member of the Alberta Law Society.

In 1963, she moved to the United States to work with the Newark, New Jersey, YW-YMCA as the associate general secretary. Ms. King Henry distinguished herself through her hard work and focus on helping unemployed Black persons find jobs. In 1969, she moved to Chicago and was named the Director of Manpower, Planning and Staff Development for the Chicago YMCA. Not much information is available about her years in Chicago.

However, in 1976, Ms. King Henry became the first woman appointed to a senior executive position in the American National YMCA. She took on the role of Executive Director of the National Council of YMCA’s Organizational Development Group. Ms. King Henry credited her legal training as good preparation for social and community leadership work.

She died of cancer in 1981.

Not enough is known about Violet King Henry. We’ve included links to what little information we found on Ms. King Henry. We encourage everyone to learn more about Violet King Henry by reading the Canadian Legal History Blog by clicking  here, or by reading Rachel K. Bailie’s and Professor David Percy’s article here.