Race on Trial: Black Defendants in Ontario's Criminal Courts, 1858-1958

Race on Trial: Black Defendants in Ontario's Criminal Courts, 1858-1958

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By Barrington Walker
Osgoode Society for Canadian Legal History
University of Toronto Press, Scholarly Publishing Division © 2010
World Rights
276 Pages 6 Images
ISBN 9780802096104
Published Jul 2011
Online discount: 15%
 $31.95    $27.16
ISBN 9780802099099
Published Oct 2010
Online discount: 25%
 $61.00    $45.75
ebook (EPUB format)
ISBN 9781442660441
Published Jul 2011
Online discount: 25%
Full purchase $31.95

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.

Barrington Walker is an associate professor in the Department of History at Queen's University.


  1. Blackness and the Law in Slavery and Freedom
  2. Nationhood, Mercy and the Gallows
  3. Black Patriarchy
  4. Tales of a “Peculiarly Horrible Description”: Archetypal Rape Narratives
  5. Race, Sex, and the Power of Dominant Rape Narratives


'Race on Trial is a cutting-edge work, intertwining issues of blackness with the creation of a dominant Canadian nationhood. Barrington Walker effectively relates legal history to ideas of Black masculinity, patriarchy, and gender—topics that are not touched upon nearly enough in African Canadian history.'

Harvey Amani Whitfield, Department of History, University of Vermont

‘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.’

Jared G. Toney, Labour/Le Travail vol 72:2013

Legislative Assembly of Ontario Speaker’s Book Award (Canada) - Short-listed in 2012