'I see the court changing': Justice Aston Hall appointed Ontario's first Black associate chief justice

In 2011, Hall was the third Black judge to be appointed Regional Senior Judge after Hugh Fraser and Greg Regis

Article content

Regional Senior Justice Aston Hall says he does not view the world through a rose-coloured lens.

But when asked about the challenges he faced working as an attorney and a judge in Ontario’s justice system, he waved off the question.

“I suspect they’re there,” he said. “But I must tell you that I never paid much attention to the challenges. I paid attention to what outcome do I want here? And how do I achieve that?”

It’s an attitude that could, in part, account for his history-making appointment as the new associate chief justice for the Ontario Court of Justice.

When Hall takes the appointment on June 3, he will be the first Black judge to do so, marking a milestone in efforts, both by advocates and the province, to make the courts more representative of the provincial population.

“I see the court changing,” he said. “There are more people of colour, more women, there are all kinds of people. The demographics are changing in our city and our province. And I see the court as, over the last number of years, attempting to have (its) membership reflect the population.”

Advertisement

Story continues below
This advertisement has not loaded yet, but your article continues below.

Article content

Hall also cited the support he’s garnered throughout his career, both professionally and personally. “On a personal level, the support of my spouse, who has at times, seen more in me than I see in myself. And then, historically, in the community, the support of the larger Black community and the Jamaican community. And then in the larger community, I’ve met so many individuals from the larger Canadian community  that have been so helpful,” he said. “I’ve probably been the luckiest person in this country to have received so much support.”

Former provincial government minister Mary Anne Chambers had written a recommendation letter supporting Hall’s appointment to the Ontario Court of Justice in 2011. “I knew he would excel,” she told Ron Fanfair, a Canadian freelance writer. “I rejoiced when he was appointed a regional senior judge and I am absolutely thrilled by his latest appointment.”

Hall grew up in Kingston, Jamaica, where he was raised by his late maternal grandmother Estelle Weir, whom he credits for teaching him to “always look at things from the bright side.” His love for the criminal justice system began early, when he would, during school lunch times, sneak into the nearby Sutton Street courthouse and watch the proceedings.

One of his teachers, he added, had a spouse who worked at the courthouse. “And she was always very nice to me,” he said. “So it was always great to say hello and sit in the back and watch the proceedings.”

Advertisement

Story continues below
This advertisement has not loaded yet, but your article continues below.

Article content

His dream to become an advocate was realized once he immigrated to Canada to complete his undergraduate and law degrees at York University. He carved out some time from his studies to work with Black Inmates and Friends, a now-defunct group that helped jailed Black youth re-enter society. “We would work with kids, trying to help them and understand their role in society,” he said.

Hall was called to the bar in 1995 and started his own practice as a sole proprietor in criminal law. By 2011, he was made a judge with the Ontario Court of Justice and served as local administrative judge for the Scarborough courthouse from 2015 to 2017.

He became the third Black judge to be appointed regional senior judge in 2017, following Hugh Fraser and Greg Regis, both of whom are now retired.

“I’m standing on the shoulder of giants,” Hall said in reference to his recent appointment. “It means a lot of people have worked really hard for people like me to have this opportunity. I realize that it’s a major step.”

In turn, he hopes his own appointment will inspire others like him to come forward and grab similar opportunities. “If an appointment such as mine could inspire a young person, despite coming from probably modest means … then I would have accomplished something. I would say that I’d at least done something with this life.”

In December 2020, Guyanese-born Faye McWatt also made history as the first Black woman to be appointed associate chief justice of the Superior Court of Justice of Ontario, which oversees the province’s general cases as well as appeals of summary conviction cases heard in the Ontario Court of Justice.

News Near Fort McMurray

This Week in Flyers