B.C. Supreme Court honours 50-year career of province’s longest-serving judge

Update:

Justice Randall Wong with his parents during his appointment to the provincial court.

Justice Randall Wong with his parents during his appointment to the provincial court. (Courtesy Justice Randall Wong)

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Justice Randall (Bud) Wong was the first Chinese-Canadian to be federally appointed as a judge

Justice Randall (Bud) Wong — the longest serving judge in B.C. — found his calling while working at his father’s restaurant during the summers off from junior high and high school.

The Downtown Eastside’s Ovaltine Cafe was frequented by police officers, judges and others who had work to do at the police station located nearby at the time.

“They came from the back of the police station to the alleyway and through the kitchen and I think I was influenced a lot by these people to go into law,” Wong told host Rick Cluff on The Early Edition.

Half a century in law

Justice Randall Wong

Justice Randall Wong with his wife Bev and children Aynsley (left) and Hillary at his swearing into county court in 1981, when he became the first federally appointed Chinese-Canadian judge. (Courtesty Justice Randall Wong)

Justice Randall Wong with his wife Bev and children Aynsley (left) and Hillary at his swearing into county court in 1981, when he became the first federally appointed Chinese-Canadian judge. (Courtesty Justice Randall Wong)

Now, after a 50-year career in law and many firsts — such as being the first Chinese-Canadian federally appointed judge — Wong is retiring on April 14, the same day he turns 75.

He was honoured with a special sitting of the B.C. Supreme Court, a practice that is normally reserved for a new judge.

“The chief justice told me that they normally don’t do this, but they would make an exception in my case because I’m the judicial dinosaur,” Wong joked.

Wong, the first in his family to attend university, was one of only two Chinese-Canadians in the law class that graduated from the University of B.C. in 1966.

Up until the 1940s, people of Chinese descent were not even allowed to become lawyers in B.C.

Unlike the other Chinese-Canadians who became lawyers, Wong decided to article outside of Vancouver’s Chinatown.

Justice Randall Wong

Justice Randall Wong featured on the cover of the Chinatown News in 1967, during the time he was a prosecutor for Burnaby. (Courtesy Justice Randall Wong)

Wong became the first Chinese-Canadian provincial crown counsel, working first as a prosecutor for the municipality of Burnaby and then working for a few years as a prosecutor for the crown attorney’s office in Whitehorse.

Pioneer as a judge

He joined the provincial court bench in April 1974 at age 33.

“It was quite an exhilarating experience and very somewhat frightening, because one day you’re a lawyer and the next day you’re a judge, and it’s a completely different role,” Wong said.

“Back in those days there was no training to prepare you to be a judge, and what you had to do, and what I had in mind was I remembered some of the judges that I most admired, and I basically tried to emulate them.”

When asked how he managed that responsibility, Wong joked: “Well you try to act and look older than you really are.”

Preparing for retirement

After seven years as a provincial court judge, Wong was asked to take a federal appointment — first to the British Columbia County Court in 1990 and then to the B.C. Supreme Court.

Justice Randall Wong

A newspaper article written at the time Justice Randall Wong was appointed as the first Chinese-Canadian federal judge. (Courtesy Justice Randall Wong)

He was on the bench when the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms came into being, something that he said “brought a sea change” in how trials are conducted.

Until his retirement this week, Wong has been a judge in one court or another for a little over 42 years.

Though Wong said he has been preparing for retirement for some time, he did have to figure out what to do with the 30 volumes of hard-bound judgments sitting in his office.

He was going to have them shredded, when the court librarian told him not to.

I said, ‘Well, everything is online now, isn’t it?’ She said, ‘Only in the last 20 years. You pre-date that.'”

So what will he do? The court librarian promised she’ll store them in the courthouse basement.

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