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Source: Brampton Guardian / MSN Canada

There’s a hint of amusement in Justice Dr. Irving Andre’s eyes when he talks about his first job in the country. 

Andre, who hails from Dominica— a tiny island in the Caribbean— landed in Canada via the U.S. with plenty of dreams, but little in the way of money. 

Soon he found himself a job working the graveyard shift at a car parts factory in Mississauga. Two weeks into the job, the newly married immigrant was handed a $96 cheque and let go. 

Undeterred, he splurged $69.95 of that paycheque on a brand new suit which he wore to a job interview at the Workers’ Compensation Board (WCB). He landed the job which not only gave him a much-needed toe-hold in the Canadian job market, but was more in line with his interest in labour law. That year, Andre was accepted at Osgoode Hall Law School from which he graduated in 1988. 

Andre spoke of his life’s journey to a room full of wide-eyed teenagers embarking on their own post-secondary education at the United Achievers’ Club (UAC) annual Scholarship and Recognition Awards Dinner Saturday, Sept. 15. 

“Education is the means by which we can set the stage to pull up people as opposed to push them down,” he said. “One might face an obstacle or challenge along the way, but obstacles are nothing but opportunities in disguise.” 

After he finished law school, Andre worked as an assistant Crown attorney and later became a criminal lawyer. He practiced criminal law for some nine years. In 2002, he became a judge in the Ontario Court of Justice. 

“I want each and every young person to sit down and interview their parents and grandparents and hear their stories and struggles,” he said. “I think most children today don’t realize the sacrifices and tough decisions their parents had to make…” 

In 2010, Andre was awarded a doctorate of philosophy degree in law. At that time, he was the only judge— out of some 280 judges in the Ontario Court of Justice— to receive a PhD in law. 

He sought a PhD to inspire his two daughters into chasing their own dreams. 

“Setting an example is better than delivering 1,000 lectures,” Andre told The Guardian. “I felt the PhD was an unfinished business I had to finish. I also wanted my daughters to know how fortunate they are to live in a country with unlimited opportunities.” 

From the beginning Andre has been involved with several organizations such as UAC, the now defunct Sisserou Cultural Club and John Howard Society. He also co-founded ResQ Youth International, a Brampton-based group that offers help for youth in crisis. 

Fifth of seven children, Andre’s memories of his childhood, includes a rather poignant image of his father, cigarette in hand, sitting amidst walls of stacked books deeply engrossed in reading. 

Andre said his father was forced to abandon his dream of post-secondary education because his family couldn’t pay the tuition. So, as a young man, Andre vowed turn the tide and nurture his father’s dream. 

In 2002, while being sworn as a judge, sitting among the cheering audience in a Brampton court room, was his ecstatic father who was heard remarking that it was the happiest day of his life. Some two decades since the doomed factory job, Andre’s journey— filled with trials, tribulations, degrees, recognition and awards— has lead him to prominence, not just within the black and Caribbean community in the GTA, but in Canada. 

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