Roger Carter was born in Moose Jaw in 1922 and educated in Victoria, British Columbia. After serving as a pilot in the RCAF during the Second World War he obtained his Bachelors of Arts and Laws at the University of Saskatchewan. In both, he graduated with distinction and in his final year at the College of Law (1947) he received the Outstanding Graduate Award. His first aspiration was to be an archaeologist, but decided that he couldn’t find a way to make a living at it.
Roger articled in 1947-48 with Peter Makaroff, Q.C in Saskatoon. From 1948 to 1963 he practised with Mr. Makaroff in the firm Makaroff Carter & Carter and successor firms. For six of those years he practised with his spouse, (now retired Q.B. Family Court Judge) Mary Carter. In 1958, he was appointed Queen’s Counsel. In 1968 he received his Master of Laws degree from the University of Michigan Law School.
Roger Carter also held the position of City Prosecutor for two years and was president of the Saskatoon Bar Association in 1957. Also in 1957, he was appointed agent for the Attorney General for the Judicial districts of Kerrobert, Wilkie and Kindersley. In 1958, Roger was appointed Queen’s Counsel.
Roger recalls that during those fifteen or sixteen years with the Makaroff firm he did a great deal of counsel work, sometimes at the criminal bar but more frequently in civil litigation. Roger admits, “after I had some experience in criminal work, I wasn’t too much interested in it. Civil litigation was more interesting and paid better too, as a matter of fact!”.
When discussing Roger Carter, former partners and now Saskatchewan judges, Mr. Justice Paul Hrabinsky and Mr. Justice Nicholas Sherstobitoff, have remarked on his magnificent courtroom presence and his perfect use of the English language. Roger turned the attention from these comments and stated modestly that “by chance over those years, I was involved from time to time in cases which attracted some publicity.”
Roger recalls that there was a criminal case involving a charge of attempted murder against a young man who happened to be of Chinese ancestry. After he was committed for trial, he had another counsel represent him at the preliminary. Roger was then engaged to take the trial. It involved a shooting affair in what were then the CNR yards. The train used to run through Saskatoon over the site of the Midtown Plaza.
Allegedly, the young man with some friends of his from the other side of town had stolen some machine pistols and were breaking and entering into one of the rail sheds. Roger recalls that “the CNR police caught them, whoever they were, in the act, and there was a real shoot out, I guess, and one of the CNR police officers, poor fellow, was very badly wounded, indeed they thought he was going to die, and they had death bed declarations for the purpose of trial and so on. He eventually recovered.”
“Well, I took that to trial… but the jury returned a hung verdict. So we went at it all over again and my client was ultimately acquitted. Roger, who has kept in touch with a number of his former clients, was able to update the case. Apparently, the young man went on to become a criminologist.
Paul Hrabinsky recalls Roger Carter taking a great interest in the students who were articled to him. He made every effort to involve the students in the cases he was working on, even the important and controversial cases of the day. It was in this way that Paul came to assist Roger in the murder case involving “young Richard White”.
Roger tells the story best, “I did defend a young pre-medical student who was charged with murder. By way of background, the youngster was married, he was in pre-medical studies here, his wife was pregnant. All this occurred prior to our current medicare scheme. If you needed a doctor, you’d have to pay for one. He and his wife found that she was pregnant and they couldn’t conceive of how they might possibly continue on with his studies with a family. Each was very religious by the way, each belonging to a fundamentalist group. So they decided that he should… abort her. So he snitched some chloroform and instruments from the University and they went home, prayed incidentally, before they attempted the procedure.
So away he went at it, and put the chloroform on his wife’s face, and killed her dead. So he was charged with murder.
That went before a jury and he was convicted of attempted abortion which was a charge I was ready to have him plead guilty to… he, young Richard White,… gave up his medical career.”
During his practice years, Roger Carter was involved with several Royal Commissions. He was a member of the Graham Royal Commission, which was established to inquire into the Estevan coal industry. He was appointed special counsel for the Saskatchewan Labor Relations Board from 1950 to 1962, counsel for the Royal Commission inquiring into the Prudential Trust mineral transactions from 1957 to 1959, and Counsel for the province of Saskatchewan before the MacPherson Royal Commission of Transportation in 1960-61.
Emmett Hall, also a famous Royal Commissioner, when asked if he was ever involved with Roger Carter in any Royal Commission work, laughingly replied, “No our appointers were different ones”. Mr. Hall is known as one of the Diefenbaker Tories while Roger Carter made his first and only entrance into the political arena in 1962 running against a certain John Diefenbaker.
Roger Carter first became involved with the University in 1953 as a member of the Board of Governors and remained in that capacity until 1959. He became a professor of Laws in 1963 and was named acting Dean in 1968.
Roger took a couple of years to decide to leave private practice. He enjoyed the courtroom drama. Many prominent lawyers have remarked on his magnificent courtroom presence.
During 1967-68, Roger was granted leave from the University to take up the Cook Fellowship, which was awarded to him by the University of Michigan Law School. He studied the areas of Constitutional and Administrative Law with particular emphasis on the regulation of the Canadian motor carrier industry. This year of study resulted in Roger obtaining his Masters of Laws degree. It also was the turning point in his decision to enter academic law.
In 1973, Dean Carter was appointed as a member of the provincial law foundation. The foundation established a fund for legal research, education, aid to law libraries and law reform. The provincial law foundation receives its funds from interest earned by money which is held in trust by solicitors for or on account of clients.
In 1974, Professor Carter resigned as Dean for the College of Law in order to assist in establishing Saskatchewan’s legal aid plan which followed his work as chairman of the Saskatchewan Legal Aid Committee. Prior to the Committee’s recommendations, Saskatchewan provided aid in Criminal matters on a clinic basis. The Committee recommended that the burden in Civil matters be removed from the profession to become part of the government’s responsibility.
While Dean of the College of Law, Roger Carter founded The Native Law Center, although, he admits only that “I had something to do with it”. The program was designed to better prepare students of Native ancestry for entry into Canadian Colleges of Law where the study of systems of laws, which can be very contradictory to one’s own, often presents a greater academic challenge than for non-Aboriginal first-year law students.
Roger comments today that there was a shortage of students of Native ancestry involved in the legal profession. In order to achieve their goal of creating a meaningful representation for Aboriginal law students, the College instituted a special summer orientation program in legal studies for Aboriginal peoples. This program was the first of its kind initiated in Canada.
The program was designed to introduce students to the type of work expected in Canadian law schools and to give students an opportunity to study some areas of the law before it is covered in the first few months of actual law school. Roger recalls at the time the program was started there was maybe five lawyers across Canada of Native ancestry. Now there are some 250 Aboriginal lawyers. The great majority took the summer program at the University of Saskatchewan. Currently, there are 300 Aboriginal students at Canadian law schools studying law.
The program was developed after Professor Carter studied a similar program at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque. The Centre in New Mexico was then headed by Sam Deloria, from the Wounded Knee Reserve. Sam Deloria is a brother to Vine Deloria who has written many books concerning Aboriginal people.
With the success of the Native law program, a Native Law Center was established on the University campus to bring research work used in law centers in conjunction with the College of Law and partly to administer the summer program. The center was also established in order to help Native communities to understand the law and assist both Natives and non-Natives to realize the inadequacy of parts of the law, the legal system and its institutions in solving Native problems.
Roger Carter relates with pride that since the Native Law Center undertook to publish the Native Law Reporter and thereby increase awareness of Aboriginal Law issues, his collection of reports has grown from eighteen inches of shelf space from 1975 to the present, a yard and a half of shelf space. Roger adds that the able staff has also performed extremely well in the research publication area making the University of Saskatchewan Native Law Centre the chief publisher of Native law material in Canada.
In recognition of his accomplishments in establishing the Native Law Centre, in 1993 Mr. Carter was awarded the Award for Excellence in Race Relations by the Government of Canada. He was also inducted as Companion of the Order of Gabriel Dumont by the Gabriel Dumont Institute and holds an honorary membership in the Indigenous Bar Association of Canada.
In October, 1998, Roger Carter received the Saskatchewan Order of Merit for his many contributions to Province of Saskatchewan. The Order of Merit, presented by the province’s Lieutenant Governor, is the highest honour that is bestowed by the Province of Saskatchewan.
Throughout his career Professor Carter has been a contributing member and friend of the Canadian Bar Association. His children remember many summers spent being dragged around the country to CBA Annual meetings. In the 1980’s he served on the CBA Native Justice Committee and acted as Chairman of the Sub-committee on research. In 1988 the Committee wrote a comprehensive report published in book form entitled Aboriginal Rights in Canada: An Agenda for Action. The report was adopted by the CBA National Council and has since been referred to widely by courts and the various commissions. In January 1999 he was awarded the Distinguished Service Award by the Saskatchewan Branch of the Canadian Bar Association.
Mr. Carter still spends time at the College of Law in his retirement and has been named Professor Emeritus. Mr. Carter remains very involved with both the College and the Native Law Centre. When asked about the No Smoking Policy in place, he laughingly clasps his pipe and comments, “I’ve declared my office officially to be a NO No Smoking area.”