Toronto remembers activist lawyer Charles Roach

by | Oct 4, 2012 | News

Compiled by Helen Surgenor

Charles Roach, veteran lawyer, activist, and Caribana founder, was being mourned Thursday after his death earlier this week at the age of 79.

Roach, who died Tuesday after a battle with brain cancer, was born in Trinidad and Tobago. Although he lived in Canada for most of his life, he never became a Canadian citizen.

Stringently anti-monarchist, Roach refused to swear allegiance to the Queen, sacrificing citizenship for his ideals.

MP Andrew Cash requested that the federal immigration minister allow Roach to become a citizen by swearing allegiance to Canada, but that request was not granted by the time of his death.

“Becoming a Canadian citizen was important to him because everything he did in life, really, as an adult was done in Canada and he really wanted that participation,” Roach’s colleague Peter Rosenthal told the CBC.

As a lawyer, his practice represented the Black Panthers and American draft dodgers, the Globe and Mail reported.

He helped to found the Black Action Defence Committee, participated in pacifist marches in the ‘90s and was a prominent critic of police relations with the black community in the ‘70s and ‘80s.

“He was a strong, and at times a critical voice, but his commitment to his community was unwavering,” Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair told the Globe and Mail.

“Charlie, as many know him, was also a renaissance man,” said Caribana Arts Group Chair Henry Gomez, in a statement on the group’s website.

“He was an artist, poet, musician and entrepreneur who not only created originals, but organized events and exhibits to create awareness of the works of other art creators.”

Coun. Joe Mihevc, a friend and neighbour of Roach, paid tribute to him in the pages of Now Toronto on Wednesday.

Toronto, Mihevc said, is “a better place” because of Roach.

“Charlie has been a leader in the peace and social justice communities and in the cultural community for so many years and on so many fronts,” Mihevc wrote in the newspaper.