In the 1960s, Charles Roach was a staff lawyer for the City of Toronto while also organizing marches and demonstrations for equal rights.
That fearlessness exhibited by the attorney and civil rights activist made an indelible impression on Law Society of Upper Canada bencher and one of Canada’s top advocates, Julian Falconer.
“Charlie never toed the line,” Falconer said in his keynote speech at the Black Action Defence Committee’s (BADC) 24th annual dinner and awards ceremony last Saturday night at the Jamaican Canadian Association (JCA) centre. “He showed by example the courage to be himself. If Charlie was involved, he was as a professional and as a lawyer, but with his heart.”
The event doubled as a tribute to Roach, who is battling a malignant brain tumour.
“Charlie has immense challenges right now, yet if you spend two minutes with him you have a constant sense of positive optimism,” added Falconer who chaired the independent inquiry appointed by the Toronto District School Board following the May 2007 fatal shooting of C.W. Jefferys student, Jordan Manners.
“It’s like he knows something that I don’t…Your life is so well used. You know that as a person you have done everything you could to struggle for justice.”
Describing Roach as the Dean of African-Canadian lawyers, Falconer noted that his friend and colleague is a man of many accomplishments.
He’s a published poet and artist who worked as a musician and bandleader in the city in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
“I was reflecting on what it takes to be someone like Charles Roach,” said Falconer. “I don’t mean that in a sort of obsequious hero-worshipping way. It’s just a little bit emasculating to be honest. He has accomplished more than just being a lawyer. You have to have the foresight and wisdom to be more than just on a narrow, narrow rut.
“He belongs to the category of Renaissance men who by virtue of their wisdom and accomplishments spanned categories of achievements. They weren’t one-trick ponies. I put it to you ladies and gentlemen that Charles Roach is one such man. He’s not a one-trick pony.”
The Trinidad & Tobago-born permanent Canadian resident refuses to pledge allegiance to the Queen, which is a requirement for all citizenship candidates over the age of 14.
After unsuccessfully filing a class action lawsuit, Roach took his case to the Federal Court of Canada, which ruled against his motion. An appeal to the Supreme Court was dismissed and the case went before the Ontario Superior Court of Justice, which last month granted him and three other individuals the right to continue to argue that the oath to the Queen is unconstitutional. They have until September 21 to file individual actions to the court.
Meanwhile, a petition has been launched requesting the Canadian Cabinet direct the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration & Multiculturalism to award Roach citizenship without him having to swear the oath.
“I want to emphasize the reality that when Charlie first took this position, he was truly a man who awoke from a deep slumber only to find the rest of the world was sleeping,” said Falconer. “There is true brilliance not just in courage but in vision. So there is right up until the moment that we part company with Charlie for now, extraordinary dignity, vision and principal in what he’s doing and I for one, on behalf of Canada, thank you.”
Roach co-founded BADC and his law firm became the organization’s official legal arm.
Lawyer Munyonzwe Hamalengwa challenged BADC and its supporters to consider forming a legal aid and action fund attached to the organization as a lasting tribute to Roach.
Several presentations were made to Roach, who has been practicing law in the city for the past 49 years. They included the BADC Dudley Laws Memorial Award, the Harry Gairey Memorial People of Excellence Award and the Lenny Johnson Promotion of Pan-Africanism Award, presented by Roots Cultural Foundation.
By RON FANFAIR