Charlie Roach: Holding to his convictions

By Patrick Hunter Thursday July 19 2012 in Opinion
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As part of the celebrations of the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II in England, there was an extraordinary exhibition of the crown jewels, particularly the diamond collection. Some of these have been handed down through generations. To the best of my knowledge, diamonds have never been found in England. Africa has been, and still is, the largest source of this commodity.

Also in the news from Great Britain, Her Majesty’s grandson, second in line to the throne, inherited, on his thirtieth birthday, $15 million from his mother’s estate, alone. He stands to inherit an obscene amount from his father and from his grandmother.
We all know that Britain, and indeed most of the western economies, would not be where they are now without the transatlantic trade in Africans as slaves, slavery and colonization. Do Her Majesty and her descendants ever consider that the wealth they enjoy comes as a result of considerable loss of lives and the destruction of families over many centuries?
One of the obligations required of anyone who was born outside of Canada, and not Canadian by parentage, is that they must swear allegiance to the Queen, if he or she wishes to become a citizen. The irony is stark, particularly for those from Africa and the Caribbean.

It is against this backdrop that Charles Roach decided that, much as he would like to become a citizen of his adopted country, Canada, he could not – and would not – swear allegiance to the Queen because of what she symbolizes, particularly for people of African descent.

It is worth emphasizing here that if the oath required allegiance to the country, Canada, it would not be a problem. Canadians, born in Canada, do not have to undergo this rite of passage, as it were. And, although there have been the occasional discussions about changing the wording of the oath, it has never become much of an issue to generate the required momentum to force or demand the change. So, the Queen remains as the veritable object of devotion, with your hand holding onto a Bible or other sacred work.
Roach has previously challenged this in the Federal Courts. For some reason they decided to maintain the status quo. Not satisfied with that conclusion, he has continued to press for a reconsideration of that position. His latest pitch has been heard in the Ontario courts. Now he is waiting to find out whether they will allow him to continue with his quest.
The way I see it is that persons of African descent who wish to become citizens should not be required to swear allegiance to the Queen. But, of course, the government – or Parliament – would not allow just one group that privilege. Thus, the oath would have to be changed for all.

The story goes that Rosa Parks was just plain tired when she decided to sit in the first available seat on that fateful day in Montgomery, Alabama. A revolution was born from that simple act.

History is full of similar simple acts, whether planned or premeditated.
So, why has Roach’s act of courage failed to generate the kind of response that would enable the government to change to whom – or preferably “what”, the country, Canada – naturalizing citizens should swear allegiance?
I have often wondered whether I would have the courage to take such a stand. I suspect that we all have it in us to do, depending on what we consider to be that key line of principle that we will never cross. They come in varying degrees and some of us will go through life without having to confront it.

Roach has made this an almost single-handed crusade. That alone deserves our respect. But, of course, Roach’s contributions in affirming the rights of people of African descent stretch over his lifetime.

It is only fitting that members of the community will gather to hold a tribute in his honour (on August 21), given the serious nature of his illness.
Over the past few months, as the Conservatives took the reins of a majority government, they have, as one newspaper put it, “ramped up” the symbolism of the Queen as head of state. Pictures of Her Majesty have been popping up around Parliament Hill and in government offices around the country.

Fortunately, our system allows the courts to rule independently. Eventually, the oath will change. We can only hope that it will happen in time to allow Roach the opportunity to become a citizen of Canada.


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