Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Charles Roach (1933-2012)

By Trisha Mitchell

He fought to the last for what he believed in. In his words, “I will just continue struggling — so long as I live. I have to struggle for what is right … and get my satisfaction in the fact that I have not relented.” – Charles Roach, 2012
Photo: C. Ferguson
Truer words could not describe this son of the soil. Charles Roach, civil rights lawyer and Activist was a man with a will of steel and a determination born of strength of conviction. Today the Afro-Canadaviews team grieves along with the black community at the passing of this stalwart.

At a recent community event hosted in his honor, Councillor Michael Thompson presented a proclamation to Roach for his outstanding and extraordinary contributions to the city. Part of the proclamation read: “Your work reflects the belief that building relationships is integral to creating communities that embrace differences, change, diversity and partnerships that build strong foundations, promotes dialogue and fosters a sense of community activism that unifies, inspires and builds strong communities of which we are all proud.” And continuing,  “It’s as a result of (your) efforts that many lives have been made much easier in this city,”.

Born in Trinidad and Tobago and the son of a trade union organizer, Roach arrived in Canada in 1955 as an aspiring priest to study at the University of Saskatchewan. He then studied law at the University of Toronto and was called to the bar in 1963. Since then his work in the black community has centered on defending fundamental human rights and advocating for equal rights for minorities. He was also a founder of the Caribana Festival, serving as its first chair. Roach further established the Movement of Minority Electors in 1978 to encourage non-whites to enter electoral politics and was a founding member of the Black Action Defence Committee.

The feat that earned him a defining moment in Afro-Canadian history was his unrelenting fight to remove the oath to the Queen as a requirement for Canadian citizenship. Since 1988, the 78-year-old had been fighting, arguing that making new Canadians pledge their allegiance to the monarchy was unconstitutional. Roach steadfastly refused to swear allegiance objecting to the monarchy’s past connection to slavery, maintaining to the last that a system of hereditary privilege is racist and wrong.
Cruelly ironic that his passing came at a time when a victory seemed near, for on June 18, 2012 the Ontario Superior Court permitted the case's continuance, giving new life to the 48 year old fight. Roach’s cause had suffered numerous defeats in the past, at both the federal and provincial levels, class action suits and appeals but he persevered despite personal losses and encroaching illness that finally claimed him on October 2, 2012.
To date the most powerful symbol of his conviction lies in his own words, “I cannot see myself taking an oath to a symbol that is racist…. It’s against fundamental freedoms,” Roach, 2012.

Rest in peace fighter…Your tenacity and strength of conviction will never be forgotten.

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