He was a Canadian in every sense of the word – except legally. Born in Belmont, Trinidad on September 18, 1933, he came to Canada in 1955 and for the rest of his life made an exemplary contribution to his chosen country. He fulfilled all the requirements for Canadian Citizenship but his conscience would not allow him to pledge allegiance to what he called a colonial power.
He requested an exemption to the oath, offering instead to pledge an oath to Canada but his request was denied. He began his fight to have the oath removed from Canada’ Citizenship ceremony in 1988 and continued the fight up to his death on October 2, 2012.
As a lawyer, (he received a law degree from the University of Toronto and was called to the Bar in 1963, and opened his own practice in 1968), activist, and human rights advocate, Roach was respected and loved, not only in the Caribbean community but the community-at-large. He was a leader who was upfront in many protest marches. He fought hard for the rights of the underprivileged, migrant workers and refugee seekers.
In 1967, to celebrate Canada’s Centennial, Roach co-founded Caribana (now re-named Scotiabank Caribbean Carnival Toronto). The festival, the largest of its kind in North America, continues to contribute millions of dollars to Toronto’s economy with visitors arriving every year from many parts of the world and from all across Canada.
He co-founded The Black Action Defense Committee with Dudley Laws, Lennox Farrell and Sherona Hall. The Committee fought for civilian control of policing and in 1990 the S.I.U. (Special Investigations Unit) was launched to investigate civilian deaths and injures that involved police officers. He encouraged minorities to run for political office and in 1978 he helped set up the Movement of Minority Electors. He was also appointed lead defense counsel at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda from 1998-2005. His firm of Roach, Schwartz & Associates continues to be well respected and committed to the defence of human rights and the self-determination of all peoples.
A Memorial was held October 10th at Gowlings Hall. Speakers included Dean Lorne Sossin, Black Law Students’ Association, SPINLaw Osgoode and Osgoode Students. A public Memorial is scheduled to be held November 10th at the University of Toronto Convocational Hall at 2:00 PM.
Charles Roach is survived by June Thorne-Roach, his wife of 10 years, four children, four grandchildren, three stepchildren, two step-grandchildren and many friends and colleagues.