In recognition of Black History Month, we would like to celebrate the kindness of Charles Roach. Born in September of 1933 he moved to Canada to pursue education when he was 22 years old at the University of Saskatchewan and later went on to study law at the University of Toronto. He started his work in the legal department for the City of Toronto and eventually went on to open his own practice. Here he focused on human rights and was heavily involved in social justice movements to help fight against racism and systemic racism.

Charles did a number of things in his life that have helped shape and impact the lives of thousands, if not millions of people. He was heavily involved with the “Ban the Bomb” movement which was against the production and use of atomic weapons, he demonstrated against the Vietnam war and even put on demonstrations against the deportation of immigrants that came to Canada. In 1978 he pushed for the development of the Movement of Minority Electors which was created in order to push non-whites to run for public offices. He was one of the founders of the Black Action Defense Committee (BADC), which was formed in response to police shootings and killings of those from the black community. Their aim was to hold the police and justice systems accountable for their actions. As a result of Charles and the BADC’s tireless work, the SIU was formed. The Special Investigations Unit was created in order to hold police officers accountable for their actions while on the job.

Charles often defended those from marginalized communities who did not have access to resources nor could not afford to fight the legal charges against them. As a result, Charles did a lot of his work pro bono. Charles loved to help people and had an amazing reputation. Those who remember him say he was an active member of the community that was quick to lend a helping hand. He celebrated people. At his law firm, there were many parties that would take place, for example whenever someone was hired or if someone was leaving his team as a goodbye, or when an important case was won. He loved inviting people into his life and helping them whichever way he could. He literally embodied all of the aspects of kindness. “Friendly, generous, and considerate.”

One of Charles’ largest battles was becoming a Canadian citizen. When becoming a citizen you must take an oath to the queen. “I swear (or affirm) that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second, Queen of Canada, Her Heirs and Successors, and that I will faithfully observe the laws of Canada and fulfill my duties as a Canadian citizen.” To Charles, and many people around the world the Queen represents oppression, imperialism, and racism, all the things Charles was strongly against. He recommended taking an oath to “faithfully observe the laws of Canada and fulfill my duties as a Canadian citizen,” instead but this request was denied. As a result, he never got his Canadian citizenship.

Charles Roach died on October 2, 2012, after battling brain cancer. He lives on in our memory for his countless efforts to make the GTA and the world a better place. He was one of the founders of the annual Caribana festival in 1967, which has gained international attention, the SIU continues to hold police officers accountable for their actions, and has ignited a change within future generations to push against injustice. He was a smart, hardworking individual who stood up for the rights of others with a fearless passion. We should continue to honor this incredible man for his hard work and furthermore, we should all strive to help our fellow humans with an open mind and open heart.