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Why we celebrate Black History Month

February 1, 2013 at 9:18pm

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Charles Conliff Mende Roach was a civil rights lawyer and black pride activist. He was born in Belmont, Trinidad & Tobago on September 18, 1933 and migrated to Canada in 1955.

Roach aspired to become a priest but instead studied law at the University of Toronto. He was called to the bar in 1963. While organizing and participating in marches and demonstrations for equal rights, Roach also worked as a staff lawyer for the City of Toronto.

In 1968 Roach opened his own law practice on St. Clair Avenue. Among the clients at Roach & Schwartz Associates were the Black Panthers including those, who during the 1970s, sought refuge from prosecution in the United States, sought asylum in Canada and a number of domestic workers who were under threat of deportation.

Through his work in the fight for equal justice for blacks, Roach became a leading figure in Toronto’s black community. Roach was one of the founding members and first chair of the Caribana festival, now called the Scotia bank Toronto Caribbean Carnival, which began in 1967. In 1978, he established the Movement of Minority Electors to encourage non-caucasians to enter electoral politics. And in 1988, Roach, along with Dudley Laws, Sherona Hall and Lennox Farrell, founded the Black Action Defence Committee, which is a Canadian activist group.

Only months ago, on October 2, 2012, Charles Roach died from a malignant brain tumor without having realized his dream of becoming a Canadian citizen. He was 78 years old.

Roach was involved in a 24-year battle to become a Canadian Citizen without having to swear the Oath of Citizenship bearing allegiance to the Queen, which was something he deemed unconstitutional. At the time of his death, Roach’s case was still before the Ontario Superior Court of Justice.