A laneway for Charley
Charles Roach’s name soon to take to the street.
City of Toronto names St Clair West laneway after the father of Caribana
By Stephen Weir Caribbean Camera
In one week the late Charley Roach will have his name immortalized on a mid-town Toronto alley. The City of Toronto is about to give name to a small laneway in the St. Clair Avenue West neighbourhood where the late prominent human rights lawyer, artist, musician and a founding father of Caribana, worked.
The City will be holding the laneway celebration in the memory of Charley Roach on Wednesday, July 18th at 7pm. Hosting the event will be local Councilor Joe Mihevc. The soon-to-be Charles Roach Lane, is just north of St. Clair Avenue and runs from Feel Good Lane east to Rushton Road.
Charley Roach was born September 18, 1933, in the community of Belmont in Trinidad and Tobago. He and his first wife, Hetty, immigrated to Canada in 1955 and settled in Saskatchewan so that Charley could study theology at the provincial university. They soon moved to Ontario where he studied law at the University of Toronto.
After being called to the bar he quickly became a leader in Toronto's black community. As a prominent human rights lawyer, he defended the rights of Caribbean nannies, challenged racial profiling, demanded police accountability and became known for providing legal representation to working class individuals and communities, regardless of their ability to pay.
According to a biography posted by the city, “one of his spectacular victories was the case of the seven Jamaican mothers who won permanent residency because of his activist-legal campaign. This eased the situation of domestic workers who had been in Canada for many years without hope of permanent status.”
He himself stayed a landed immigrant until his death. For more than 50 years Mr. Roach refused to take an oath to the Queen – a mandatory citizenship law he fought unsuccessfully to change for a quarter century.
Charles and Jean Augustine at Gala - photo by sweir
Along with Dudley Laws and others, Charley founded the Black Action Defence Committee (BADC). BADC was the most prominent organization exposing and protesting racism in policing in Toronto’s history. In particular, the committee argued that Toronto needed an agency independent of the police that investigates when an officer kills or seriously injures someone.
Charles Roach was a true Renaissance man. In addition to his legal work and his commitment to the community, he was also a gifted artist. One of his last invitation-only exhibition and sale of his modern art paintings took place in September 2008. In an email to me he said he had painted 40 works of art under the name Mende and had decided to call the show Marakati. “ This will be a momentous occasion; that's what Marakati means” he wrote.
Charley is also one of the 21 founding members of Caribana. For many years he had a leadership role with the annual summer Carnival festival, but that relationship ended in acrimony when he was sued by the Caribana Arts Group (CAG). The lawsuit wasn’t settled in the CAG’s favour until two years after his death.
Charles Roach passed away on October 2, 2012 after a battle with brain cancer. He is survived by his wife, June Thorne-Roach, and four children.
“The laneway is right around the corner from where Charley’s office stood. It is so close that he might have walked it on a lunch break or while discussing some idea to help move our city forward”, wrote councillor Joe Mihevc.
Charley's laneway is PART 1 on the above map