Caribana, which is now known as the Scotiabank Caribbean Carnival, was founded by Roach and a group of other nationals from the Caribbean who had migrated to Canada, in 1967.
Roach, a lawyer, lived in Canada since the 1950s but choose to never became a citizen since he vowed to not swear allegiance to Britain’s Queen Elizabeth. He died after ailing for about six months with a brain tumor on October 2nd.
Roach also helped form the Black Action Defence Committee, which pushed for independent investigations after several black people were killed by police in the Toronto area more than 20 years ago.
He is survived by his wife, June, his four children and several grandchildren. The Caribana Arts Group, the parent body of the original Caribana, has joined in mourning Roach whom they called a “renaissance man.”
Born in Belmont, Trinidad and Tobago, the son of a trade union organizer, Roach arrived in Canada in 1955 as an aspiring priest to study at the University of Saskatchewan. Roach was politicized by the civil rights movement, stating: “after the ’50s, I started being more political… This was the spirit of the times. I’m really from the civil-rights era.”
He then studied law at the University of Toronto and was called to the bar in 1963. Roach worked as a staff lawyer for the city of Toronto in the 1960s, while also participating and organizing marches and demonstrations for equal rights.
He opened his own law practice in 1968; among his clients were Black Panthers attempting to seek refuge in Canada from prosecution in the United States, and other asylum seekers. He also represented domestic workers being deported in the 1970s. He also became a vocal critic of the police, accusing them of racism. In 1999, Roach went to Rwanda to represent Hutu journalist Mathieu Ngirumpatse against human rights abuse charges before the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.
Through his work, Roach became a leading figure in Toronto’s Black community.