How was I to possibly know that less than two years after I was appointed a full-time small claims court judge that I would be presiding over a case involving two relatively young lawyers whose courage and dignity endured and have endured for decades thereafter?
This trial was but a very brief glimpse into the lives of Charles Roach and James Lockyer and their lifetime focus on the inequitable disparate impact of societal suffering.
Roach was stopped by the police simply, simply, because he was Black. I gave judgment against the police for $512.09. Why this amount? Because in 1980 the amount in dispute had to be more than $500 to be appealed, and I wanted it appealed to see where it would go. The Divisional Court reversed me, but the Court of Appeal upheld my decision.
I have not looked at this case for a long time. I forgot that I had referenced Roe v. Wade 410 U.S. 113 (1973) when I dealt with the right to privacy in my decision. As you know on June 24, 2022, the decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization reversed Rose v. Wade.
Forty-five years after Roach and the Toronto Police et al., stopping someone on our streets, any street, “simply” because of the colour of their skin, continues and often unabated.
Roach clearly understood the need to formalize “the Black experience,” never to be neglected again. Lockyer has always been connected to the greater human truths of hope, abandonment and yes of prejudice. Roach was a founding member of the Black Action Defence Committee. Lockyer was a founding director of the Association in Defence of the Wrongly Convicted, now Innocence Canada.
They believed that we must continue to strive to make our legal system a just and fair one. It is about the remedying of injustices and miscarriages of justice. Loud and clear are the shouts of outrage from voices that would and will not be silenced. And by doing so they both have made a case for the higher awareness that might, just might, make us all better human beings.
By illuminating as many dark corners as we can, we will pave the way to understand them and eliminate them. Injustice is not a myth. Access to just is not a myth. More than 43 years later I can appreciate both of these incredible human beings.
Marvin Zuker was a judge of the Ontario Court of Justice, where he presided over the small claims, family and criminal courts from 1978 until his retirement in 2016. He is associate professor at Ontario Institute for Studies in Education/University of Toronto, where he has been teaching education law for 42 years. Zuker is the author and co-author of many books and publications, including The Law is Not for Women and The Law is (Not) for Kids.
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