Saturday, August 25, 2018

Bromley Armstrong: My Thoughts on a Great Canadian.

   When I arrived in Toronto from Montreal in and around 1987, I was directed to meet  two gentlemen in order to get myself "settled" and "involved" in Toronto's African-Canadian community.  Those two men were Charles Roach and Bromley Armstrong.  I first met Mr. Roach.  He too directed me to meet Mr. Armstrong and so I did.

   At the time, Mr. Armstrong was a union representative on the Ontario Labour Relations Board(the Board). The Board sits in a tripartite format with a chair, a union sides person and a management sides person. I called him and provided him with a little introduction about myself and my ambitions. Mr. Armstrong was beyond himself that I had studied Industrial Relations at McGill University and that I intended to practice in that area of law. Mr. Armstrong was a very firm believer that the trade union movement could play a much more significant role in the areas of racial discrimination and the quest for equality and that greater involvement by members of those impacted groups was a key to change in the workplace.

   While a student-at-law, I worked as both a Summer Student and Articling Student with the Ontario Labour Relations Board where Mr. Armstrong worked.  It is primarily through my tenure at the Ontario Labour Relations Board as a law student that I got to work with and get a very unique perspective on the man and his ideas.

   Bromley Armstrong was by no means a one issue man.  His contributions in the areas of immigration policy and racial intolerance and inequality are well documented. He was fearless and uncompromising in his commitment to change what ever he saw as unjust.

   This quality in Mr. Armstrong was an understandable by-product of two of the
corner-stones of what made him what he was; his love and respect for The Rule of Law
- coupled with his unwavering conviction that social change and advancement is only
attainable through organizing and political action.  Mr. Armstrong understood that
change does not happen unless one makes it happen. This guiding principle was a
constant in both his work at the Ontario Labour Relations Board and his community work.

   At the OLRB, Mr. Armstrong and I spent many hours debating labour relations history and policy and how it could be improved.  He embraced his role as a union sides person on the Board and saw it as an opportunity to advocate the union perspective on an issue at any opportunity that presented itself. To the best of my recollection he may well have employed his right to dissent more than any other sides persons - management or union. Mr. Armstrong understood the value of the right to dissent. It is a hard fought for right that many policy-makers and the like appear dedicated to eradicating - ever so slowly - if men like Mr. Armstrong are not there to challenge them.

   I always marveled at Mr. Armstrong's level of community involvement.  It seemed that every week he was giving a speech or participating on a panel at some conference or another.  Preparation and organization were a constant in anything he did.  Before he spoke or participated on any panel he prepared an outline or his written speech.  As he got to know me better he would ask me to review and critique his drafts.  I can not begin to put into words the pride that I felt in being asked by him to do that. I will never forget one occasion when he was to give a talk on section 15 of the Charter and how it could be a vehicle to social change in the area of racial discrimination and inequality.  We  thoroughly discussed the issue and in so doing I came to formulate much of my current thinking on how racial profiling by police officers is in fact a violation of section 15 of the Charter.

   Mr. Armstrong is gone in the flesh.  However, his passion for justice and his conviction in The Rule of Law combined with his unwavering commitment to social change through social and political action has left us a clear blue-print for us to follow on our quest for social change and justice. Rest in Peace Sir !  You did well and I am proud to have spent the time that I did with you at the Ontario Labour Relations Board ! I learned much and I thank you !