B.C.’s first Black judge, Selwyn Romilly, remembered as ‘kind, gentle soul’ after death at 83

Click to play video: 'Retired B.C. judge Selwyn Romilly dies at 83'
Retired B.C. judge Selwyn Romilly dies at 83
Canadian judge Selwyn Romilly has died. Romilly's family confirmed he died peacefully Friday night with his wife by his side after a battle with cancer. – Sep 26, 2023

The first Black person appointed to the B.C. bench has died of cancer, according to the family of Selwyn Romilly.

His relatives say he died last Friday at his home, surrounded by loved ones.

Romilly, who was 83, was born in Trinidad and Tabago in 1940. He moved to Canada in 1960 where he earned a bachelor of arts and a law degree from the Peter A. Allard School of Law at UBC.

That’s where he met his future wife, Lorna. The pair then moved to Smithers where they raised two children.

Two of his brothers also moved to Canada around the same time, with his brother Valmond working in the legal profession and eventually becoming a judge as well.

Romilly worked as a lawyer from 1967 until 1974, when he was appointed as a provincial judge.

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In 1995, he was appointed to the B.C. Supreme Court in Vancouver, becoming the first Black judge to do so and where he served until 2015.

Upon his retirement in 2015, he was honoured at Vancouver city hall and a gala was held by the Canadian Association of Black Lawyers.

His family said Romilly was a kind, gentle soul and a trailblazer.

His relatives added there are no words to express what he meant to the community.

Click to play video: 'Exclusive: Office of Police Complaint Commissioner orders review of mistaken arrest'
Exclusive: Office of Police Complaint Commissioner orders review of mistaken arrest

In 2021, Romilly was wrongfully detained and handcuffed by Vancouver police officers while on a morning walk in Stanley Park.

At the time, officers said they were looking for a dark-skinned man in his 40s or 50s.

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“I thought things had changed, and they haven’t,” Romilly told Global News at the time.

“I hate to say racial profiling, but I can’t help but think if it was an 81-year-old white man, regardless of the description, they wouldn’t have put him in handcuffs for ‘officer safety.’”

In a statement, then-mayor Kennedy Stewart said he was “appalled” by the incident.

Subsequently, the VPD changed their handcuffing policy.

Now, officers who use force will be legally responsible for their actions and cannot view handcuffing as a routine action.

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