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 passed away last Friday at his home, surrounded by loved ones.
Romilly 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 also 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 also 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 a provincial judge.
In 1995, he was appointed to the B.C. Supreme Court in Vancouver becoming the first Black judge named to the province’s highest court, where he served until 2015.
Upon his retirement in 2015, Romilly was honored 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.
Romilly’s relatives added there are no words to express what he meant to the community.
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 40’s or 50’s.
“I thought things had changed and they haven’t,” Romilly told Global News of the incident.
“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, the then mayor of Vancouver, Kennedy Stewart, said he was “appalled” by the incident.
The incident did cause the VPD to change their handcuffing policy.
Now, officers who use force will be legally responsible for their actions and cannot view handcuffing as a routine action.
Romilly was 83 years old.
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