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Dudley Laws – 1934-2011

MARCH 30, 2011 – The passing of Dudley Laws is a blow to all supporters of justice and equality in Toronto. His life and accomplishments will be an ongoing inspiration to all those today, who seek to build a world without racism and oppression.

I first encountered in Dudley in 1988 after the police shooting of Lester Donaldson, an African-Canadian suffering from depression, and partially paralyzed as the result of an earlier police shooting April 11 that year. August 9, in his Lauder Ave. home, he was killed by a bullet from the gun of Constable David Deviney. His wife Myrtle said: “this is cold-blooded murder … Why would they want to go to a house where a man is so ill and shoot him in cold blood?”[1]

Dudley Laws at the time was a member of the Albert Johnson Committee, named after another African-Canadian man, killed by the police in 1979. Laws called for an investigation into Donaldson’s death, independent of the police. “This seems to be precisely like the shooting of Albert Johnson. This was a man they had previous dealings with and they went back and shot him in his house … The police cannot investigate themselves properly. They cannot be impartial.”[2]

Laws would go on to help found the Black Action Defence Committee (BADC) which became an institution in the ongoing campaigns against racism and police violence in Toronto. Laws and BADC were subject to constant harassment from the police and the media, including a lawsuit brought against Laws by the police in 1991, after Laws called the police “racist” and “murderous.”

This harassment never stopped Dudley from campaigning for justice. As a young man, he was influenced by the writings of Marcus Garvey. Some argue that “Garveyism” is divisive, arguing for a separation of people of different skin colour. There was none of this in Dudley’s political practice. Laws’ Garveyism was about building capacity and solidarity in the fight against racism.

August 9, 2000, Hungarian immigrant Otto Vass died after being beaten by police at a 7-11 in the west end of Toronto. At a chaotic community meeting where west end residents vented their rage at Vass’ death, Laws quickly became a clear voice of forward-looking strategy. The fact that Vass was white had nothing to do with Dudley’s political commitment. He saw clearly the police violence directed against Vass as the same violence directed against members of the African-Canadian community in Toronto. From that point and four years after, Dudley was one of the core members of the Committee for Justice for Otto Vass.

Dudley will be sorely missed by his friends and family, and by the entire community of campaigners against racism and for police accountability.

There will be a wake for Dudley Laws, 6:00pm to 8:00 pm Friday April 1, at the Jamaican Canadian Association, 995 Arrow Road (south of Finch, between Weston Road and Highway 400). Funeral services will be held at 10:00 am, Saturday April 2 at the Revivaltime Tabernacle Church, 4340 Dufferin St. at Finch.

(c) 2011 Paul Kellogg. This work is licensed under a CC BY 4.0 license.

Publishing History

This article has been published as Respect: Dudley Laws, 1934-2011,X-Ray, Issue 19, 7 April.


[1] Cited in Cal Millar and Paul Bilodeau, “Family seeks independent probe into shooting.” Toronto Star, August 11, 1988: p. A1.
[2] Cited in Millar and Bilodeau.

Published in Blog