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Audrey Tobias, 1924-2016

Your memory might be jogged into recalling the 2013 court case involving an 89-year-old peace activist who refused to complete the 2011 census because it was processed using software from the U.S. military contractor Lockheed Martin.

That was Audrey Tobias. It is a good thing she was acquitted, as she vowed that if found guilty, she would not pay a fine or do community service hours, but would serve jail time to make her point.

Her social justice credentials were on display throughout her adult life.

In 2000, Audrey was the recipient of the Agnes Macphail Award, presented for her many years of social justice activities. And Audrey always insisted that the correct word was “recipient,” not “winner”.

During WWII, she was a student at Trinity College at the University of Toronto, and interrupted her studies to join the Women’s Royal Canadian Naval Service. When she returned to Canada after the war, and while completing her degree, she was a member of the Student Christian Movement, exploring the links between faith and justice. She put her money where her mouth was by taking a job as a factory worker at the Harvey Woods Textile Mill between 1949 and 1956. While there, she was part of a small group continuing to investigate relations between church and labour, and church and the middle classes. She became a delegate to the Toronto Lakeshore Labour Council and to the Union Conventions for the Textile Workers Union of America.

Burnt out by 1956, she ended that phase of her life and first earned teaching qualifications, which led to teaching jobs around the province and at Leaside High School, where she was the assistant head of the Business Department. Later, she earned a Master of Science in Library Science and went to work for Reference Services at the Metro Toronto Library. While there, she became founding president of CUPE Local 1996 for the then 28 branches of the Toronto Public Libraries. The Local included librarians, library technicians and support staff.

Audrey joined Veterans Against Nuclear Arms (VANA) in 1989. She believed that peace was at the heart of the Christian gospel, and that VANA’s goals were consistent with this understanding.

During the 1990s, she was very involved with the Voisey’s Bay Innu Rights Coalition. She saw a threat to Innu life and culture in Labrador in the face of the impending mining mega project. She spoke out regularly, especially at Inco annual general meetings, to make her point.

This extraordinary individual lived on Randolph Road for many years and was an active member of St. Cuthbert’s Anglican Church.