Toronto

Audrey Tobias, senior who fought against Canadian census, dead at 92

Audrey Tobias, a Toronto peace activist who made national headlines for refusing to fill out the census, has died, according to a death notice.

'She was a very impressive woman,' says lawyer who defended lifelong activist

Toronto activist Audrey Tobias, who stood trial for refusing to fill out her 2011 census, has died. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press)

Audrey Tobias, a peace activist who made headlines for refusing to fill out the census, has died.

In 2013, Tobias, then 89-years-old, faced jail time for refusing to fill out the Canadian census because its data was being gathered using software from the American military contractor Lockheed Martin.

Tobias was found not guilty of violating the Statistics Act, but not before she made headlines across Canada for taking a stand. She told reporters she would have been willing to go to jail for her cause, but admitted she thought "goodness gracious" as a judge handed down the not guilty verdict.

Peter Rosenthal, the lawyer who defended Tobias, said he didn't think it was likely she'd be jailed but recalled her bringing her medications to court just in case.

"Whatever the price she was going to stick to her conviction," he told CBC Toronto.

Tobias, left, laughs with her lawyer Peter Rosenthal, right, after she was acquitted. Rosenthal said he was glad to defend the then 89-year-old and admired her dedication. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press)

Tobias also went to the hairdresser the day before the verdict and dyed her hair bright red, a striking move Rosenthal said was emblematic of her character.

"She was a very impressive woman," he said, praising her lifelong commitment to equality and peace.

Judge Ramez Khawly blasted the Justice Department's decision to prosecute Tobias, noting that jailing a Second World War veteran — Tobias served with the Women's Royal Canadian Naval Service — would have been a "PR disaster."

'A fierce honesty'

Tobias also worked as a teacher and librarian and was active in founding the Toronto Public Library Workers Union, according to her death notice. In 2000, she was given the city's Agnes Macphail Award for her volunteer work in East York.

Rick Garland met Tobias dozens of times while he was working with the Student Christian Movement of Canada, a group Tobias had been involved with since her university days.

Tobias had "a fierce honesty" that impressed Garland, who knew she was never afraid to speak her mind.

"She would tell us if she didn't like something we were doing," he said. 

In a Facebook tribute, Garland called Tobias a "titan of justice."

"RIP Audrey," the post reads. "Wherever you are now, you are certainly turning heads."

Tobias died at age 92 on Dec. 1. A celebration of her life is set for noon on Dec. 17 at St. Cuthbert's Anglican Church, near Bayview and Davisville Avenues.   

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