The murder of Ângelo Nóbrega and the Portuguese-Canadian Congress | Congresso Luso-Canadiano, May 1969

In the morning of May 5th, Toronto Police Detectives Kevin Boyd and James Sugden were investigating a break-in at the Odeo-Hyland theater on Yonge St., when they spotted the Oldsmobile with Ângelo Nóbrega* and his two brothers, John and José (Ângelo's twin). The detectives, ridding in an unmarked vehicle and in plainclothes, ordered the suspects to stop, but they drove away. After a brief car chase, the detectives found the suspects at a gas station near Yonge St. and Albertus Ave. The youngest brother tried to flee on foot but was quickly grabbed by Det. Sugden. According to Det. Boyd’s version of the events, Ângelo, who was in drivers’ seat, got out of the car and began fighting him. This led Boyd to lose his balance and accidentally fire his revolver, hitting Ângelo in the head. Later, the Toronto Police elaborated on this account saying that the detective had drawn his weapon while Ângelo got out of the car due to a “suspicious move”. The brothers narrated the events differently. They said they did not stop the car because they did not know they were being chased by police officers, since there were no visible indication on them. According to José, the three brothers were standing against the wall as instructed by the detective: “Angelo was just standing there with his hands in his lapels like he always does… I watched to see what they would do and all of a sudden there was a shot.” John said to have seen Boyd draw his weapon and thumb back the hammer: “It was no accident.” This incident was reported in the press and upset the Portuguese in Toronto, who mobilized in solidarity with the victim's parents. According to the Toronto Daily Star, over 300 members of the Portuguese community and at least two police officers participated in the funeral mass for Ângelo. The night before, about seventy-five Portuguese men, led by José Rafael - a travel agent, radio announcer, and president of the Portuguese Immigration Aid Society - met at Mount Carmel Church's community centre. Rafael remarked to the audience: “Those policemen didn’t have any business sticking their noses into that car. If that had been a Cadillac, what do you think?...” To which one responded: “Ha! The cops wouldn’t even look at them… Rich guys drive Cadillacs. Police don’t bother rich guys.” At this meeting they decided to organize a petition and send it to Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau and the leaders of the other political parties in Ottawa, demanding better treatment for immigrants from the police. The Italian-Canadian Member of Parliament for Dovercourt, the Liberal Dante DeMonte, along with other influential Canadian personalities offered to help the Portuguese community in their quest for justice.

The committee formed by a group of representatives of the community, called a press conference in the Clube da Nazaré, which drew two members of provincial parliament. In this conference, Rafael announced that a silent march would be held on May 17, going from Queen’s Park to Nathan Phillips Square. To advertise this protest, the organizers distributed “thousands" of pamphlets, including to forty-two ethnic newspapers in Toronto. This committee tried to mobilize all Torontonians beyond the Portuguese community since they considered the issue to be part of a larger problem of police discrimination of and lack of communication with the city’s immigrants. About 500 people participated in the protest march on that rainy day; a tenth of the expected 5,000. Leading the group were fifteen children holding a black banner with the inscription: “Justice Ignored! Protesting Violence”. At the start of the march Rafael curiously asked the participants to “Walk silently and in perfect order. It is only in this way we can protest the violence of the police. The only way we can show we do not need weapons pointed at us. We can obey and will obey."

Some of the most conservative leaders of the Portuguese community shunned this march, such as the influential Father Alberto Cunha of St. Mary’s Church, who considered it too “premature and emotional.” In his understanding, the community should wait for the results of the inquiry that was soon to begin. But the main reason behind this reluctance among the community's dominant right-wing was likely the fact that some of its organizers belonged to the Portuguese Canadian Democratic Association. This latter was made-up of political exiles and other left-wing "anti-fascists" who were active in the opposition to the regime of Salazar/Caetano, among whom were members of the Portuguese Communist Party. One of them was, Domingos da Costa Gomes, a lawyer representing political prisoners in Portugal, who self exiled in Canada in 1966.

The controversial inquiry into Ângelo Nóbrega's death, which ended in June of that year, cleared Det. Boyd of any wrongdoing. However, the coroner who worked on the case was suspended by the Attorney-General and placed under investigation for alleged irregularities during the inquiry. The rulling came as a great disappointment to the community and motivated some of its leaders to create the Portuguese Canadian Congress, the first umbrella organization representing Portuguese Canadians in Ontario on political matters. Domingos Gomes was its first president, which greatly displeased the community's conservative wing. Despite contributing to the Congress' founding, those right-wing individuals quickly distanced from this organization. In the following years, intense political battles between these self-appointed community leaders led to the Congress' disintegration in the mid-1970s. Since then there were other attempts at creating a lasting umbrella organization tasked with representing the various interests of the Portuguese in Canada at the government level, leading up to the Portuguese Canadian National Congress, founded in 1993.

*Ângelo Nóbrega migrated to Canada from Madeira in 1959 to join his father, who had arrived five years ealier. Him and his twin brother, José Nóbrega, worked as shippers in a lingerie factory.

Sources:¨“Metro Youth Killed by Shot from Detective’s Gun”, Toronto Daily Star, May 5, 1969; “300 Portuguese, 2 Police at Slain Youth’s Funeral”, Toronto Daily Star, May 7, 1969; Luso-Canadiano, May 15, 1969; “500 Portuguese in Silent March Protest Police Shooting of Youth”, Toronto Daily Star, May 17, 1969

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