Canadian Civil Liberties Union

Home > Encyclopaedia > Social Movements > Canadian Civil Liberties Union

The Canadian Civil Liberties Union (CCLU) was the product of Quebec’s Padlock Act, or the Act to Protect the Province Against Communistic Propaganda, which was passed in 1937. This statute made it illegal to print or publish any newspaper, periodical, pamphlet, circular, or document that propagated communism or bolshevism and to house any organization that promoted them. Years later, during the proceedings of the 1950 Senate Committee on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, members of the Jewish and Ukrainian communities would claim that they too had fallen victim to the act.

In the struggle against the Padlock Act, we see the stirrings of Canada’s first rights associations. Montreal’s Emergency Committee for Civil Liberties was replaced in 1937 with the Montreal branch of the CCLU. A collection of autonomous organizations across Canada, the CCLU soon had branches in Toronto, Vancouver, and Ottawa, stimulated in large part by opposition to the Padlock Act. Additional groups were formed in Winnipeg and Ottawa in 1938-39. Unlike the Canadian Labour Defense League (CLDL), the CCLU was “a non-political organization, the object of which is to maintain throughout Canada the rights of free speech, free press, free assembly, and other liberties, and to take all such action as seems advisable in furtherance of their subject.” [Clément 2004] The CCLU branches were dedicated to the protection of rights regardless of an individual’s background or belief system and did not favour the CLDL’s working-class politics; their ideal was to incorporate people from varying ideological camps. In its call for disallowance of the Padlock Act, the Montreal CCLU quickly garnered support from the Student Christian Movement, Fellowship of Reconciliation, League for Social Reconstruction, CCF, Montreal Presbytery of the United Church, and local trade unions. Within a few years, the branch had recruited a thousand members. However, the CCLU was never a functioning national network, but rather a collection of disparate groups whose links to each other were limited.

In Repression and Resistance, Ross Lambertson describes the original Montreal branch of the CCLU:

“At first Frank Scott was not publicly associated with the group (although by 1940 his name appears on the letterhead as a member of the advisory council), but he appears to have had considerable influence behind the scenes. Many of the original executive members were either friends or colleagues, for the most part respectable intellectuals and professionals with a strong bias towards social democracy and (in some cases) radical Christianity. For example, the chair, Hubert Desaulniers (the only francophone of the group) was the provincial president of the CCF, the vice-chair, R.L. Calder, Q.C., ran for office several times as a CCF candidate and served on the provincial executive of the party, and the legal counsel, J.X. Mergler, was one of the founding members of the Montréal branch of the LSR. Radical Christians were represented by R.B.Y. Scott, a professor at United Theological College who was active in the FCSO, and Eugene Forsey, a social democrat with strong ties to the FCSO, as well as the LSR and CCF.”


Further Reading

Lambertson, Ross. Repression and Resistance: Canadian Human Rights Activists, 1930-1960. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2005.

Archives

There is no single archival collection for the CCLU. However, material is available in the J. King Gordon Papers, the Arthur Roebuck Papers, and the Frank Scott Papers at Library and Archives Canada.