Federation of Civil Liberties and Human Rights Associations

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Canadian Federation of Civil Liberties and Human Rights Associations (1972-1990s)

One long-term result of the 1970 October Crisis was the rise of the Canadian Federation of Civil Liberties and Human Rights Associations. It was a federation of civil liberties and human rights groups, each having an equal vote and voice, paying minimal membership fees, and receiving funding from the Secretary of State department. The imposition of the War Measures Act sparked its creation. Rights associations in Montreal, Toronto, St. John’s, Edmonton, Windsor, Fredericton, and Vancouver coordinated their efforts in 1970 to publicly oppose the imposition of the act and to lobby the federal government to rescind it as soon as possible. On 18 February 1971, rights groups in Ottawa, Newfoundland, and British Columbia sent a letter endorsed by ten other Canadian rights associations to the Quebec minister of justice, Jérôme Choquette, asking his government to compensate individuals who had been arrested under the War Measures Act. These efforts prompted the leaders of various rights associations to consider forming an umbrella organization to provide a unified national voice.

Their efforts ultimately resulted in the creation of the Union of Human Rights and Civil Liberties Associations on 30 October 1970. It had the support of groups in Vancouver, Montreal, Halifax, Fredericton, Ottawa, Edmonton, and Windsor. The union published a regular newsletter and focused on applying for a grant from the Secretary of State department to hold a national conference of rights associations. At this stage, it was not an advocacy group, but an association that facilitated communication, the exchange of ideas, and the development of national positions on public issues.

On 27 June 1972, the Canadian Federation of Civil Liberties and Human Rights Associations was formed at a meeting in Montreal, the first truly national rights association in Canadian history (with representation from every province). Its central aims were to liaise between rights groups and to consider national policies in the field of rights. The Canadian Civil Liberties Association, with its desire to ignore regional distinctions through a single national voice, boycotted the new organization, disagreeing with its policy of according an equal vote to its affiliates and insisting that votes be based on the number of paid members in each group.

Over the next ten years, the federation provided as much support to its affiliates as was fiscally possible, writing letters on their behalf and working with the media to offer national credibility to their campaigns. It dealt with a variety of issues, from the federal Privacy Act to opposing the 1975 deportation of Haitians, who faced poverty and persecution back home. In general, however, it was a weak advocacy group, and its major contribution was to network among rights associations. Nonetheless, in 1981, it played a critical role in the deliberations of the Special Joint Committee on the Constitution, in which, represented by members from three separate associations, it presented a comprehensive brief. The federation folded in 1990-91.


Further Reading

Clément, Dominique. Canada’s Rights Revolution: Social Movements and Social Change, 1937-82. Vancouver: UBC Press, 2008.