Canadian Human Rights Foundation

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Canadian Human Rights Foundation and the Canadian Council on Human Rights

Founded in 1966, the Canadian Human Rights Foundation was not an advocacy group but instead a national charitable organization that conducted education and research programs to promote human rights. It received grants predominantly from government sources including the Secretary of State department and the Canada Council, as well as from the federal and provincial Departments of Justice. Its membership included such distinguished individuals as John Humphrey, who drafted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), Justice Antonio Lamer (a future Supreme Court of Canada judge), Professor Paul A. Crépeau (head of the Office for the Revision of the Civil Code of Quebec), and Thérèse Casgrain (future senator and well-known women’s rights activist). A fellowship of elites who raised money to promote human rights issues, it was never designed to be a popular association with a broad membership. According to the minutes of its founding meeting, the “purpose of the Foundation is to advance the course of Human Rights by helping to finance the work of organizations and activities in this field. It would not, however, take any stand on particular issues but would restrict itself to channeling moneys to appropriate agencies.”

Two years later, in August 1968, activist Kalmen Kaplansky attempted to create a national rights association. As chair of the Canadian Commission for the International Year for Human Rights, which was involved with the twentieth anniversary celebrations for the UDHR, he was perfectly placed to use the festivities as a springboard for the new group. One of the commission’s tasks was to organize a December 1968 conference in Ottawa, which would be attended by various rights groups. Only one motion materialized from the conference, the culmination of a year’s work across the country. It called for the formation of a Canadian Council for Human Rights to act as a national rights association, which would consist of interested individuals and voluntary agencies. Within a few months, Kaplansky assembled many of the commission’s executive members to act as the council’s planning and organizing committee. Funding that remained from the Secretary of State grant for International Year for Human Rights (over $17,000) was transferred to the council, and an office was established with administrative support from the Canadian Welfare Council.

The Canadian Council on Human Rights was particularly concerned with its own lack of funding rather than with human rights advocacy. Soon after the Secretary of State department allotted it $19,500, government funding dried up, and the council was unable to procure financing from elsewhere. During its single year of existence, its major accomplishment was to fund a report produced by Maurice Miron that surveyed rights associations across the country. Miron’s goal was to consult with potential members on the feasibility of a national human rights organization, to canvass their willingness to participate in it, and to consider means of financing it. On the basis of his findings, Miron recommended that the Secretary of State department provide the Canadian Council on Human Rights with a $47,500 grant to set up a national rights association, which would employ a national director and five regional directors. Nothing came of the report. Devoid of government funding, the council became inactive, dissolving officially in 1970.