Biswarup Bhattacharya

A psychiatrist at Waterford Hospital in St. John’s, Dr. Biswarup Bhattacharya was the president of the Newfoundland-Labrador Human Rights Association (NLHRA). Between December 1968 and July 1969, W.J. Noseworthy stepped down as president of the Newfoundland-Labrador Human Rights Committee, and Bhattacharya took control of the organization, which was now called the Newfoundland-Labrador Human Rights Association. With little financial support from the provincial government, the original members of the association, which initially numbered only four (Bhattacharya, Lilianne Bouzane, James Morgan, and Rae Perlin) were forced to meet in private homes. But much as Reg Robson in Vancouver, Alan Borovoy in Toronto, and Maurice Champagne in Montreal helped keep their respective associations alive, so Bhattacharya proved to be the leading force in the NLHRA. He was central in keeping the group active during these early years and would later play an important role in the formation of the Canadian Federation of Civil Liberties and Human Rights Associations.

Much of the NLHRA’s work involved individual complaints rather than legislative reform. Bhattacharya’s efforts in these situations were critical. For instance, on 26 October 1973, the medical records librarian at the Waterford Hospital received a subpoena to surrender the records of a certain patient to the Supreme Court within three days. The court case dealt with a divorce, not a criminal matter, and neither the patient nor psychiatrist had been informed of the subpoena. Uncertain about divulging patient information to the court, the librarian contacted Bhattacharya, who immediately took possession of the relevant documents and refused to give them up, arguing that they were hospital property and that their requisition was an unnecessary violation of patient privacy. When the Justice Department realized that acquiring the files would entail taking the NLHRA president to court, the matter was quietly dropped and the subpoena retracted. This case is just one example of the way in which the NLHRA aided individuals who were unsure of their rights or the rights of others.

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