1936 Christie v York

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In 1936, Fred Christie and two friends, Emile King and Steven St. Jean, entered the Montreal Forum’s York Tavern for a beer. As they sat down to order a drink, a waiter quietly approached the three men and informed them that they had to leave. The tavern was under new management, he said, and the owners did not want blacks in the bar. Christie, a chauffeur and avid Montreal Canadiens fan who had been to the tavern many times in the past, was indignant and refused to leave. Eventually the police arrived and escorted Christie and his friends from the tavern. Christie sued York Tavern in court. The case pitted the merchant’s freedom of commerce against Christie’s right to equal treatment. Ten years later the Supreme Court of Canada ruled in favour of the merchant’s right to choose, not Christie’s right to be served. Such was the prevailing attitude towards racial minorities that Christie’s own lawyer did not even bother to question the assumption that whites did not want to eat and drink alongside blacks. A decade later a court in Alberta reaffirmed the same principle. Ted King attempted to rent a room at Barclay’s Hotel in Calgary on 13 May 1959, but when he arrived at the hotel, the proprietor informed him that “we don’t take coloured people here.” A year later the Alberta District Court ruled that the hotel was within its rights to refuse service despite provisions in the Hotelkeeper’s Act prohibiting innkeepers from refusing to serve travellers. The court, which based its decision on a technicality surrounding the definition of an inn, acknowledged that King had been discriminated against. The effect of this decision was to sanction discrimination.


Further Reading

Adams, Eric. “The Idea of Constitutional Rights and the Transformation of Canadian Constitutional Law, 1930-1960.” University of Toronto, 2009.

Scott, Frank. Essays on the Constitution: Aspects of Canadian Law and Politics.  Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1977.

Walker, James. “Race,” Rights and the Law in the Supreme Court of Canada: Historical Case Studies.  Toronto: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 1997.

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