Civil Liberties Association of Toronto

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The Toronto branch of the Canadian Civil Liberties Union was renamed the Civil Liberties Association of Toronto (CLAT) in 1940 and took up the cause of challenging Quebec’s repressive Padlock Act. During the Second World War, most of its efforts focused on highlighting abuses under the federal government’s Defense of Canada Regulations, and it had little to say about the internment of Japanese Canadians. In 1945, however, it joined the Cooperative Committee on Japanese Canadians, a coalition formed in opposition to the deportation of Japanese Canadians, which brought together groups of Japanese people, unions, women, and social gospel advocates. By 1946, it was among the few civil liberties groups that remained active in Canada. It opposed the government’s handling of the Gouzenko Affair, albeit hesitantly, as its liberal members feared being associated with communists. In the late 1940s, the CLAT morphed into the Association for Civil Liberties and was a leader in the Ontario movement for anti-discrimination legislation, alongside the Jewish Labour Committee.

In Repression and Resistance, Ross Lambertson describes the CLAT leadership:

“The executive and council of this new group was eminently ‘respectable’ – its president was B.K. Sandwell of Saturday Night and he was assisted by many well-known social democrats, leavened by a smattering of liberals and conservatives. Initially the organization had a completely open policy about accepting new members, but by early 1941 the communists were attempting to elect some of their supporters to the Council, and the CLAT executive was planning the adoption of a rigorous membership policy as well as seeking out new members on the right … No complete list of the CLAT executive and Council seems to be available for 1945, but it is clear that by 1944 the organization was still dominated by ‘respectable’ members of the non-communist left and the right. The wealthy businessman Sir Elisworth Flavelie was president, and the vice-presidents were the writer Morley Callaghan, the head of the Workers’ Educational Association (WEA), the CCF MPP L.W. Noseworthy, and the principal of University College, Malcolm W. Wallace. The CLAT council consisted of well over 40 people, including the lawyer and CCF activist, F.A. Brewin; CAAE President E.A. Corbett; Canadian Forum editor Eleanor Godfrey; Toronto Sun editorialist Margaret Gould; the well-connected educator Mrs. W.L. Grant; CCF activist Professor G.A. Grube of the University of Toronto; Ontario CCF leader E.B. Joliffe, the Anglican minister Rev. Dr. W.W. Judd; the author and former CAAE employee R.S. Lambert; CCF MPP Agnes Macphail; CCF MPP and Steelworkers Director Charles Millard; the Reverend J.R. Mutchmor of the United Church Board of Evangelism; B.K. Sandwell of Saturday Night; Clifford Sifton, owner of the Winnipeg Free Press; Mrs. C.B. Sissons, the president of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom; and George Tatham, a pacifist academic at the University of Toronto.”

Further Reading

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


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


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  • Clément, Dominique. “page title or document title.” Canada’s Human Rights History. (date accessed).