Civil Rights Union

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Formed in 1946, the Emergency Committee for Civil Rights (ECCR) was led by a splinter group of communists who were frustrated at the dominance of liberals such as B.K. Sandwell in the Civil Liberties Association of Toronto. Within a few weeks, the ECCR had accumulated $9,000 and had an office with a paid secretary from which it mailed fifteen thousand pieces of literature, including a regular bulletin. A leading critic of the espionage commission in 1946, it later became the Civil Rights Union (CRU).

According to Ross Lambertson in Repression and Resistance:

“The Gouzenko Affair produced the ECCR as a radical left-wing splinter of the Civil Liberties Association of Toronto. It then evolved into the CRU, a full-fledged civil liberties group concerned not only with the Gouzenko Affair and David Shugar, but also with broader issues such as the treatment of Japanese Canadians, the position of blacks in Canadian society, the persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Quebec, censorship of books, and the need for a Canadian bill of rights. It still hoped, in early 1947, that it would be able to work closely with the CLAT and perhaps even effect some sort of merger in the future, and the two organizations therefore carried on negotiations to that end … Following the failure of the national organizing conference [in 1946] the CRU emerged as the most active and successful of the Canadian civil liberties groups. By 1947 it had a budget of almost $10,000 for its newspaper advertisements, bulletins, legal assistance and salaries, and in the spring of 1948, just as the Cold War was congealing the group opened a campaign against civil liberties violations, taking out a full page advertisement in a number of Canadian newspapers. Titled ‘This is a Free Country,’ the advertisement referred to several recent human rights violations, including the egalitarian rights issue of continued travel restrictions on Japanese Canadians, as well as a number of legal/political rights abuses, such as the harassment of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Québec, the recent Prince Edward Island trade union legislation which limited freedom of association, the sedition trials of radical unionists Madeleine Parent, Kent Rowley, and Azelus Beaucage in Québec, the denial of school halls for LPP public meetings in Toronto, Duplessis’ renewed use of the padlock law, and the anti-communist LaCroix bill.”

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 CRU, 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).