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Unlike the other Prairie provinces, Manitoba had an active rights association before the 1960s, called the Civil Liberties Association of Winnipeg. The League for Democratic Rights had established branches in Brandon and Winnipeg, and Winnipeg was also home to a branch of the Jewish Labour Committee (JLC). Surprisingly, little rights-related campaigning occurred in Winnipeg during the 1960s and 1970s. Its JLC branch was only marginally active, undertaking some educational work and tackling a few discrimination cases. In 1967, a Manitoba Human Rights Association was formed but changed its name to Manitoba Branch, CCLA, when it affiliated with the Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA) in 1969. More than four hundred people attended its 1969 founding, where Pierre Berton, who sat on the CCLA board of directors, gave a talk. Affiliation enabled the group to receive $20,000 of the CCLA’s Ford grant, and it managed to raise an average of $12,000 to $14,000 each year afterward to remain active. Jerry Fast, a graduate student in economics, was appointed its first staff director. Within a year, the newly christened association presented a brief to the provincial government, demanding significant revisions to the human rights code, asking that the provincial human rights commission report directly to the legislature rather than the labour minister, and calling for the inclusion of sex, property status, social origin, social status, and other status as prohibited forms of discrimination. Unfortunately, the Manitoba CCLA did not enjoy the success of its Saskatchewan counterpart, and the recommendations were not accepted.

It formed a chapter in Brandon, which soon closed its doors, and the branch itself became defunct by 1975, though it had already lost its director in 1971 due to lack of funding. By focusing on the CCLA’s due-process research, it had neglected its own needs and eventually became inactive. It was quickly replaced, however, by a new Manitoba Civil Liberties and Human Rights Association, which reinvented itself as the Winnipeg Civil Liberties and Human Rights Association in 1976 and the Manitoba Association for Rights and Liberties (MARL) in 1978. Like the Manitoba CCLA, with whom there was some fluidity, it was a CCLA affiliate, and it was allocated the original group’s cash balance when it was formed. MARL’s first president was Dr. Ralph E. James, past president of the Caribbean Canadian Association of Winnipeg and an active member of the Canadian Council of Christians and Jews. Judge C. Rhodes Smith, a former chief justice of Manitoba, served as its honorary president. MARL’s first public action was to brief the provincial Law Amendments Committee regarding Bill 65, which proposed to change the Manitoba Human Rights Act. The amendments would have allowed employers to discriminate on the basis of race, religion, physical disability, and colour if they could demonstrate that doing so was necessary to meet the specific requirements of a job. Bill 65 also proposed to exempt the Manitoba Insurance Company from the Human Rights Act. Eventually, the government chose not to amend the legislation with regards to race, colour, religion, and disability. By 1981, MARL had more than 350 members, although it was experiencing financial difficulties and had to be bailed out by the CCLA with an annual grant of $5,000. Nonetheless, it overcame its problems and remains active today.

In “Civil Liberties Advocacy Organizations in Canada,” Jeremy Patrick writes,

“Founded in 1978, the Manitoba Association for Rights and Liberties [‘MARL’] is the most stable of the small provincial civil liberties advocacy organizations. It receives significant funding from the United Way and currently has a few paid staff members. Its primary activity is education, including a workshop for high school students titled “Hate — What Have I Got to Do With It?” Until a recent loss of funding, MARL also sponsored a special Human Rights and Holocaust Education Program for high school students. The organization has a special Charter review committee to examine pending legislation in Manitoba, and has submitted five legislative briefs since 1996. MARL has been involved in a handful of court cases in its almost thirty-year history, including interventions in cases on obscenity and reproductive rights, and direct sponsorship of a successful challenge to religious education in Manitoba public schools. Other activities include lobbying for same-sex marriage, a survey on assisted suicide, and publishing a handbook on the rights of teenagers. Citing low visibility and an aging (and presumably dwindling) membership, in 2005 MARL held a special session to plan a strategy for the organization’s future.”

Manitoba Civil Liberties and Human Rights Association (a.k.a. Winnipeg Civil Liberties and Human Rights Association; Manitoba Association for Rights and Liberties)

Manitoba Human Rights Association (a.k.a. Manitoba Branch, CCLA) (chapter in Brandon)

Further Reading

Clément, Dominique. Canada’s Rights Revolution: Social Movements and Social Change, 1937-82. Vancouver: UBC Press, 2008.

Patrick, Jeremy. “Civil Liberties Advocacy Organizations in Canada: A Survey and Critique.” Bepress Legal Series, Working Paper 2007, 13 February 2007.


Material on MARL is available in the Canadian Civil Liberties Association archive at Library and Archives Canada.

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