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Ontario has played host to numerous rights associations. Several of these operated out of Ottawa and Toronto during the 1930s and 1940s (both the Association for Civil Liberties and the League for Democratic Rights were based in Toronto). The Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA), with its ties to the Association for Civil Liberties through Irving Himel, was the first group to emerge in Ontario during the 1960s. At the time, the Jewish Labour Committee had been active in both Toronto and Windsor, where it had founded committees to combat racial intolerance. Between 1968 and 1982, CCLA chapters were formed in Windsor and London, and other rights groups sprang up in Ottawa, Hamilton, Owen Sound, Cornwall, and Kenora. The Owen Sound group was an initiative of the local United Church; its twenty-odd members devoted their efforts to organizing seminars. The Windsor group, which was established by professors Saul Nosanchuck and John Spellman, dealt with some minor issues such as getting a young man back into the high school that had expelled him for refusing to cut his hair. In Sudbury, the Mayor’s Committee on Human Rights was an initiative of Local 6500 of the Steelworkers’ Union, with union member Bob Chartrand as its president. In forming the committee, the union hoped to attract prominent community members, such as the mayor and police chief, to contribute to its human rights program. Although the CCLA is now devoid of chapters, it remains one of the most active rights associations in the country and is unquestionably the most recognizable.

Like the Ontario CCLA, Ottawa’s Civil Liberties Association National Capital Region (CLA NCR) was founded in 1968. Initially a CCLA affiliate, it soon became independent, and though it was formed during International Year for Human Rights (1968), it was actually a response to police harassment of the young vendors of the Free Press, an alternative newspaper. It also involved itself in defending a paper called Octopus, which was being distributed on the Sparks Street Mall, a pedestrian walkway in downtown Ottawa. On the grounds that no one could peddle goods or conduct business on the mall without a permit from the Pedestrian Mall Authority, the police harassed Octopus and seized copies of the paper. Although the mainstream newspapers had never bothered to obtain a permit either, only Octopus was targeted. After twenty months of negotiations with the mall authority, the CLA NCR finally convinced it to allow Octopus to return to the mall, provided that its vendors did not harass pedestrians. One of CLA NCR’s co-founders was Don Whiteside, a member of the Secretary of State department’s Group Understanding and Human Rights Section, and most of its early members were local university professors. Its president was professor Hugh Martha, and its general counsel was Len Shore, a lawyer. Whiteside became its key link with the Canadian Federation of Civil Liberties and Human Rights Associations, which he helped found and eventually led, using the resources and offices of the CLA NCR to help keep it active.

The Cornwall Civil Liberties Association was constituted in 1971 and soon became a member of the Canadian Federation of Civil Liberties and Human Rights Associations. Thanks to funding from the Secretary of State department, it established a permanent office and opened a storefront in the downtown to provide advice and referral services to the local community. By the mid-1970s, its work included organizing seminars on discrimination, publishing a pamphlet on youth and the law, and helping people to navigate the complicated process of claiming unemployment insurance and filling out income tax forms. The association managed to remain viable until 1981.

The Kitchener-Waterloo County Human Rights Association was organized in 1970, only to become inactive by 1972; it was quickly replaced, however, by the Kitchener-Waterloo Human Rights Caucus in 1972, which persisted until 1981. During its first years of operation, the caucus complained to the Waterloo County Board of Education, which had refused to hire a woman due to its fear that she might become pregnant. It also supported a boycott by striking Dare Foods workers in Kitchener. The strike was initiated because male and female employees in the Dare factory were not paid the same wage and because of the substandard conditions in the factory itself, where temperatures could soar to a brutal 130 degrees and approximately seven women fainted every week due to heat stroke.

Led by university professor Harry Penny, the Hamilton Civil Liberties Association began in 1970 with eighty-five members and would remain in operation until the 1980s. Citing irreconcilable differences in ideology, it refused to join the Canadian Federation of Civil Liberties and Human Rights Associations, because the federation accepted government funding, which, like the CCLA more generally, the Hamilton group adamantly opposed. For the next twelve years, it concerned itself with a wide range of civil liberties issues, from RCMP record keeping for people who were found innocent of crimes to the rights of patients and immigrants.

In London, a rights association originally began as a chapter of the CCLA but became independent in 1972. Its president was Carl Grindstaff, a University of Western Ontario law professor. It was created when the London police arrested ten people for shoplifting and decided to keep them in jail during the Christmas holidays as an example to potential shoplifters. Outraged at the decision to imprison people for stealing forty dollars’ worth of merchandise, Grindstaff assembled a group of leading local activists to form the London CCLA branch, which unsuccessfully sought a writ of prohibition to prevent further detentions for shoplifting. Other Ontario groups were also formed in Owen Sound, Sudbury, Windsor, Kingston, and Kenora, most of which lasted for only a few years.

Civil Liberties Association, Windsor

Cornwall Region, Civil Liberties Association

Hamilton Region, Civil Liberties Association

Human Rights Committee, Sudbury Region

Kenora Civil Liberties Association

Kingston Civil Liberties Association

Kitchener-Waterloo County Human Rights Association

Kitchener-Waterloo Human Rights Caucus

National Capital Region Civil Liberties Association

Owen Sound Human Rights Committee

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