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Ontario, as the largest province in Canada and home to the nation's capital and the largest urban area, has always played host to several rights associations.  Several organizations operated from Ottawa and Toronto in the 1930s and 1940s, and the Association for Civil Liberties and the League for Democratic Rights operated out of Toronto.  The Canadian Civil Liberties Association, with its ties to the Association for Civil Liberties through Irving Himmel, was the first group to emerge in the 1960s in Ontario.  At the time, the Jewish Labour Committee had been active in both Toronto and Windsor with committees to combat racial intolerance.  Between 1968 and 1982, chapters of the CCLA were formed in Windsor and London while other groups were formed in Ottawa, Hamilton, Owen Sound, Cornwall, and Kenora [The Owen Sound group was an initiative of the local United Church and had about 20 members; it focussed its efforts on organizing seminars.  In Windsor, professors Saul Nosanchuck and John Spellman formed the group and dealt with some minor issues such as getting a young man, who refused to cut his hair, back into the high school which had expelled him.  Sudbury's Mayor's Committee on Human Rights was an initiative of the local 6500 of the Steelworker's Union with a union member, Bob Chartrand, as the committee's president.  The union had decided to form the committee in the hope of attracting prominent members of the community, such as the mayor and police chief, to contribute to the union's human rights program].  Although devoid of chapters, the CCLA remains one of the most active rights associations in the country today and is unquestionably the most recognizable.

Another organization was founded in Ontario around 1968 in Ottawa as a chapter of the CCLA but it soon disaffiliated and became an independent organization.  Although it was formed during the International Year for Human Rights, the Civil Liberties Association National Capital Region (CLA NCR) was in actuality created in response to police harassment of youths selling the alternative newspaper, the Free Press.  Police had decided to harass and seize copies of a paper called Octopus being distributed on the Sparks Street mall, a pedestrian walkway in downtown Ottawa.  Although in theory no one could peddle or conduct business on the mall without a permit from the Pedestrian Mall Authority, in practice the mainstream newspapers never bothered to obtain one.  Only Octopus was targeted by officials who harassed, seized and prosecuted distributors of the paper for illegal distribution on the mall.  After 20 months of negotiations with the mall authority, the CLA NCR was finally able to convince them to agree to allow Octopus to be distributed so long as the vendors did not harass people in the mall.  Among its founders was Don Whiteside, a member of the Secretary of State's Group Understanding and Human Rights Section, and most of its initial membership were local university professors.  Its president was professor Hugh Martha and its general counsel was a lawyer, Len Shore.  Whiteside became the key link between the CLA NCR and the Federation which he helped found and eventually became the leading force in the latter, using the resources and offices of the CLA NCR to help keep the Federation active.

In Cornwall, a group was constituted in 1971 and soon became a member of the Federation.  Thanks to funding from the Secretary of State, it was able to establish a permanent office and open a storefront office in the downtown to provide advice and referral services to the local community.  Its work by the mid-1970s included organizing seminars on discrimination, publishing a pamphlet on youth and the law, and helping people who were confused with the complicated process of claiming unemployment insurance and using income tax forms.  The Cornwall Civil Liberties Associations managed to stay active until 1981.  In the Kitchener-Waterloo region a 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 remained active until 1981.  In its first years of operation, the Human Rights Caucus complained to the Waterloo County Board of Education when it refused to hire a woman out of concern she might become pregnant, and supported a boycott by the Dare Foods workers in Kitchener who were on strike.  The strike was initiated because of differential wages between men and women in the factory, and the difficult working conditions where seven women per week on average were fainting in a building which could reach up to 130 degrees.

In Hamilton, the local civil liberties association led by university professor Harry Penny began in 1970 with 85 members and would continue operating until sometime in the 1980s.  It refused the join the Federation based on Airreconcilable differences in ideology because the Federation accepted government funding which, as was the case with the CCLA, the Hamilton group adamantly opposed.  For the next 12 years the association concerned itself with a wide range of civil liberties issues, from RCMP record keeping for people found innocent of crimes to the rights of patients and immigrants.  A London rights association originally began as a chapter of the CCLA but became an independent association in 1972 with Dr. Carl Grindstaff, a law professor at the University of Western Ontario, as its president.  It was formed when police in London decided to arrest ten people for shoplifting near Christmas and keep them in jail over the holidays as an example to other potential shoplifters.  Outraged at the decision to imprison people for stealing $40 in merchandise, Grindstaff called together a group of leading activists in the city to form a London branch of the CCLA which unsuccessfully sought a Writ of Prohibition to prevent further detentions for shoplifting.  Other groups were also formed around Ontario in the 1960s and 1970s in Owen Sound, Sudbury, Windsor, Kingston and Kenora, most of which lasted for only a few years.






©Dominique Clément