Glen How

The Globe and Mail has a long and interesting obituary for Glen How, lawyer for Canada’s Jehovah’s Witnesses, who died December 30, 2008, at the age of 89. How will be remembered for a trio of cases involving civil liberties in the Duplessis era in Quebec:

The Boucher, Saumur and Roncarelli cases went to the Supreme Court in the 1950s. The Boucher case [Boucher v. the King, [1951] S.C.R. 265], which used truth as a defence, eliminated an archaic Quebec law defining sedition as criticism of the government and led to the dismissal of nearly 125 sedition charges. The Saumur case [Saumur v. City Of Quebec [1953] 2 S.C.R. 299], which relied on a defence of freedom of expression and religion, established that issuing licences to restrict a person’s rights to practise his or her faith was beyond municipal or provincial authority and led to the dismissal of more than 1,000 bylaw charges. And the Roncarelli case [Roncarelli v. Duplessis, [1959] S.C.R. 121] established that publicly elected officials cannot arbitrarily invoke the law against individuals, as Mr. Duplessis had done.

Gracious as always, How agreed to attend one of my family law classes to explain and debate the Jehovah’s Witness position on blood transfusions for children.

The story of the suppression of Witnesses is a reminder of how recent and vulnerable the “rights and freedoms” of some of our citizens are. Glen How’s persistence, energy and devotion to law have earned him an important place in Canadian legal history.

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