The man I'm about to introduce to you has affected millions of Canadians’ lives – and they don’t even know it.
He's also affected my life, tremendously. Because this man is my father.
Back in 1976, my father, Arnie Kurtz, and another Montrealer, Arnold Wollman, fought discrimination in Quebec.
My dad may have lost the 10-year battle, but it was a big win for Canada: It was the catalyst to change our Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
My Father Shares His Story For The First time: PART I
It was a decade-long court case, in which my father, the plaintiff, would go up against Canada's future Prime Minister Brian Mulroney. Mulroney represented the defence – future Quebec separatist leaders.
Despite numerous requests, never would my father talk to media about this – until I invited him on my radio show.
He would be my last guest on my afternoon talk show in Western Canada, and he had no clue it would be his first time discussing his incredible contribution to Canada.
My Father Shares His Story For The First Time: PART II
Rewind to the 1960s ...
My dad and Wollman each answered a want ad for a trainee floor-trader at Lafferty, Harwood and Co., stockbrokers.
Both men were interviewed. Both men did very well in their interviews. Both even answered a difficult question right, but unfortunately gave the wrong answer.
“Are you Jewish?” asked Robert Harwood.
Unlike Hitler, Lafferty and company couldn’t use bullets. But still had the power to fire, or not hire Jews.
A power discreetly afforded by the provincial government to businesses back then.
The Quebec Act of 1964 was established to respect discrimination in the workforce. This Act forced years of bureaucratic red tape upon plaintiffs, with a maximum “reward” of $100.
Many Quebeckers were openly discriminated against in the '60s and '70s, but were too discouraged by the court system to fight it.
Even former Quebec Liberal justice minister, Jerome Choquette, admitted that no one took the Act seriously. He also confessed that my dad’s case was “taken offhand” and treated with negligence.
At the time, George Brown, assistant director of the Ontario Human Rights Commission found the decade-long strife inexcusable on the part of the Quebec government.
“You can’t restore someone’s dignity retrospectively. Once human dignity has been damaged it’s very difficult to make it up after a hell of a long time has passed. It becomes an empty victory after 10 years.”
If victory could indeed be reached.
At the original discrimination hearing of the case, Wollman and my dad’s lawyer confronted Lafferty and Harwood. Lafferty and Harwood’s lawyer was the future prime minister of Canada, Brian Mulroney.
After that hearing, the Quebec Minimum Wage Board filed a report that became the basis for charges against the two stockbrokers. At which point, the Crown took over.
Arthur Boivin was the Crown prosecutor assigned to my father’s case. Neither my father nor Wollman ever spoke to him though. Boivin vehemently proclaimed that he was only accountable to the government.
This was the most sincerity and honesty to be conveyed by Boivin in the case, as he was not to be counted upon by either my father or Wollman.
Everyone created delays in favour of the defence, including Boivin. With delays, memories fog and court mandates expire.
In the end, the Quebec Superior Court judge said he was disheartened. Despite Lafferty and Harwood both admitting to anti-Semitism, there was no law that prohibited such behaviour.
“We were open to charges of discrimination, but we were adapting to a discriminating system,” said Lafferty.
So while Wollman and my father did not win their case, it was a win for Canada.
First, it changed the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms to prohibit discrimination based upon race, colour, or creed. Then this became the catalyst to change the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
And now millions of Canadians can find employ because discrimination based upon race, colour, and creed is prohibited in Canada.
That took more than 10 years of my father’s life. To an extent, it took over his life and took away many possibilities. He was blacklisted.
Still, he and Wollman sacrificed their lives to better those of future generations.
In the end, this sacrifice has created unlimited possibilities for Canadians.