How many times have you gone into a cab to see a cross hanging from the rear view mirror or mini-saints standing on the dashboard?
Many cabs display some sort of religious or personal paraphernalia (sometimes seat belts however, may seem hard to find).
Today, news agencies across Canada are running a story about a Montreal Jew, Arieh Perecowicz, a cabbie challenging the constitutionality of the city for issuing him six tickets for violating taxi regulations.
Perecowicz is in his fourth year battling the case.
Thirty-four years ago this month, the Montreal Gazette ran a front page story about two other Montreal Jews, in their 10th year battling their own futile case against discrimination.
For a province that inscribes “Je me souviens” (I remember) on its licence plates, it sure seems to forget a lot -- and forget about a lot of minorities.
Montreal's taxi authority has stopped Perecowicz four times and fined him more than $1,400 for personal objects in his cab, including a poppy, photographs, newspaper clippings, a Canadian flag, and two mezuzahs — small Jewish prayer scrolls.
Apparently, taxis in Montreal are only allowed to have objects necessary to the transport of passengers.
So not only should all other cabs with a cross, fleur-de-lis, or any other religious or personal memorabilia be fined, but given this logic, so too should the ones with stereos, mud flaps, ceiling liners, glove compartments, and the like.
The taxi driver of 44 years, who has never received any complaints from any customer, says he would have paid the fines, if they were for a dirty cab, but in this circumstance feels his religious freedom has been discriminated against.
"The service that I provide is taxi service," said Perecowicz. "I am not a hospital. …If for some reason you don't want to get into my cab, there is one behind me and in front of me and one on the side of me. You have a choice. And it's your choice, and it's your freedom, and it's your right, and so, it's mine."
Back in 1976, my father, Arnie Kurtz, and another Montrealer, Arnold Wollman, were in their 10th year of an exercise in futility –- they too fought discrimination in La Belle Province.
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.
Wollman and my father may not have won their case, but their wanton case was a catalyst for the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms, prohibiting discrimation based upon race, colour, or creed. In turn, this influenced the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
That took over 10 years of my father’s life. To an extent, it took over his life and took away many possibilities. Still, he and Wollman sacrificed their lives to better those of future generations.
Even with those selfless efforts, another Montreal Jew finds himself battling discrimination 34 years later.
Arieh Perecowicz may not have to fight the Quebec Act of 1964, but for some reason the province still acts like it’s 1964.
Update: The court has ruled that Arieh Perecowicz does not have the right to display any religious items in his cab. He plans to appeal the decision as far as he can.
Update: After a four and half year battle, Arieh Perecowicz has settled out-of-court -- victorious. Story can be found here.