Jehovah’s Witnesses lawyer cites 1959 landmark ruling

Warns of duplessis-style persecution. Blainville taken to court over summonses for soliciting door to door without permit
The Gazette (Canada), June 18, 2003

A veteran of legal battles for the Jehovah’s Witnesses was in a Montreal courtroom yesterday, revisiting his landmark civil-liberties victories of decades ago.

However, Glen How, 84, and other members of a Jehovah’s Witnesses legal team received a skeptical hearing from three Quebec Court of Appeal judges for some of their arguments.

How wanted them to make an example of Blainville Mayor Pierre Gingras, as the Supreme Court did of Quebec Premier Maurice Duplessis in 1959.

In November 1997, the town north of Laval began issuing summonses to 14 Witnesses for soliciting door to door without a municipal permit.

“The fundamental liberties of the people don’t require a permit from anybody,” How argued.

How, a resident of Georgetown, Ont., said the court should crack down so public officials won’t “start trying to renew the persecutions of the Duplessis era.”

The town and the Witnesses are appealing against different parts of an April 2001 decision by Quebec Superior Court Judge André Crépeau.

Blainville is appealing against Crépeau’s decision to quash the 1996 bylaw as it applies to the Witnesses, as a violation of democratic freedoms. The Witnesses are appealing against Crépeau’s refusal to order the mayor to pay $3,500 in “moral” and “exemplary” damages to each of the 14 Witnesses summonsed.

How recalled a 1953 decision in which the Supreme Court decided that a Quebec law prevented the province from interfering with Witnesses’ distribution of pamphlets on the streets.

In 1959, the Supreme Court ordered Duplessis to personally pay damages to Frank Roncarelli, a Montreal restaurateur. Duplessis had caused Roncarelli to lose his liquor licence after Roncarelli posted bail for Witnesses.

Judge Benoît Morin, presiding yesterday, said the appeals court will release its decision soon.

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Religion News Blog posted this on Thursday June 19, 2003.
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