Amending and Enforcing the Law

AuthorAlan Borovoy
chapter four
Amending and
Enforcing the Law
Within a couple of years before I started at the Labour Commit-
tee, a Toronto landlord had refused to rent one of his many apartments
to a black family. He explained that this was strictly a business deci-
sion; he did not want to alienate his other tenants. Perhaps the fact that
I knew some members of the landlord’s family made me particularly
angry over this act of discrimination. Certain subsequent events exacer-
bated the situation: a board of inquiry headed by a judge actually ruled
that housing was not then covered by our anti-discrimination laws.
Moreover, Ontario’s premier of the day, Leslie Frost, reportedly told a
delegation from the Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL) that the prov-
ince was not “ready” for a law against housing discrimination.
All of these circumstances collaborated to convince me that the
quest for such legislation should enjoy high priority on my agenda for
things to do. Fortunately, my national director, Sid Blum, and my local
Labour Committee were enthusiastically supportive. With my arrival on
the job, therefore, the campaign began.
The idea was to publicize real cases of discrimination and to set up
test cases and conduct surveys to dramatize the breadth of the miscon-
duct. But the campaign had hardly gotten under way when a real case
arose. In September 1959, a bare couple of months after I started at
the Labour Committee, the Toronto Telegram reported an incident in St.
Catharines, Ontario. Soon after having rented an apartment to a black
“at the barricades”
couple, a landlady served a notice of eviction on them. According to the
landlady, certain neighbours complained about having blacks in the area.
On the day the matter was reported, Telegram reporter Gord Donald-
son telephoned me to ensure that I was aware of the case. Shortly after
that telephone call, I got into my car and headed for St. Catharines. Dur-
ing the course of the drive, my mind was working overtime. I felt the
need to come up with an idea that would either persuade the landlady to
recant or, at the very least, keep the issue boiling in the press.
The drive was just long enough for me to produce a bright idea. I
would compose and circulate a petition among the neighbours; it would
be addressed to the landlady and it would tell her that the undersigned
neighbours had no objection to having a black family living that close to
them. At the time, I didn’t really know what response I would get. But
I thought that the petition would enable our side to win a victory either
way. If the neighbours signed, the landlady might change her mind;
if the neighbours refused to sign, the press would likely carry a story
about the need for remedial legislation.
To my delight, the neighbours overwhelmingly, and without hesi-
tation, signed the petition as I had drafted it. Only one man refused
to sign. Of course, I asked him for an explanation. The man looked
around at what was a dilapidated area and said that he was opposed to
having blacks live there because they would “ruin the neighbourhood.”
At that point, I went to the landlady’s place and showed her the pe-
tition. By then, the Tely reporter had also joined us. As I reviewed the
matter with the woman, I detected some equivocation. On the spot, I
drafted a revocation of eviction notice and asked her to consider signing
it. With the press watching, I urged her to sign. Within a short while,
she did. With that, the landlady, the reporter, and I went to the apart-
ment of the black family, delivered the revocation to them, shook hands,
and took pictures. The next day, the Telegram ran a story with pictures
of the landlady, the black family, and the petition. The headline of the
story was “Neighbours Rally Behind Negroes Hate Monger Loses.”1
Fortunately, the story also contained some quotes from me about
the need for legislation to deal with housing discrimination. After all,
I argued, victory in this case was not enough; how many others were
being denied housing simply because of irrelevant factors such as race,
creed, and colour?

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