Black History Month 2020: Commemorating Christie v. York, 80 Years On
29 February 2020
This symposium commemorated the 80th anniversary of the battle Mr. Fred Christie fought for racial justice in Montreal, and examining the present-day situation of racism and the law in Canada.
In 1939, Mr. Fred Christie, a member of the African Canadian community of Montreal, brought his case to the Supreme Court of Canada to challenge lower courts’ decisions that upheld the Montreal tavern’s freedom of commerce and right to deny services to Black persons. His case is of particular significance to the McGill bicentenary, as it was championed by Union United Church members, through a Christie Defence Committee led by the second Black professor at McGill University, Dr. Kenneth Melville. Although the case was ultimately unsuccessful, the infamous pre-human rights Charter / code decision, Christie v. York Corporation,  SCR 139 has been widely taught in Canadian law schools, and remains a sobering reminder of law’s indeterminacy.
To commemorate this important chapter in Canadian legal history, to honour Mr. Christie and the Black community’s valiant battle for judicial recognition of their human rights and dignity, the McGill Faculty of Law and the Labour Law and Development Research Laboratory, the Centre for Research and Action on Race Relations, and the Union United Church co-hosted an afternoon symposium on Mr. Christie’s case on the last day of Black History Month.
The symposium featured two panels; the first panel focused on the life and times of Mr. Christie; and the second, on present-day racism and the law in Canada.
The speakers included Mr. Terry Brazill, Mr. Christie’s grandson; the Hon. Juanita Westmoreland-Traoré, Quebec’s first Black judge (ret.); Professor Barrington Walker, a foremost historian of African Canadian legal history; and Me Marie-Claude Landry, Ad. E., Chief Commissioner of the Canadian Human Rights Commission.