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Renegade Lawyer

Renegade Lawyer: The Life of J.L. Cohen

  • Book Info
    Renegade Lawyer
    Book Description:

    Though Cohen rose to the top of his profession, he had a difficult, complex private life that contributed to his personal disgrace and professional downfall.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-7921-4
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xii)
    R. Roy McMurtry and Peter N. Oliver

    It is only a slight exaggeration to suggest that J.L. Cohen invented labour law in Canada. For many years, principally the 1920s to the 1940s, he excited strong emotions in many quarters, from friend and foe alike. Extremely bright and incredibly hard working, he took up the cases of unions and, very often, of Communist politicians and was regarded in establishment circles as an unrepentant radical and fellow traveller. Pugnacious and determined in his advocacy, he did not suffer fools gladly and sometimes he paid a price for his unorthodoxy. But he was too dominant in his field to ignore,...

  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. Abbreviations
    (pp. xv-2)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 3-10)

    J.L. Cohen was an architect of the Canadian industrial-relations system which emerged during the Second World War. He was one of the first specialists in labour law representing unions and he served as a member of the National War Labour Board (NWLB) in 1943, when it held a public inquiry into the causes of industrial unrest. It called for the introduction of collective-bargaining legislation, a recommendation that the government accepted. Cohen contributed substantially to the form of the new law, to the conciliation process that was an integral part of ′the system,′ and to the administrative procedures and jurisprudence developed...

  7. Part One: Defending Workers, 1927–1939

    • 1 The Making of a Lawyer
      (pp. 13-30)

      Jacob Lawrence Cohen, known as ′Jack′ to his family and ′J.L.′ to trade unionists,¹ was the first child of Philip and Esther Cohen and named Jacob after his maternal grandfather, Jacob Kreenge. Esther′s father had died when she was two years old and living near Wolovisk, Lithuania. Her mother, Jane Lillian, later married David Bach, a blacksmith who ran the Kreenge′s family farm near Bortnich. After a freak accident, in which David Bach was run over by his horse-drawn cart and killed, his widow left their home, sent her two eldest children to relatives, and that first winter relied on...

    • 2 Lawyer for the Communist Party, 1927–1931
      (pp. 31-53)

      J.L. Cohen′s transformation into a labour lawyer representing radicals and trade unionists did not happen overnight but was a gradual process beginning in the 1920s. During that decade, he became counsel to the Canadian Labour Defence League (CLDL), a Communist organization formed in 1925, and handled civil-liberties cases, problems of employed and unemployed workers, and even a case of suspected murder.

      People on the left sought Cohen′s help because in the 1920s workers faced hostility from employers and politicians when they tried to organize. Despite the dominion government′s suppression of the Winnipeg General Strike in 1919, political leaders feared further...

    • 3 Advocate for the Poor, 1927–1939
      (pp. 54-80)

      The Great Depression was characterized by class confrontations, breadlines, soup kitchens, thousands of unemployed persons on relief, and the deportation of immigrant workers. The crisis made a lasting impression on J.L. Cohen, whose social conscience was deepened. Union leader George Burt recalled that Cohen lived when the plight of many ′was really something′ and ′Cohen was a product of those times.′

      By 1935, Cohen had dissolved his partnership with Harry Rosenberg and set up his own firm, which specialized in civil-liberties issues and labour law. Many cases resulted from Depression problems and involved both employed and unemployed workers, as the...

  8. Part Two: Redesigning Labour Policy, 1936–1943

    • 4 Labour Lawyer, 1936–1943
      (pp. 83-108)

      J.L. Cohen′s emergence as the leading labour lawyer advising unions paralleled the growth from 1937 of the CIO (Congress of Industrial Organizations) industrial union movement in Canada. Cohen continued to represent old clients, but he gained new unions as well and assisted them in their formative years. Their congress – the Canadian Congress of Labour (CCL) – was founded in 1940, and it also provided him with work.

      The organization of industrial unions in the mass-production and resource industries had been a dream of labour activists since the Knights of Labor movement in the late nineteenth century. The idea was...

    • 5 Designing Ontario Labour Policy, 1942–1943
      (pp. 109-121)

      During the war, J.L. Cohen was an outspoken critic of the federal government′s labour policy. He opposed in particular the use of the compulsory-conciliation process as a substitute for collective-bargaining legislation because it delayed strikes, most concerning the union′s status in workplaces, and hurt organizing drives.¹ Sometimes the obligation for both parties to participate in the conciliation process pressed managements to recognize unions, if only informally. Cohen had sat on conciliation boards partly to achieve this end, but by 1942, after Kirkland Lake mine owners had flouted conciliation by walking out with impunity, that approach was not satisfactory. Conciliation was...

    • 6 National War Labour Board Service, 1943
      (pp. 122-150)

      In 1943 Prime Minister Mackenzie King invited J.L. Cohen to serve on the National War Labour Board. Originally set up to administer wartime wage-and-price controls, the board was reconstituted in February 1943 in the settlement of a national steel strike. An independent chair was appointed to replace the minister of labour, Humphrey Mitchell, and the board became a tripartite panel of legal experts: the chairman, Mr Justice C.P. McTague, from the Ontario Appellate Court, represented the public interest; J.J. Bench, a corporation lawyer, was the business appointee; and Cohen sat as the labour representative.

      The government intended to delay a...

  9. Part Three: War and Aftermath, 1939–1946

    • 7 Defending Wartime Internees, 1939–1943
      (pp. 153-192)

      J.L. Cohen was a lawyer deeply involved in disturbing occurrences, such as the ones described in the above quotation. He defended many internees, criticized the process, and demanded that the government amend it to protect civil liberties better. Two days after the government passed the War Measures Act, in September 1939, it proclaimed the Defence of Canada Regulations (DOCR), which gave it sweeping powers to arrest and detain without charge both alien and Canadian-born persons, considered to be a threat to national security.

      Since 1938–9, government officials had discussed what security problems were likely to arise in a war...

    • [Illustrations]
      (pp. None)
    • 8 Politics and Espionage, 1944–1946
      (pp. 193-220)

      The years 1944 and 1945 were difficult ones for J.L. Cohen. In 1944 he was embarrassed and probably disappointed at losing a nomination to run for Parliament in Windsor, because local Communist and CCF factions conflicted over his proposed candidacy. The next year, Cohen was confronted with Ontario CCF/Conservative Party conflicts when he was counsel to several unions before the LeBel inquiry. By this time, Cohen was not well. Experiencing personal and work-related stress, he began to make mistakes, which judges and colleagues noticed.

      On 8 July 1944, three hundred UAW shop stewards in Windsor unanimously endorsed a resolution to...

  10. Part Four: Relations with the Law Society, 1945–1950

    • 9 On Trial, 1946–1947
      (pp. 223-250)

      In 1945 Jacob Lawrence Cohen was the most prominent labour lawyer in Canada. Trade-union leaders sought his advice; workers struggling to form unions against obdurate employers admired Cohen′s skill and commitment, and trusted him. Tim Buck remembered that Cohen was the first of a new type of labour lawyer, ′that is, the lawyer who understands the problems of the trade union movement far better than the average trade union officer. And understands the relations of the law to the trade union movement far better than the average lawyer.′¹ In Senator David Croll′s opinion, ′nothing like him has appeared on the...

    • 10 Disbarment, 1947
      (pp. 251-276)

      While Cohen was in prison, the Discipline Committee of the Law Society of Upper Canada learned that he had been convicted of ′having unlawfully assaulted and beaten a woman,′ causing her bodily harm, contrary to the Criminal Code, and that an appeal was dismissed in February 1947 in the higher court. The committee decided to investigate whether he should be disbarred. It informed Cohen that his trial would be on 15 March 1947.¹ The committee was composed of benchers, mostly from Toronto; its chair was C.F.H. Carson, a distinguished commercial lawyer, and its members in 1947 were W.J. Beaton, J.R....

    • 11 The Struggle For Reinstatement, 1947–1950
      (pp. 277-290)

      In theWearecase (1888), which the Discipline Committee had cited, the English judge commented on the penalty of being struck off the roll. ′I know how terrible that is. It may prevent him from acting as a solicitor for the rest of his life; but it does not necessarily do so. He is struck off the roll; but if he continues a career of honourable life for so long a time as to convince the Court that there has been a complete repentance, and a determination to persevere in honourable conduct, the Court will have the right and power...

  11. Epilogue
    (pp. 291-300)

    J.L. Cohen was an enigma, in that there was a discrepancy between his public life and his private behaviour. People who remembered him attributed his downfall to a range of causes from a nervous breakdown to drug abuse to an immoral character. Most admired him; many disliked him, but they all agreed that as a lawyer he was an effective professional and a committed defender of disadvantaged people, the working class, and trade unions. His obituary in theGlobe and Maildescribed him as a dynamic, sharp-witted man, who rose from humble beginnings to become the most influential labour lawyer...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 301-358)
  13. Glossary
    (pp. 359-362)
  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 363-374)
  15. Picture Credits
    (pp. 375-376)
  16. Index
    (pp. 377-386)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 387-388)