The Lord Reading Law Society, founded in 1948, is a product of the long-standing involvement of Jews in the practice and study of law in Quebec. It was created to promote the interests of Jews within the legal profession. Despite early successes from the mid-19th to early 20th century, rising antisemitism and a tradition of balancing appointments to the Bar and Bench between French and English Canadians led to slower upward mobility for Jewish lawyers between the 1920s-1940s.
In 1948 the Quebec Bar Association decided to hold their annual convention at the Mont Tremblant Lodge, owned by Joseph Ryan. As was common at the time, the lodge had a strict “no Jews and no dogs” policy. Outraged by this discriminatory rule, several Jewish members of the Bar called for a boycott of the meeting and founded the Society with the mandate of lobbying for fair representation of Jews at the Bar and on the Bench. The group called itself the Lord Reading Law Society, named after Rufus Daniel Isaacs, the 1st Marquess of Reading and the first Jewish Lord Chief Justice of England.
The early years of the Society were marked by a series of accomplishments such as the Bar of Montreal amending its constitution to ensure that a minimum of one Jew would always be present on its Council. There were also several high profile appointments of Jewish lawyers, including when Harry Batshaw became the first Jew appointed to a superior court in Canada in 1950, when we was appointed to the Superior Court of Quebec.In addition there was the election of Louis Fitch and J. Harry Blumenstein to the Council of the Bar of Montreal in the years 1950 and 1960 respectively.
In the 1960s and 1970s, the Society was instrumental in increasing Jewish representation at the local and provincial level, including the election of Philip F. Vineberg as the first Jewish Bâtonnier of the Bar of Montreal, in 1969. A few years later, Fred Kaufman became the first Jew to be appointed to the Quebec Court of Appeals in 1973. Furthermore, the Society also took several steps to cultivate a continued Jewish presence in Quebec’s legal profession by establishing scholarships at the Université de Montréal and McGill University in 1952, and a scholarship in 1960 at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. The Society later established a prize at the Université de Sherbrooke.
Over time, as antisemitism and restrictions on Jews became less prevalent, the Society turned its attention to fighting for the rights of the greater Jewish community and other minorities. One of the Society’s major campaigns surrounded Bill 101, which was passed by the newly- elected Parti Québécois government in 1977. The Lord Reading Law Society argued that Bill 101 was unconstitutional. In its bid to prevent passage of the Bill, the Society mobilized a group of 100 Jewish lawyers, called several emergency meetings and encouraged people to start attending the annual convention of the Bar of Quebec and Canadian Bar Association.
While the Lord Reading Law Society was active in larger political debates in Quebec, it continued to wield influence within the legal community. Lynne Kassie became the first female president of the Society in 1989. Only a year later, a Lord Reading member, Sylviane Borenstein, became the first woman and first Jew to be elected the Bâtonnière of the Barreau du Québec. In 2008, for its 60th anniversary, the Society was honoured by being given the Medal of the Bar of Montreal.
The Lord Reading Law Society continues to take an active role in public debates. In 2010, the Society took a strong public stance against Bill 94 (known colloquially as the Niqab Law or Reasonable Accommodations Act), and appeared before the Constitution Committee of the Quebec National Assembly in November of 2010. In 2013-2014, the Society spoke out against Bill 60 (known as the Quebec Charter of Values) and published an influential memorandum. After almost 70 years, this once small coalition of Jewish lawyers is still fighting for the rights of not only Jewish members of the Bar and Bench and the Jewish community, but also on behalf of other minorities.
Compiled by Pascale Greenfield
50 Years, The Lord Reading Law Society. Montreal, 1998.
Arnold, Janice “Jewish law society recognized by Montreal Bar” The Canadian Jewish News. August 20, 2008. Web. 20 January 2015.
“History.” The Lord Reading Law Society. Web. 20 Jan 2015.
Nigro, Mario & Clare Mauro. “The Jewish Immigrants Experience and the Practice of Law in Montreal, 1830 to 1990.”McGill Law Journal. Vol. 44 (1999): 999-1046.
The Lord Reading Law Society. Box 1-7. The Lord Reading Law Society. Canadian Jewish Congress Charities Committee National Archives. Montreal, Quebec. 2014.