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A Great Jehovah's Witnesses Trial and Appellate Lawyer (1919-2008) By Essam Farag

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A Great Jehovah's Witnesses Trial and Appellate Lawyer (1919-2008) By Essam Farag


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In 1997, the American College of Trial Lawyers, granted Glen How its award for Courageous Advocacy, the first time a Canadian lawyer has received this distinction. The college said that he has through the course of his long career, demonstrated courage and commitment as a trial and appellate lawyer, and a human being.

In 1998, he was awarded the Medal of the Law Society of Upper Canada. He also received a certificate of appreciation and recognition from the Bar of Montreal in the following year for being a member for 50 years. In 2000, he was named an Officer of the Order of Canada, for consistently and courageously fighting legal battles to advance civil liberties and helping pave the way for the Canadian Bill of Rights and Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Calling him, a "man of conscience," for working at minimal compensation to defend clients in every province of Canada, many U.S. states, Japan, and Singapore.

How spent his entire professional career protecting and promoting the interests of Jehovah's Witnesses. He was not always successful, especially in defending the rights of Jehovah's Witnesses to refuse blood transfusions for their children during medical emergencies. But he did help to extend an adult's right to make personal decisions about his/her own health treatment.

Jehovah's Witnesses believe that we live in a satanic world and live in anticipation for the end of this world, and the creation of a new one, in which we will be saved. Although they recognize that they must pay taxes, they have a disdain for state institutions, abhor patriotic demonstrations, abstain from military service, claim conscientious objector status in war time, and decline to salute the flag or sing the national anthem.

Lawyer William Caplan, author of "State and Salvation: The Jehovah's Witnesses and Their Fight for Civil Rights", said that, "If Glen How got no in one court, he would just move the matter to another court. And if he got no there, he would move it further." And so he did all the way to the Supreme Court in 1950s, as counsellor in cases that established fundamental freedoms of religion, expression, and assembly more than two decades before the Charter of Rights and Freedoms was promulgated. He was known as a hard worker and resilient lawyer.

It was his ability to navigate between religious and legal worlds that made him such a powerhouse lawyer for Jehovah's Witnesses in winning freedoms for them, yet he helped establish implied rights for everyone. He influenced future politicians such as Pierre Trudeau, who went on to introduce the Charter legislation as prime minister in 1982.

Glen How was born in Montreal just after the Great War, in March 1919, and he died at the age of 89 in December 2008 in Ontario of pneumonia as a result of complications from prostatic cancer. After graduating from the University of Toronto with a Bachelor's degree in 1940, he proceeded to Osgoode Hall Law School, and was called to the Bar of Ontario in 1943, subsequently qualifying in the Bars of Quebec, Alberta, and Saskatchewan. Glen How was supposed to attend the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead in Patterson, New York, for training as a Jehovah's Witnesses minister in 1945. In the 1940s, How, Q.C. gained enormous litigation experience, primarily in Ontario and Quebec. His clientele, at one time, included about 22 per cent—some 1,600—of all Jehovah's Witnesses then living in Canada); who had been charged—mainly in Quebec—under the Criminal Code or provincial or municipal legislation, for practising their religious faith. Nonetheless, he then managed to author two influential articles for the prestigious Canadian Bar Review.

    • The first, in 1947 (25 Can. Bar Rev. 573), recommended reforms of Supreme Court of Canada; incorporated by Parliament in 1949 legislation which facilitated How Q.C.Â’s Supreme Court litigation.
  • The second, in 1948 (26 Can. Bar Rev. 759), materially contributed, 12 years later, to enactment of The Canadian Bill of Rights. 

In 1949, How Q.C. received the first of a series of Supreme Court of Canada judgments, in R. v. Boucher, one of a quintette of appeals—the others being Saumur, Chaput, Roncarelli, and Lamb—he brought (or assisted to bring) to the Court.

In 1954, he married Margaret, a British Jehovah's Witness, who died in 1987 of cancer. The two had no children. In 1989, he was remarried to Linda Manning, a young American lawyer and Jehovah's Witness as well. He began working as general counsel for the still-illegal Witnesses. He defended the rights of the children of Jehovah's Witnesses to refuse to sing the national anthem in school ceremonies. Some in Quebec considered the Witnesses a serious threat to the dominance of the Roman Catholic Church, because of their strident condemnation of the gospels, and the manner of their proselytizing - knocking the doors, preaching in people's homes, and assembling in large gatherings.

During 65 years of lawyering - including a private Toronto law practise (1954-1984) - How served as counsel for Jehovah's Witnesses - always pro bono - in every Canadian province and in New York (Federal Court of Appeals [2nd Circuit]), New Jersey and Illinois (Supreme Court), Texas, Washington, and Nebraska, and as counsel or consultant counsel in Italy, Trinidad, Japan and Singapore. However, How will be remembered for a trio of cases involving civil liberties in the Duplessis era in Quebec:

  • The Boucher, Saumur and Roncarelli cases went to the Supreme Court in the 1950s. (I)The Boucher case [Boucher v. the King, [1951] S.C.R. 265], which used truth as a defence, eliminated an archaic Quebec law defining sedition as criticism of the government and led to the dismissal of nearly 125 sedition charges. (II) The Saumur case [Saumur v. City Of Quebec [1953] 2 S.C.R. 299], which relied on a defence of freedom of expression and religion, established that issuing licences to restrict a personÂ’s rights to practise his or her faith was beyond municipal or provincial authority and led to the dismissal of more than 1,000 bylaw charges. (III) And the Roncarelli case [Roncarelli v. Duplessis, [1959] S.C.R. 121] established that publicly elected officials cannot arbitrarily invoke the law against individuals, as Mr. Duplessis had done.

Incontestable is How Q.C.Â’s impact on recognition, development and growth of Canada's civil liberties. During Maurice DuplessisÂ’s premiership of Quebec (1936-39 and 1944-59) opined former British Columbia Supreme Court Justice Thomas R. Berger, in Fragile Freedoms [:] Human Rights and Dissent in Canada,

    • "Church and State joined in persecuting Jehovah's Witnesses, who carried their struggle for freedom of speech and freedom of religion to the Supreme Court of Canada again and again. Â…. The fervour of this small Protestant sect had more than a little to do with establishing the intellectual foundations for the [Canadian] Charter [of Rights and Freedoms]."

Principal public face of their legal struggle—in confirming, protecting and asserting civil liberties for themselves and, by extension, all Canadians—was W. Glen How.

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