'Guardians of Liberty': R.M.W. Chitty and the Wartime Idea of Constitutional Rights
Eric M. Adams
University of Alberta - Faculty of Law
March, 28 2012
Constance Backhouse & W. Wesley Pue, eds., The Promise and Perils of Law: Lawyers in Canadian Legal History (Toronto: Irwin Law, 2009) 173.
At the January 1940 meeting of the Ontario Section of the Canadian Bar Association, the assembled lawyers noted with distress “insidious encroachments on the simple fundamental rights of individuals,” worrying further that “rights necessarily suspended in wartime may be lost for good.” Observing that “this country is now engaged in a war to preserve the rights of the individual,” the lawyers resolved to fight a war of their own against the “menace of bureaucracy.” Leading the charge against “would-be Hitlerism in our own government” was Toronto lawyer and editor of the Fortnightly Law Journal, Robert Michael Willes Chitty. “We have put our hand to the sword to wipe out Hitlerism or Stalinism,” Chitty argued, “let us fight it abroad and at home with every weapon at our hand.” Foremost in Chitty’s arsenal was the idea that lawyers served society as the sacred “guardians of liberty” and as the protectors of civil liberties. But these venerable ideas, Chitty recognized, might not be enough against the expanding reach of the wartime administrative state. My chapter explores the ways in which the Second World War led Chitty and his followers in the CBA to embrace the American idea of entrenched constitutional rights. In doing so, lawyers stood at the vanguard of Canada’s emerging postwar “age of rights.” When the war ended, the idea of entrenched constitutional rights remained, but shifting conceptions of the meaning of human rights placed lawyers like Chitty in the midst of a rights revolution not entirely of their making or intention.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 18
Keywords: legal history, Charter historyAccepted Paper Series
Date posted: March 28, 2012
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