Lawyer re­mem­bered as a fighter for hu­man rights

The Canadian Jewish News (Toronto) - - Obituary - RON CSILLAG SPE­CIAL TO THE CJN

To Bert Raphael, a re­spected Toronto lawyer who spe­cial­ized in per­sonal in­jury and dis­abil­i­ties, the law was about pro­tect­ing so­ci­ety’s most vul­ner­a­ble mem­bers.

“When you get right down to it, it all comes down to in­di­vid­ual rights,” Raphael told The CJN in a 1987 in­ter­view. “It’s what a per­son is en­ti­tled to under the law, whether it’s a big case or a park­ing ticket. I tend to worry about peo­ple’s hu­man rights when they don’t have any.”

That ethos served as a nat­u­ral lead-in for his decades of Jewish ac­tivism in a va­ri­ety of or­ga­ni­za­tions and causes, no­tably the cam­paign for Soviet Jewry, the pur­suit of Nazi war crim­i­nals in Canada and dig­nity for the de­vel­op­men­tally chal­lenged.

Raphael died in Toronto Nov. 15 at age 83 after a fall at his home.

He and his wife, Mar­i­lyn, were well known for their work with Reena, which pro­motes “dig­nity, in­di­vid­u­al­ity, in­de­pen­dence, per­sonal growth and com­mu­nity in­clu­sion for peo­ple with de­vel­op­men­tal dis­abil­i­ties within a frame­work of Jewish cul­ture and val­ues,” ac­cord­ing to its web­site. Their daugh­ter, Sheree, be­came a Reena client in the mid-1970s. Mar­i­lyn served as Reena’s chair, and Bert was a board mem­ber. In 1992, Reena es­tab­lished the Bert and Mar­i­lyn Raphael Ad­vo­cacy Fund.

“He was al­ways a straight shooter, al­ways ad­vo­cat­ing for peo­ple who couldn’t ad­vo­cate for them­selves,” said Reena’s chief financial of­fi­cer, Sol Fleis­ing, a long­time friend. “A cham­pion of the un­der­dog, re­ally. If we called him, we didn’t have to ex­plain our­selves. He knew the back­ground from a per­sonal point of view. Just a tremen­dous per­son.”

Raphael de­fended Is­rael and Jews ev­ery chance he could as an in­vet­er­ate let­terto-the-ed­i­tor writer. In 2001, how­ever, he ran into trou­ble when the Cana­dian Al­liance, which would later be folded into the Con­ser­va­tive party, threat­ened le­gal ac­tion if he didn’t with­draw a let­ter he wrote to the Toronto Star call­ing on leader Stock­well Day to re­as­sure the Jewish com­mu­nity that prom­i­nent Holo­caust de­niers hadn’t in­fil­trated the party. The party later backed off the threat.

The el­dest of four boys born to Rus­sian-pol­ish im­mi­grant par­ents in Hamil­ton, Raphael loved to tell the story of how he searched for an ar­ti­cling job after grad­u­at­ing from Os­goode Hall law school in 1960. Most blue-chip Toronto firms didn’t hire Jews. He was told to try Ed­die Good­man’s firm. “We just hired some­one from Hamil­ton,” was the re­ply Raphael said he got. “Sorry, kid.”

In 1987, Good­man chaired a State of Is­rael Bonds din­ner in Raphael’s hon­our.

In 1972, just after the Canada-soviet hockey sum­mit, Raphael and a group of lawyers from Mon­treal and Toronto trav­elled to Moscow and Len­ingrad, of­fi­cially as part of a le­gal con­fer­ence, but re­ally to meet with Jewish Re­fuseniks and de­liver prayer books and re­li­gious items. It was a fright­en­ing time. “We were fol­lowed ev­ery­where. We had to switch taxis con­stantly to try and lose the KGB’S tail,” Raphael re­called in 2007. The Cana­di­ans would com­mu­ni­cate with Re­fuseniks by writ­ing on a plas­tic toy tablet that could be erased im­me­di­ately. Know­ing their ho­tel room was bugged, they talked on park benches.

Raphael and Sam Filer, who later be­came a judge, along with for­mer Cana­dian Supreme Court jus­tice Emmett Hall and On­tario’s first om­buds­man, Arthur Maloney, went on to found Cana­dian Lawyers and Ju­rists for Soviet Jewry, which grew to hun­dreds of mem­bers. After the col­lapse of the Soviet Union, the group mor­phed into Cana­dian Lawyers and Ju­rists for World Jewry.

In 1980, they ad­vo­cated a boy­cott of the Moscow Olympics, prompt­ing a let­ter to the Globe and Mail from an irate of­fi­cial at the Soviet Em­bassy in Ot­tawa com­plain­ing “peo­ple like Jimmy Carter and Bert Raphael” were harm­ing su­per­power re­la­tions.

In 1985, he chaired Cana­dian Jewish Congress’ Nazi war crimes com­mit­tee, but was let go for “unau­tho­rized” state­ments to the press in which he’d said, fol­low­ing a meet­ing with the jus­tice min­is­ter, that Ot­tawa would soon act on the file. He was vin­di­cated when the Desch­enes Com­mis­sion of In­quiry was an­nounced two weeks later, and he rep­re­sented B’nai Brith Canada’s League for Hu­man Rights be­fore the com­mis­sion.

He then founded the Jewish Civil Rights Ed­u­ca­tional Foun­da­tion of Canada. He also founded State of Is­rael Bonds’ le­gal di­vi­sion and was ac­tive in the In­ter­na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion of Jewish Lawyers and Ju­rists. In 1985-86, he served as pres­i­dent of the pres­ti­gious Ad­vo­cates’ So­ci­ety.

Raphael is sur­vived by his wife, Mar­i­lyn, three broth­ers, three chil­dren and five grand­chil­dren.

Bert Raphael

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