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Every law student in Canada is required to review W. Glen How's cases in benchmark decisions

These Supreme Court of Canada decisions are part of the foundation of Canada’s constitutional law embodied first in the Canadian Bill of Rights in 1960, and since 1982, in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Mr. How’s cases include R v Boucher in 1950, Saumur v Quebec (City of) in 1953, and Chaput v Romain in 1955. These cases have become keystones in upholding fundamental freedoms for all Canadians, including freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and freedom of conscience. As a case in point, in 1997 Supreme Court Chief Justice Antonio Lamer relied on Saumur v Quebec (City of) in his judgment in Re Provincial Court Judges, to show that free speech has been a guarantee of our constitution even prior to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Legal scholars agree these decisions of the Supreme Court of Canada contributed to development of an implied bill of rights that ultimately led Canada to adopt the Canadian Bill of Rights and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. In his book State and Salvation: The Jehovah’s Witnesses and Their Fight for Civil Rights (published by University of Toronto Press), Professor William Kaplan characterizes cases fought by Mr. How as: “. . . the bedrock of civil-liberties jurisprudence in Canada today.”

Glen How was called to the Bar of Ontario in 1943 and the Quebec Bar in 1949. In 1941, he had become one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. According to the prestigious American College of Trial Lawyers: “At that time it was against the law in Canada to be one of Jehovah’s Witnesses.” Glen How began advocating on their behalf to restore religious freedom that had been lost during World War II.

Concerned with the Supreme Court’s lack of jurisdiction over constitutional and liberty issues, Mr. How wrote “The Too Limited Jurisdiction of the Supreme Court of Canada” in the Canadian Bar Review in 1947. In 1949, the Supreme Court Act was revised. In the May 1948 Canadian Bar Review, Glen How authored “The Case for a Canadian Bill of Rights.” The article was reprinted and 10,000 copies were mailed to lawyers, judges, legislators, editors, columnists, members of parliament, and others.

Glen How’s work did not go unnoticed. The January 4, 1964, issue of Maclean’s magazine featured him as one of the country’s outstanding Canadians of 1963.

Glen How argued cutting edge constitutional cases before the Supreme Court of Canada. In Young v Young (1993), he successfully advocated the right of parents to be free to share religious values with their children. In B (R) v Children’s Aid Society of Metropolitan Toronto (1995), the Supreme Court recognized the right of parents to choose medical treatment for their children. In New Brunswick (Minister of Health and Community Services) v G (J) (1999), Mr. How represented an intervener in a case involving the right of a parent to fair legal representation with respect to guardianship of his or her children. In Committee for the Commonwealth of Canada v Canada (1991), he represented an intervener on the issue of freedom of speech in a public place.

He also argued cases on behalf of a patient’s right to bodily autonomy. The landmark decision of Malette v Shulman (1990), 72 OR (2d) 417 (CA) confirmed an adult patient’s right to have his or her advance treatment decisions respected.

Glen How directed, advised on, and argued constitutional cases in Japan, Singapore, Russia, Latvia, France, Italy, Peru, Trinidad, England and the United States. Often these cases attracted international attention through news media and agencies such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Without Frontiers (Belgium).

In recognition of his outstanding courage in defending difficult cases, the international legal community applauded Mr. How’s determination and decades of selfless work. The American College of Trial Lawyers presented Mr. How with the Award for Courageous Advocacy on September 8, 1997, in Vancouver, British Columbia. At that time he was only the tenth recipient of that prestigious award and the first Canadian to be so honoured. Past president of the College, Lively Wilson, in presenting the award to Glen How remarked:

… In the history of Canadian civil liberties, Glen How occupies a position of unparalleled importance, not only for his personal courage, resourcefulness and persistence, but also for the enormous legacy of civil libertarian principles that his work has left behind.

Beginning in 1997, History Television aired the one-hour documentary Turning Points of History – Witness to Persecution. This documentary centered on Glen How’s historic legal battles in Canada. And in that same year, the American College of Trial Lawyers noted he had “throughout the course of his long career, demonstrated courage and commitment as a trial lawyer, as an appellate lawyer, and as a human being.”

Mr. How served as Queen’s Counsel and in 1998 the Law Society of Upper Canada awarded Glen How its Law Society Medal for Outstanding Service. In 1999, he received the Certificate of Recognition of 50 years admittance to the Quebec Bar.

In 2001, when he was appointed to the Order of Canada, the Governor General stated: “The landmark cases he argued before the Supreme Court on behalf of Jehovah’s Witnesses enshrined all Canadians’ right to freedom of speech, assembly and religious expression and helped pave the way for the Canadian Bill of Rights and Charter of Rights and Freedoms.”

W. Glen How, O.C., Q.C., L.S.M., died in Georgetown, Ontario, on Tuesday, December 30, 2008, at the age of 89.

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