From Where to Here

By Walter Neutel

To know what CPJ is, and why it exists, we have to look back to the 1950s. More particularly, we have to look at the Dutch immigrant community, part of millions of post-war immigrants who transformed the Canadian landscape, both physically and socially.

The Dutch presence in Canada dates back to the time of the American Revolution, represented in individual families and people like Egerton Ryerson. Some small Dutch communities with their own churches appeared early in the 20th century. However, the real growth of the Dutch Canadian community dates from the post-World War II decades.

It was then that about 200,000 Netherlanders chose Canada as their new home. The largest subgroup of them was Roman Catholic. Protestants joined various churches, mostly United or Presbyterian, but soon thousands established Reformed churches. In less than two decades, the Christian Reformed denomination grew from a handful of churches to more than 100; most of which were in Ontario, Alberta, and British Columbia. Other Dutch immigrants founded smaller Reformed denominations.

These emigrants left a country still in post-war economic distress, with a severe housing shortage, for a land of freedom and opportunity—a land that supplied an army to liberate them from Nazi oppression. Before emigrating, they were used to accepting people with a diversity of religious expressions in public life. There, public schools existed alongside various Christian schools, which consisted of both Roman Catholic and protestant schools, some broadly Christian, and others more closely aligned with a denominational viewpoint.

Similarly, farmers, workers, and sports groups were mostly aligned according to their worldview or affiliations. They were members of political parties that gave expression to their religious allegiance and ideals. Now, imagine their surprise and disappointment when, in this land of freedom—Canada—only their Roman Catholic compatriots could send children to a Christian school of their choice, at least in some of the provinces. Protestants had to make do with the public schools, which might or might not show a nominal acknowledgment of Christianity by permitting the Lord’s Prayer in the morning. Labour unions were secular, and many of them had a bent for class struggle: violence was not unusual on the picket lines. Where was the public expression of Christian values, of biblical norms for behaviour for public life, of Christ’s lordship in daily life in schools and in the workplace?

These Reformed people longed for Christian schools, where their children would be taught that all of life is religious. In the model of Abraham Kuyper, these people strove to see and use every activity and occupation as an expression of grateful service to their creator, an acknowledgment that only Jesus Christ is lord of their lives.

In furtherance of their ideals, where possible, they soon established Christian Schools, and in as early as 1952, these formed an alliance for mutual encouragement and support. In Ontario they appealed to the public and to politicians for fair treatment, equal to tax-supported Catholic schools, and, failing that, appealed to the courts for justice.

Also in 1952, the first groups established a Christian Labour Association (CLAC), hoping to share in the shaping of the work environment in business and manufacturing industries. However, they met the closed shop environment, where secular unions, organized by trade, demanded support for their union as a condition of employment.

Christian school supporters sought justice and equal standing with Catholic schools at the political level and via the courts. Workers who joined the Christian Labour Association appealed for freedom: freedom not to join and give financial support to unions which did not subscribe to biblical norms for behaviour, unions which often saw owners and management of businesses as opponents, rather than as co-workers for the common good. They wanted the CLA to be recognized as a legitimate labour union which could organize and represent the employees at their chosen workplace. The struggle for such recognition required both political engagement and legal argument before the Labour Relations Board and in the courts.

Because the supporters of Christian schools and of the CLA were often the same people, by the late 1950s they set up a joint Committee for Justice and Liberty to coordinate their common struggle and aims. By the early 1960s this included not only schools at the elementary and secondary level, but also the effort to obtain a charter for a university level institution. In 1962, the Committee for Justice and Liberty decided that they could more effectively work towards their goals by becoming an incorporated body. They drafted a charter and bylaws and sought incorporation both at the federal level and at the provincial level. Federally, their effort was rejected because their aims were directed too much at educating the public, for which a Canadian (federal) not-for-profit corporation was deemed ill-suited. Provincially, their effort was not accepted because the name Committee for Justice and Liberty was deemed “meaningless,” then again as “too general” in character.

In the spring of 1963, the effort to become a Canada corporation was abandoned, after meetings with the civil servants and the Minister of National Revenue proved futile. However, Ontario officials and politicians agreed to permit incorporation if the name was modified to CJL Foundation, although that name seems even less meaningful. It must be noted that, 60 years ago, incorporation as a not-for-profit was considered a privilege, not a legal right.

Thus, the CJL Foundation became a legal body in 1963 with the following objects in its charter:

  1. TO carry on a programme of education, based on the Word of God, for the promotion of justice and liberty in the field of labour relations;
  2. TO promote the recognition of the God-given right of all persons to employment and the provision of employment;
  3. TO secure those rights by appropriate legislation;
  4. TO advise governments, organizations and persons of situations where justice and liberty in the field of labour relations are infringed;
  5. TO promote, assist in and advance such research as will further the cause of justice and liberty in the field of labour relations; and
  6. TO assist, advise and educate all persons who experience difficulty in exercising their right of employment;

Gerry Vandezande, who at that time was president of the CLAC, became part-time executive director of the Foundation. CJL had nearly 200 members signed up at the end of 1963, who were urged, if they were able, to contribute double the membership fee of $10. Its major activities in those first years consisted of assisting persons at Labour Board and court hearings who sought the freedom not to join or support financially unions which offended their freedom of conscience. Through diligent work with politicians and other supporters, a big victory in this regard was Ontario’s Bill 167. When enacted in 1970, it made a legal provision for diverting the equivalent of union dues to a registered charity. During its first five years, the Foundation also struggled to gain status as a charitable corporation, finally granted in 1968 after the CJL removed from its charter the aim “to secure those rights by appropriate legislation”. This was deemed political—not charitable.

In 1961, CJL spent $1,200; in 1962 it spent nearly $4,000, and in 1963 more than $5,000. By 1970, its budget was $30,000. A decade later, it was about $200,000. For reference, in the mid-sixties, $4-5,000 was considered a good starting salary for university graduates. Much of CJL’s income came from church support. In the sixties, most of the budget went towards legal expenses in pleadings before Labour Boards and courts.

Money was essential, but more important than raising funds was sharing the message and growing supporters. At the time of incorporation, CJL had about two hundred members. About 100 attended the first AGM a few months later. During its first decade, the Annual General Meeting was usually a day-long affair, some attended by as many as 300 members. The highlight was a keynote address and discussion groups on the activities and direction of CJL. Literature on the topics presented was often printed and distributed afterwards to educate not only the members who could not attend the meetings, but also to politicians and the interested parties as well.

Those who addressed the meetings included academics, theologians, and politicians. Dr. Paul Schrotenboer, Prof. Martin Vrieze, Robert Thomson, M.P., Rev. H. Van Andel, Brian Kelsey, CJL’s able lawyer, Dr. Bednard Zijlstra, Mario DiGangi and, of course, Gerry Vandezande and John Olthuis. Their presentations were intended to focus not on the immediate aims of educational and union causes, but to stimulate and broaden the Christian consciousness, to challenge members and readers with the need to bring the claims of the gospel to bear on all of life.

Although founded in Ontario, in the sixties the foundation also supported court cases in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Nova Scotia, and British Columbia. The Dutch Reformed community in Alberta had its own organization dating from the fifties, the Christian Action Foundation (CAF), and soon published its own monthly, Vanguard magazine. Because of their complementary aims, in 1971 CJL and CAF agreed to a merger, maintaining staff and offices in both Toronto and Edmonton.

The AGM in 1971 also approved a resolution directing the Board “to take whatever legal and other action necessary to restructure the C.J.L. Foundation so that it becomes a Christian civil-rights movement concerned with the Government’s task to promote justice and liberty for all in every area of life.” By then, CJL was truly a national organization with more than 1000 members throughout Canada, extending its aims to promote justice far beyond schools and the workplace: assisting Indigenous groups with their search for justice, studying and trying to redirect Canada’s energy policy, the need to support the increasing numbers of homeless people, the abortion issue, and Sunday shopping. These issues, among others, engaged the attention and resources of staff and CJL’s board in the seventies. As one of their pamphlets said, “justice is not for just us, but for everyone.” At the end of the seventies, CJL adopted a new banner, Citizens for Public Justice, and had become largely the CPJ as we know it today.

During CPJ’s existence, Canadian society has changed, much of it for the better. CPJ is less conscious of its roots—however, the need to carry the banner for Public Justice in our nation continues. Those who attended CJL’s AGM in 1968 were reminded that “we must practice—not just preach—God’s justice”. Nevertheless, in 1963, the year of our founding, doctors in Saskatchewan went on strike against the introduction of Medicare.

Now, we struggle to keep it. In 1968, the Quebecer Pierre Vallières infamously published a book to protest the failure to recognize French Canadians’ language and economic rights. Now, we have protests to maintain some English language rights in Quebec. That same year, the London Hunt and Country Club was in the midst of a two-year debate about whether Jewish persons, even those with respectable sponsors, could join as members. A decade later, we welcomed 60,000 Vietnamese refugees. Now, we brag about how open and welcoming Canadian society is. Yet immigrants still find all too often that the practice is not consistent with the preaching. Canada still needs CPJ to remind us to let justice roll on like a river!

  • Walter Neutel

    Walter Neutel retired after nearly thirty years of service in Canada’s national archives. He has supported Christian education by serving on four boards, as well as his church and other agencies. He is currently finishing the organization and description of CPJ’s paper archives.

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