An MP who loved to dance, who championed French
Liberal stalwart counted design of the Canadian flag and hate-crime legislation among his achievements
Sunday, January 06, 2008
Milton Klein, a Montreal Liberal member of Parliament who was the first to introduce hate-crimes legislation in Canada in 1964, died at the Montreal Jewish General Hospital on New Year’s Eve. He was 97.
He also considered the final design of Canada’s distinctive maple leaf flag among his contributions as a back-bench MP.
“The prime minister, Lester Pearson, wanted three maple leafs on the flag,” recalled Klein’s daughter, Elise Lewin.
“But my father persuaded the selection committee that three maple leaves would only highlight our differences, and there should only be one maple leaf to symbolize our unity. Pearson bought his argument,” she said.
Milton Lowen Klein, the son of Hungarian immigrants, was born in Montreal on Feb. 21, 1910.
He was one of five children in a realtor’s family, and grew up on the Plateau. His mother, who took him to his first political meeting when he was still in his teens, died when Klein was 20.
“His mother wanted him to go into politics, and he promised her he would,” his daughter said.
“Being a politician was very important to him. Whatever he wanted to achieve, he did.” Klein was educated at Fairmont High and at Strathcona Academy, and obtained his law degree from Université de Montréal in 1933.
He became active in the Jewish community and was a member of the executive council of the Canadian Jewish Congress and a co-chairman of the Israel Bond Organization.
He was drafted to run for the Liberals in the Cartier riding for the 1963 federal election when the incumbent, Leon Crestohl, died during the campaign.
In 1964, Klein introduced a private member’s bill, C-21, which would “outlaw not only Nazi-type hatred, but all hatred,” and would have imposed stiff penalties on anyone convicted of distributing hate literature. The bill died on the order paper when Lester Pearson’s minority government was defeated.
Klein was re-elected in 1965, and the following year the government amended the Criminal Code to include crimes “motivated by bias, prejudice or hate based on race, national or ethnic origin, language, colour, religion, sex, age, mental or physical disability, sexual orientation, or any other similar factor.” Klein stepped down in 1968 when his Cartier riding disappeared as the result of redistribution and was absorbed into Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau’s Mount Royal constituency.
As a Quebec MP, Klein was sympathetic to French-Canadian nationalists and often derided English Canada for being insensitive to its French-speaking minority.
Klein frequently complained about the lack of bilingual signs in the national capital and about the then-lack of competent bilingual federal civil servants.
He also was an enthusiastic supporter of French-language immersion.
“I will never be able to understand the apathy and complacency of English-speaking Canadians,” he said at a time when Latin was often compulsory in Canadian high schools and universities when French was optional.
“I will never be able to understand what earthly good Latin will do … the language is dead, and of no practical use,” he told a crowd of supporters in 1965.
“If the same emphasis were put on French it would constitute a great contribution to the unity of this nation,” he said.
Klein remained active and alert until about two weeks before he died.
“He was very involved, up on everything,” his daughter said.
“Even in hospital he was telling me what was going on on CNN, and commenting on the assassination of Benazir Bhutto.” Klein’s wife, Dorothy Ruby, with whom he eloped on New Year’s Eve, 1935, died in 1991.
Until she died, “they danced every single Saturday night,” said their daughter.
“They loved to dance, and regularly went to the Bonaventure Room in the Queen Elizabeth Hotel.” He is survived by his two daughters.
© The Gazette (Montreal) 2008