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article imageOne man's battle against Quebec Premier 70 years ago

By Kevin Jess     May 20, 2016 in Politics
Montreal - This year will mark the 70th anniversary of Frank Roncarelli's loss of his liquor license at his Montreal restaurant prompting a landmark legal battle that would last over a decade and redefine the Canadian constitution.
Quebec during the 1940's was a different place than the Quebec of today. At that time, the province was dominated by the Roman Catholic Church, an institution that controlled many aspects of Quebec life, including education and health care, but also in many ways controlled government policy in other areas as well. Approximately 85 percent of the population considered themselves to be Roman Catholic. Those that were not, accepted the status quo and quietly went about their business, except for one small group with a total of a little over 400 adherents in the entire province calling themselves Jehovah's Witnesses.
Known for their door to door preaching, it wasn't long in 1945, due to the zealous nature of witnesses, that violence broke out with angry mobs, sometimes numbering over 1,000 and often led by a Catholic priest, descending upon the Jehovah's Witnesses places of worship and even their homes where they were beaten and then arrested. Large scale arrests of young men and women who were Jehovah's Witnesses were carried out for selling their trademark magazines, The Watchtower and Awake that had been outlawed to sell without a permit. The fine for the offense was forty dollars which the witnesses would decline to pay and opt instead to fight the fine in court, which meant they would have to go to jail and would require bail.
Frank Roncarelli was a successful restaurateur in Montreal and according to court transcripts was "a man of some means". He owned the upscale restaurant "Quaff," which means to drink (something, especially an alcoholic drink) heartily. The restaurant had been handed down to him from his father and had been open with a liquor license for the last 34 years. Mr. Roncarelli was well educated and a respected member of Montreal society but he was also one of Jehovah's Witnesses and he posted bail in the form of security on property in almost 400 cases against the witnesses who were awaiting trial. One such person was arrested over 100 times.
The Premier of Quebec at that time was Maurice "the Boss" Duplessis who was a staunch Roman Catholic and had been responsible for the steps taken thus far in an attempt to stop the witnesses from preaching. Mr. Roncarelli's actions in support of Jehovah's Witnesses did not escape the Premier's notice. The Premier, who also held the office of Quebec Attorney General used the office to cancel Quaff's liquor license to prevent Mr. Roncarelli from posting bail for the witnesses in the future. Quaff Restaurant had no infractions and the establishment's reputation was impeccable according to court records.
Within six months Mr. Roncarelli closed and sold his restaurant but launched a legal battle against Premier Duplessis that went on for 13 years, but eventually he won his case in The Supreme Court of Canada in 1959. The case established the "rule of law" in Canada which is mentioned in the preamble to the Canadian constitution and is now considered to be one of the greatest protections of human rights enjoyed by all Canadians to this day.
More about Duplessis, Roncarelli, Jehovah's Witnesses, Catholic, Rule of law
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