The Jewish community, the law and Université de Montréal
- Jeff Heinrich
Two new books chronicle the contributions of Quebec justice minister Herbert Marx and other Montreal Jews to UdeM's Faculty of Law and to Canadian society in general.
One is titled The Faculty of Law of Université de Montréal and the Jewish Community, and the other My Story: Herbert Marx (also released simultaneously in French under the title Mon histoire: Herbert Marx). Published by Éditions Thémis, the books testify to the important role played by Jewish alumni of the law faculty for almost 125 years, not only in the legal world but also in Quebec and Canadian society in general. The books were launched October 9 at a ceremony attended by 50 people at McCord Museum in downtown Montreal.
"The Faculty proved to be a place of cultural convergence, especially at a time when, for linguistic or religious reasons, few institutions played this role," noted Jean-François Gaudreault-Desbiens, professor and dean of the faculty, addressing the invitees. "In this sense, the faculty has offered – and still offers, particularly to the Jewish community – an environment for francization, creating bridges between communities ... And these bridges are transposed into the practice of law and public life in Montreal, Quebec and Canada. "
Marx, who's now 86, thanked his alma mater. "I am very pleased to have a special relationship with Université de Montéal, which has set up the Chevrette-Marx Conferences in Constitutional Law and where I contribute a fund that annually awards a prize to a deserving student," the retired judge said in French. "It is important for me to contribute in return and in a modest way to this university. I always feel very close to Université de Montréal, the place that gave me birth," he concluded, his voice cracking with emotion.
In his autobiography, Marx traces the many steps of his life: his beginnings as the son of Jewish immigrants from Latvia who settled in the Plateau-Mont-Royal; his university studies at McGill, Sir George Williams (Concordia), UdeM (in English literature and later in law) and Harvard; his subsequent years in academia as an UdeM law professor; his political career as a Liberal MP and later Quebec Minister of Justice (the first of Jewish denomination); and his final professional years as a judge of the Superior Court of Quebec.
Professor Jean Hétu, co-editor with lawyer Emmanuelle Amar of the law-faculty book, was one of Marx's students and went on to work with him in politics and help develop anti-poverty legislation and public-security policy. "I thank him again today for allowing me to work with him for all these years and to participate in important reforms in the field of law," Hétu said. He hopes that the autobiography of "this late bloomer," who was admitted to the Quebec Bar in 1968, age 36, "will be read as a book of hope for all those who, even at the age of 30, do not yet know what to do in life. "
Sandra Abitan, managing partner of the Montreal office of Osler, Hoskin & Harcourt, joined the law faculty in 1986. "I did not know the history of my predecessors, Samuel Jacobs in 1891 or Peter Bercovitch in 1904, who were the first to pave the way for Jewish students wishing to study law in Montreal," she told the audience, concluding the book-launch ceremony. Abitan came to the event with her daughter, Julia, herself newly graduated in law from UdeM. "I like to believe that she is not following in my footsteps alone but in those that all of us have left, for over a century now. "