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Kalmen Kaplansky

KAPLANSKY, KALMEN (1912–1997), Canadian labor leader and human rights advocate. Kaplansky was born in Bialystok, Poland, and, while still in his teens immigrated alone to Canada in 1929. He settled into Montreal's downtown Jewish immigrant community. A typesetter and linotype operator, during the Depression Kaplansky rose through the ranks of the labor movement. He was a delegate of Montreal Typographical Union 176 to the Trades and Labour Congress of Canada and, soon after, to the merged Canadian Labour Congress. In 1939, he helped organize the Jewish Labour Committee (JLC) in Canada, an offshoot of the American labor organization founded in 1933.

Kaplansky became the Canadian group's national director in 1946. Under his leadership the JLC was instrumental in forging the 1946 alliance of Jewish clothing manufacturers and labor leaders who convinced the federal government to open Canada's door to several thousand clothing workers from the Displaced Persons' camps in Europe. The JLC was also a key player in the tripartite committee of labor, manufactures, and government responsible for selecting tailors in Europe for Canadian immigration.

A champion of human rights, Kaplansky was incensed by the discriminatory employment restrictions common in Canada, and organized the Joint Labour Committees Against Racial and Religious Discrimination, later known as the Labour Committees for Human Rights. He also convinced the Trades and Labour Congress of Canada and the Canadian Congress of Labour to establish parallel committees. Together they actively lobbied the Ontario government for legislation barring discrimination and, in large part, were responsible for the passing of the Ontario Fair Employment Practices Act in 1951 (subsequently used as a model for virtually all provincial and federal codes that followed), the Ontario Fair Accommodations Act in 1954, and, ultimately, the Ontario Human Rights Code. Kaplansky also pioneered efforts to eradicate discrimination against blacks and native peoples in Canada. He was involved in the Canadian Jewish Historical Society and twice ran for public office as a Co-Operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) candidate.

Remembered as a humble, unpretentious man, loyal to his roots, Kaplansky was the recipient of many awards and commendations, including the Order of Canada, the nation's highest civilian award.

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.