A Film Series: “Do the Rights Thing” - LawNow Magazine

A Film Series: “Do the Rights Thing”

Law and Literature ColumnLawNow’s long-time Law and Literature columnist Rob Normey has been deeply involved in the development of a monthly film series called Do the Rights Thing: Standing up for Human Rights in History. The film series was developed by the John Humphrey Centre for Peace and Human Rights and is being presented in partnership with Whitemud Public Library, in Edmonton Alberta. The films explore difficult and pivotal moments in Canadian and American history where the need to speak up on behalf of fundamental rights and freedoms was of particular importance. They examine fascinating legal cases or legal situations as well as champions of rights who emerged in those challenging times.

Kiefer Sutherland with a statue of his grandfather, Tommy Douglas, in Weyburn, SK, on Sep. 10, 2010

Kiefer Sutherland with a statue of his grandfather, Tommy Douglas, in Weyburn, SK, on Sep. 10, 2010

The second session will be held May 25, 2014 at 2 pm and is titled From Black Tuesday to Building Jerusalem in a Cold Climate. It will include the film Black Tuesday (which explores the Estevan Mining Massacre of 1931) together with key episodes from the life of Tommy Douglas, in Tommy Douglas: Keeper of the Flame.

Following each of the films, there will be a dialogue and discussion led by Rob Normey, who has selected the films to highlight ground-breaking court cases and rights advocacy.  He is a long-time constitutional lawyer who has practiced both private and public law, and has also been an avid supporter of human rights organizations and civil rights causes. Mr. Normey has previously taught Law and Literature and Constitutional Law at the University of Alberta for a number of years.

This initiative provides a free educational opportunity for those who are interested in history, law, and human rights and aims to provide a space to enhance knowledge, appreciation, and understanding of Canada’s historical evolution in the field of human rights through an interactive learning experience.

The first film in the series was presented on April 27:  Woody Guthrie: Ain’t Got No Home. This was a fascinating look at the most significant songwriter in folk music, his troubled life and his moving songs on issues of freedom and fundamental rights. If you are interested to experience some of this, check the John Humphrey Centre website for Rob’s posting of 10 Great Songs on Freedom and Rights by Woody Guthrie and his Musical Friends and his suggestions for further reading.

Films to come as the series continues include:

Scottsboro: An American Tragedy (PBS)

This is a landmark series of court cases, including rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court that dramatically altered American criminal justice. The case involved a tragic miscarriage of justice, brought about by racial discrimination. It takes a hard look at the desperate lives of Afro-Americans in the Deep South of the 1930s and beyond.

Los Canadienses (NFB)

This film depicts the courageous young men who volunteered in the Mackenzie-Papineau Regiment formed in defiance of the Canadian government, to go to Spain to fight for democracy and against the fascists, who would shortly thereafter continue their aggression and provoke a world war.

The Chiefs: Sitting Bull (part 2 – his years in Canada) (NFB) and The Temptation of Big Bear (CBC) – individual scenes

Two great chiefs displayed great wisdom and tried heroically to obtain recognition of their people’s rights. Sitting Bull crossed the Medicine Line with some members of his tribe, hotly pursued by the U.S. Calvary and became what we would today consider refugees, under the protection of Major Walsh of the North West Mounted Police. Big Bear was one of the greatest of the Cree chiefs and tried to hold out for more reasonable treaty terms for his people. The Frog Lake Massacre would lead to tragedy for him, despite his valiant efforts to prevent any bloodshed from occurring.

On Guard for Thee: The Most Dangerous Spy (NFB)

This film was directed by surely one of the greatest documentary film makers ever, Donald Brittain. This tells the dramatic story of the Gouzenko Affair, involving the Russian cipher clerk in Ottawa who initiated the Cold War and led the Canadian authorities to run roughshod over fundamental rights, leading to a growing call for an entrenched Bill, or Charter of Rights.

The Sterilization of Leilani Muir (NFB)

This explores a major court case and the courageous and fascinating woman who brought the matter to light. It also looks at the history and the dark legacy of Alberta’s sexual sterilization legislation.



Teresa Mitchell
Teresa Mitchell
Teresa Mitchell is the former Editor and Legal Writer for LawNow at the Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta.

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