All the wrong people : the trial and career of labour lawyer, J. L. Cohen


Estok, David Michael




Jacob Lawrence Cohen was a prominent Canadian labour and civil rights lawyer in the 1930's and 1940's. Cohen was instrumental in negotiating a number of landmark labour disputes that helped pioneer legislation in Canada.

He also defended a number of trade unionists, many of whom were Communist, imprisoned under the War Measures Act. His staunch defense of society's underdogs brought him a great deal of respect and notoriety.

Cohen's career reflected many of the tensions of Canadian society in the period. The growth of industrial unionism, the development of progressive labour legislation and a growing fear of Communism, all touched him professionally and personally.

His brilliant career ended abruptly in 1946 after his conviction of assault. His trial raises a number of questions about the judicial system. After a four year struggle in the courts, Cohen's law practice resumed in 1950 but he failed to regain his former prominence. He died in May 1950.

J.L. Cohen had a great impact in developing and fighting for progressive labour laws to deal with the changing society of the 1930's and the 1940's. He was in the centre of a turbulent period in Canadian history as counsel in diverse and unpopular legal cases. Many of his struggles helped legitimize the aspirations of the labour movement and develop the legal and jurisdictional regulations that govern all trade unions today.


Cohen, Jacob L.




Carleton University

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