“Not to be bought, Nor for sale,” The Trials of J.E. Bird

by Janet Mary Nicol

Joseph Edward Bird (1868-1948) gained a reputation as a radical lawyer after he established a law practice in Vancouver in 1902. Very few other city lawyers of his generation maintained a 36 year practise involving significant labour, civil libertarian and criminal cases. Bird is best known for his legal defence of 376 passengers from India aboard the Komagata Maru, blocked from landing in Canada on 23 May, 1914, a case few other lawyers would handle because of public hostility toward Asian immigration. Bird took the unpopular stand at the time because he was “a committed socialist and attacker of injustice,” his grandson Richard Bird told the Vancouver Sun newspaper many decades later.(1)

Bird also represented several trade unions, including organized coal miners in the 1913 Vancouver Island dispute and leaders of the Winnipeg General Strike. He exposed government corruption during a trial connected to the Janet Smith murder case and in another instance, freed a First Nations man from state execution after a successful appeal and re-trial. Yet Bird’s contributions in early BC have yet to be fully appreciated.(2) This article presents a wider perspective of Bird’s work as a progressive Vancouver lawyer by examining court cases which impacted on social class and racial issues in early British Columbia.

So begins a research article appearing in the Fall 2016 academic journal, Labour/Le Travail, available to read on line by subscription at –

http://www.lltjournal.ca/index.php/llt/article/view/5843

Also note – I will be giving a presentation about J.E. Bird, one of several workshops organized by Pacific Northwest Labour History, on Saturday, May 27, 2017  at University of British Columbia.  More detailed information will be available soon at the PNLHC website.

J. Edward Bird (1868-1948) was a Vancouver lawyer who represent the passengers on the Komagata Maru in 1914. Bird fought against the threat of his clients' eventual deportation, challenged Canada's highly-restrictive immigration laws and was a defender of civil rights. Credit: The Bird family

J. Edward Bird (1868-1948) was a Vancouver lawyer who represent the passengers on the Komagata Maru in 1914. Bird fought against the threat of his clients’ eventual deportation, challenged Canada’s highly-restrictive immigration laws and was a defender of civil rights. Credit: The Bird family

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One Response to ““Not to be bought, Nor for sale,” The Trials of J.E. Bird”

  1. travailleurs isolés Says:

    Je vous remercie beaucoup pour cette information, j’ai appris une chose !

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