Keith Landy, who headed Canadian Jewish Congress (CJC) nationally as well as in Ontario, died in Toronto Feb. 24 of pancreatic cancer. He was 66.
A lawyer, Landy served as national president of CJC from 2001 to 2004. He was chair of CJC’s Ontario region from 1998 to 2001 and was Congress’ national honorary legal counsel from 1995 to 1998.
As well, he was counsel for CJC at the Somalia Inquiry in the early 1990s and at the Supreme Court of Canada in the case of Malcolm Ross, a Holocaust-denying teacher, versus the Human Rights Commission and the New Brunswick Teachers Federation.
Landy was “a lifelong advocate for our community. He went on to make a substantial contribution not just to the Jewish community, but to Canada as a whole,” said David Cape, chair of the Centre for Jewish and Israel Affairs (CIJA), the successor organization to CJC.
He was “the quintessential Jewish communal leader,” said former Congress CEO, Bernie Farber, a close friend. “He led by example.”
Recalled as a calm but firm voice on the Canadian Jewish stage, Landy also had leadership roles in the World Jewish Congress and the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany.
Born in Coventry, England, his family moved to South Africa before immigrating to Canada when Landy was 19. He earned his law degree from the University of Windsor and was called to Ontario’s bar in 1977.
“I became very active in the Jewish community working with CJC doing Israel advocacy,” Landy recalled in an interview with former CJC and CIJA official Len Rudner just nine days before he died.
He was introduced to CJC by the late Rose Wolfe, he recalled, and his initial involvement was with the Joint Community Relations Committee, then a combined effort of CJC and B’nai Brith Canada.
“This was the first time the two organizations worked together to combat anti-Semitism,” Landy said.
At one point, he added, Canadian Jewish leadership boasted three South Africans: Lorraine Sandler at the Toronto Federation, Lawrence Hart at B’nai Brith and Landy. “This was very unusual back then.”
In the interview with Rudner, Landy described returning to South Africa for the 2001 World Conference Against Racism, held in Durban. “It was my first time back to South Africa since the apartheid years,” he remembered. “It was highly unusual and hard in a sense to see what life was like after 30 years. Durban was a hate-fest, but until then, it was a tremendous place of opportunity.”
Being at the conference with representatives of B’nai Brith “was an opportunity to put our differences aside and join the fight together on behalf of Jewish communities.”
Soon after Durban, Landy organized a pro-Israel rally on Parliament Hill that was attended by some 5,000 people.
As chair of CJC’s Ontario region, he successfully lobbied for passage of the Holocaust Memorial Day – Yom Hashoah Act by the Ontario legislature in 1998. Every year since, a group of Holocaust survivors has been honoured by the premier at Queen’s Park.
“This was an opportunity to offer something positive in the midst of what was going on in Canada,” Landy said in his interview with Rudner. “It was an opportunity to work with the Ontario legislature to ensure Holocaust Memorial Day was recognized, and it led me to continue, in a sense, to work with Canadians to create something lasting and a legacy for Canada.”
Landy was “a passionate advocate for Holocaust survivors and their descendants,” Sidney Zoltak, co-president of Canadian Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Descendants, said in a statement. “He worked tirelessly as a representative to the Claims Conference to secure compensation and restitution for survivors.”
In his years of communal service, Landy met many officials and well-known personalities, including Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel and Pope John Paul II.
In 2004, he became a governor of the Canadian Council of Christians and Jews. A year later, he received the Lincoln Alexander Award from the Law Society of Upper Canada in recognition of his communal service.
His biggest regret, he recalled, was the case of Helmut Oberlander, a Nazi-era war crimes suspect whose Canadian citizenship had been stripped several times by the federal cabinet but reinstated by courts.
“This was the biggest disappointment for me and for Canada,” Landy said. “Canada did not do what it should have done. They should have kicked him out.”
Landy is survived by his mother Joan, wife Janice, children Michelle and Joshua, four grandchildren, a sister, Cheryl, and a brother, Ian.