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Canadian Jewish community loses another hero

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Keith Landy on Parliament HIill
Keith Landy, then president of Canadian Jewish Congress, speaks at a rally in support of Israel on Parliament Hill in 2001. ALEX DWORKIN CANADIAN JEWISH ARCHIVES PHOTO

Last month, the Canadian Jewish community lost another of its real heroes. Keith Landy was a leader par excellence. Next to his wife, Janice, his children, Josh and Michelle, and his lovely grandchildren whom he cherished, the Jewish community was his love.

He served Canadian Jewry with the utmost distinction.

I met Keith in 1987, the same year I was appointed director of research for the Canadian Jewish Congress’ Joint Community Relations Committee (JCRC). Keith was then a young lawyer wanting to devote and donate some of his considerable energy to Jewish advocacy. He started with CJC’s Political Liaison Committee and went from there to the JCRC, followed by chair of CJC’s Ontario region. He became Congress’ honorary legal counsel in the early 1990s and was lead counsel when CJC gained intervener status at the Somalia Inquiry.

READ: KEITH LANDY REMEMBERED AS ‘QUINTESSENTIAL JEWISH COMMUNAL LEADER’

The Somali incident was at that time referred to as “Canada’s national shame.” It investigated the unconscionable actions of some members of the storied Canadian Airborne Regiment during what was to have been a humanitarian effort by Canada. It peaked following the beating death of a young Somali teenager at the hands of an Airborne soldier.

CJC had reason to believe that some members of the Airborne may have had neo-Nazi leanings. Keith, working co-operatively with B’nai Brith Canada (yes, we worked together at one time), demonstrated that some within the regiment had connections to hate-inspired activity.

I will never forget the day Keith was questioning Sgt. Maj. Bud Jardine, then in charge of regimental discipline for the Airborne Regiment. During questioning, Keith was able to elicit from Jardine that some members of the Airborne sported Nazi swastika tattoos.

It quickly became the news story of the day when Keith asked the sergeant major, “Do you not see the Nazi swastika as the epitome of a racist symbol?” The inquiry came to a standstill when Jardine responded, “To me, in this day and age, no, it doesn’t bother me at all that people would have a tattoo on their arm. It symbolizes their belief, not mine… I guess you could relate it to that because of the Second World War and things of that nature, yes.” However, Jardine insisted in the end that sporting Nazi tattoos “did not undermine discipline.”

In the early 2000s, Keith was national president of CJC when we had to face the spectre of Jew hatred emanating from a UN World Conference Against Racism that targeted Jews and Israel.

This was perhaps Keith’s greatest leadership challenge and success. He decided there would be a solidarity rally on Parliament Hill, and it was to be held in five days. Many of us said five days was not enough time, that it couldn’t be done. Keith didn’t know from “couldn’t,” and in five days, we brought thousands of Jews to Ottawa. Keith delivered a memorable and truly inspirational address on the Hill that gave us all so much comfort and strength. It is, to this day, the single largest gathering of Canadian Jews in our history.

Keith Landy walked the walk. He had stamina, guts and moxie. Even in the last few months, it seemed as though he might triumph in his struggle with pancreatic cancer. But alas, fate had other plans.

Indeed, it was in the few days before he died that Keith fought his ultimate battle. His daughter Michelle was about to give birth. Keith knew he had little time left. He wanted to see his grandchild before death took him. Together with his dear wife, Janice, a pact was made. He would live to see his granddaughter.

On Feb. 19, Mirelle was born. The next day, Keith, with all the strength left in his being, held his beautiful granddaughter, and in a barely audible whisper, said to Michelle, “I’m so proud of you.” Those were to be his final words.

Keith Landy was one of the finest men I ever had the pleasure of calling my friend. I will miss him deeply. n