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Christie v. The York Corporation, [1940] S.C.R. 139


Christie v. The York Corporation, [1940] S.C.R. 139


Freedom of Contract


In this case, Fred Christie, a Black man living in Montreal, sued the York Tavern after the latter refused to sell him a glass of beer. The case involved the freedom of contract, including the right to discriminate provided that there are no laws or regulations that would otherwise forbid such discrimination in the contractual context. (The case occurred well before any Canadian province had enacted human rights legislation.) The Majority of the Supreme Court of Canada held in favour of the York Tavern, rebuffing Christie's claims of discrimination and humiliation.

Of particular note is the decision of the dissenting judge, Mr. Justice Davis. At the time, any right to be free from discrimination was a collectively held right. That is, rights were not yet conceptualized as being held by individuals. Instead, one would have had to bring oneself within a group that enjoyed special protections or privileges in order to enjoy protections. As a Black man, Christie could have been construed as an outsider in the predominantly white Montreal. Davis J, however, notes a number of important traits about Christie that seem to bring Christie within the "we" group entitled to protection: Christie was originally from another British colony (Jamaica) that was a member of the Commonwealth; Christie had been in Canada for 20 years; he had a good job as a chauffeur; and, crucially, he was a Montreal Canadiens season's ticket holder. Furthermore, Davis J. was under the impression that Christie was attending a hockey game when he went to the tavern for that glass of beer. Christie had in fact been to the tavern before and had been served on previous occasions. The decision of Davis J. paints a picture of a Montrealer who was unfairly denied a glass of beer at a tavern connected to the Forum itself during a hockey game. Perhaps this understanding of who Christie was (an insider, a member of the "we" community) affected Davis J's interpretation of the law. Davis J found in favour of Christie.

One of the most interesting dimensions of the case involves a factual error made by Davis J. Davis J thought that Christie was attending a hockey game. He was not. The incident in question occurred on July 11, 1936. No one was playing hockey at the Forum on that particular night. Instead, there was a boxing match taking place. Boxing was (and arguably still is) a highly racialized sport. There apparently were concerns about racial tensions in Montreal as a result of the boxing match. This may explain why Christie, who had been served beer on other occasions at the York Tavern, was not welcome on this particular occasion. Blacks and whites could watch hockey together, but not boxing. In this regard, the case illustrates how race is mapped out onto the city of Montreal and its social life and how Black men like Fred Christie had to navigate the space in his life, which could alternately be safe or discriminatory, depending on the context.


Supreme Court of Canada


Christie v. The York Corporation, [1940] S.C.R. 139


Supreme Court of Canada


May 10, 1939


(c) Supreme Court of Canada


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Original Format




Supreme Court of Canada, “Christie v. The York Corporation, [1940] S.C.R. 139,” Exhibits, accessed September 29, 2023,