Longtime city lawyer Harvey Pollock dies at 89
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Veteran lawyer Harvey Pollock, who represented the family of slain Indigenous leader J.J. Harper in Manitoba’s groundbreaking Aboriginal Justice Inquiry, died Sunday at the age of 89.
Pollock, who was born in Bethany, near Minnedosa, in 1933, graduated from the Manitoba Law School in 1957 and was appointed a Queen’s Counsel (now King’s Counsel) in 1970.
He was “first and foremost, on a personal level, a very loyal and solid friend and family member,” said Manitoba Court of King’s Bench Chief Justice Glenn Joyal. “He was also a very, very dedicated lawyer. He was a throwback to another generation we are losing now.”
“He was a champion of the little guy, in many respects… he was also one of the first lawyers to become engaged in Indigenous people and communities.”
In fact, Pollock was made an Honorary Chief of all First Nation Bands in Manitoba in 1971 because of his involvement in matters concerning Indigenous rights throughout the 1960s. He helped set up the Manitoba Indian Brotherhood, now the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs.
“I was given the honorary aboriginal name, Si-Naki-Tonem, meaning ‘he who interprets difficult meanings,’” Pollock wrote on the Jewish Foundation of Manitoba’s Endowment Book of Life.
Harper, the executive director of the Island Lake Tribal Council and a leader in the Indigenous community, was shot and killed by a Winnipeg Police officer while walking home in Winnipeg’s Weston neighbourhood in March 1988.
The shooting and the 1971 murder of Cree teenager Helen Betty Osborne in The Pas prompted the province to create the Aboriginal Justice Inquiry the following month to examine the treatment of Indigenous people by Manitoba’s criminal-justice system.
Pollock represented Harper’s family and fired tough questions at Winnipeg police officers during inquiry hearings and, later, in civil lawsuits.
“My dad was a fierce adversary in the adversary system of law,” said his son Martin, who practised law with his father for more than 37 years, and was at the counsel table with him during the AJI.
“He was able to get results for clients who were disenfranchised. It made him feel good when he would get a just result.”
Shortly after the inquiry wrapped up, police arrested and charged Pollock with sexual assault. The provincial government appointed Ted Hughes, a well-respected former Saskatchewan judge, to head a public inquiry into the unusual circumstances of the arrest and charge, after the alleged victim said she never accused Pollock of sexually assaulting her when she spoke to police.
Hughes’ report not only vindicated Pollock, but called the police investigation “unseemly” and “misguided,” said the officers who carried it out were irrational and emotional and the criminal charges themselves were simply “payback” for Pollock’s role after Harper’s death.
“Grand Chief Cathy Merrick, on behalf of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, extends condolences to Mr. Pollock’s family, friends and colleagues,” read a statement issued by the AMC Tuesday.
Pollock’s parents escaped from Russia in 1927 with their two oldest children. He attended a country school before moving with most of his family to Winnipeg in 1944; he went to Machray School and St. John’s High School.
While he was heading a busy law practice, in 1977 Pollock became a local celebrity after winning the world’s first whistling champion at the inaugural competition in Carson City, Nev., where he performed the second movement of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake and a section of Mozart’s Eine Kleine Nachtmusik.
The title earned him a place in the Guinness World Book of Records and guest appearances on network TV talk shows on both sides of the border.
Pollock later played with the Winnipeg, Toronto and Bismarck symphony orchestras and even put out an album.
He also became very active with both Citizens Against Impaired Driving and Mothers Against Drunk Driving, lobbying to help change laws after his 22-year-old son Nathan was killed in 1982 by a drunk driver.
Besides Nathan, Pollock was predeceased by his wife Sylvia, whom he married in 1954, and daughter Karyn. He is survived by his son, Martin, and six grandchildren.
Kevin Rollason is one of the more versatile reporters at the Winnipeg Free Press. Whether it is covering city hall, the law courts, or general reporting, Rollason can be counted on to not only answer the 5 Ws — Who, What, When, Where and Why — but to do it in an interesting and accessible way for readers.
Updated on Wednesday, February 8, 2023 8:19 AM CST: Fixes punctuation
Updated on Wednesday, February 8, 2023 5:54 PM CST: Clarifies info about St. John's High School