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Born on April 16, 1908, to Nathan and Ada (Foxman) Freedman in Zhytomyr, Russian Empire (now Ukraine), Freedman moved to Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada when he was three years old. He lived with his family in Winnipeg's north end, attending Aberdeen School and St. John's Technical High School.
University education and activities
Freedman earned a scholarship which allowed him to enter the five-year Arts program at the University of Manitoba in 1924. He earned five scholarships during the course of his university career. His studies were focused on the subjects of Latin and Greek. He planned to pursue his study of the classics, had he been awarded the Rhodes Scholarship in 1928. Instead, he pursued his second choice—law. He entered the Manitoba Law School in 1929.
At that time, legal education in Manitoba comprised two parts—classes at the law school (which was located in the downtown courthouse) and practical training with practicing lawyers. Freedman completed his practicum with the firm of Steinkopf and Lawrence, a partnership of Winnipeg lawyers Max Steinkopf and W. D. Lawrence.
During his time at university, Freedman was also involved with the Jewish club on campus, known as the Menorah Society. He also served as editor of the University of Manitoba yearbook, the Brown and Gold, in 1929–1930 (during his first year of law school).
Development as a debater and public speaker
Freedman was a skilled public speaker. He enjoyed participating in debates, which no doubt honed his oratorial skills. He was an active debater at St. John's Tech, and continued to debate in university (through his involvement with the Debating Union). He participated in the Imperial Debate with Andrew Stewart, Trevor Lloyd and John Mitchell in November 1930. He also won the McGoun Coup for Manitoba in 1930, partnered with W. L. Morton. After graduation, he remained active with the Debating Union, as well as the League of Nations Society.
Development as a lawyer
Freedman received his call to the bar in 1933, then joined Steinkopf & Lawrence in practice. He became a partner in the firm in 1935. In later years, he acknowledged the influence of criminal law practitioners R. A. Bonner and A. J. Andrews and civil litigators Isaac Pitblado, A. E. Hoskin, W. Parker Fillmore, R. D. Guy and E. K. Williams as being important to his development as a lawyer.
In 1944, he was appointed King's Counsel. Shortly thereafter, he formed a new law partnership with David Golden. The firm dissolved in April 1952 when Freedman was appointed to the Manitoba Court of Queen's Bench.
Involvement in Winnipeg's Jewish community
Freedman served as president of the Young Men's Hebrew Association, and was active with the Winnipeg committee in support of the Hebrew University, and with the B'nai B'rith. He later served as President of the Manitoba chapter of Canadian Friends of the Hebrew University (which position he held until 1969). On his 70th birthday (in 1978), Freedman was honoured with the establishment of a chair in legal advocacy at the Faculty of Law at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.
Involvement with the University of Manitoba
In 1941, Freedman became a part-time lecturer with the Manitoba Law School, teaching civil procedure, agency, partnership and, later, family law. He held this post until his appointment as Chancellor of the University in June 1959, which required him to give up his teaching position. He remained Chancellor of the University until 1968.
Participation in the Manitoba bar
Also in 1941, Freedman was elected to the executive of the Manitoba Bar Association, representing the Eastern Judicial District. In 1942, he became the editor of the Manitoba Bar News, which position he held for 4 years.
In 1951, Freedman was elected President of the Manitoba Bar Association, and was the first Jewish lawyer in the province to hold the position.
As well, Freedman was Chairman of the Rhodes Scholarship Selections Committee from 1956 to 1966.
Career as a judge
In March 1960, Freedman was elevated to the Manitoba Court of Appeal. He took over the position of Chief Justice of Manitoba in 1971, upon the retirement of Chief Justice Smith. He remained in that position until his retirement at age 75 on April 16, 1983.
In 1934, Freedman married Brownie Udow. He is the father of recently retired Justice Martin Freedman, of the Manitoba Court of Appeal. Interestingly, the younger Freedman's first judicial appointment was to a position once held by his father.
In 1964, Freedman was called upon to conduct an inquiry and public hearings into a railway workers' dispute regarding technological changes. The Freedman Commission issued its report in early December 1965.
The following quotation has been attributed to Freedman:
“They say that during the first five years every judge delivers his judgment with a lurking suspicion in his mind that he is wrong. During the next five years he delivers every judgment absolutely convinced that he is right. Thereafter he delivers his judgments with a growing indifference as to whether he is right or wrong. And they say that when the indifference becomes habitual, he should retire.”