Quebec History Marianopolis College

Date Published:
November 2005

Documents of Quebec History / Documents de l'histoire du Québec


La loi du cadenas

The Padlock Law


The Padlock - New Style


[This text was written by Eugene FORSEY. For the precise citation, see the enc of the document.]

ON December 31, the Quebec Provincial Po-lice issued its report for 1938. On May 10, it may be recalled, it had announced that in the preceding six months it had made 124 raids and seizures, and confiscated 532 books and pamphlets and 6,500 copies of the Clarion and Clarté. The annual report does not state the number of raids, but the pace has evidently quickened considerably since May, for the seizures for the whole year number: 54,369 papers, 39,317 reviews and books, 23,102 circulars, 15,000 assorted pamphlets and 4,900 buttons and badges. The total number of padlocks applied during the year was ten. Not one person has been arrested or charged with any offence under the Act, not even Mr. Lessard, who was dealt with under the Criminal Code. In other words, not one of the victims has had a chance to defend himself in open court: a fact of which Mr. Duplessis and his police actually boast, as proof of their clemency!


The application of the Act, however, is meeting with more and more opposition and arousing more and more vigorous protests. In the last two pro­vincial by-elections, the provincial Liberal party officially denounced it, and Montreal, in the mun­icipal elections, administered a resounding defeat to the Duplessis candidate for Mayor. So the government has adopted a new technique, best described by a phrase of Professor Laski's, "pre-natal control." The first example was of course the Lithuanian school (see December Forum). Since then, the Provincial Police have threatened to padlock ten dwellings unless the owners evict­ed their tenants; in several cases they set a "deadline." The police indignantly deny that they have "threatened" the landlords. They call it "advice." The fact remains that ten Canadian citizens, seven of them French-Canadians, will be thrown into the street without even the formality of padlocking, if the police have their way. For if they seek shelter elsewhere in the province their new landlords will doubtless receive the same "advice." Otherwise the policy is completely pointless. As the Civil Liberties Union puts it, "The police are apparently determined to create a condition in which landlords will fear to lease premises to tenants who have not been approved by the Provincial Police." Fortunately the authorities seem for the moment to have got cold feet; perhaps the prompt publicity was more than they had bargained for. At any rate, up to February 9, none of the threatened padlockings has taken place. In some cases the police gave the landlord only three days to carry out their behest. In one, they insisted that the landlord should (1) file an affidavit that he had rented his premises "in good faith," not knowing that they would be used for "Communist" purposes, (2) evict the tenant, and (3) give a pledge that the premises would not in future be used for such purposes (always, be it remembered, undefined). Not long after sending the landlord a letter to this effect, they assured the Civil Liberties Union, also by letter, that there was no intention of padlocking the premises in question and that padlocks were never applied unless the tenant was "propagating Communism:" a nice piece of official equivocation.


The police have also begun to try the same tricks on the People's Committee against Anti-Semitism and Racism and the Civil Liberties Union itself. On January 7, the former held a concert in the Monument National. A few days before that date it received word from the proprietors of the hall that the Provincial Police had warned them that the concert must not take place except on condition that there were no speeches of any kind and that Mrs. Popovitch did not sing. The reason given for the second condition was that Mrs. Popovitch was "the wife of a Communist." The Civil Liberties Union some little time ago approached the Mount Royal Hotel to rent it a public room for a meeting. It was informed that there was no room available "from now on." Since then the other leading hotels, with suspicious unanimity, have made it clear that the same holds good for them.


But Mr. Duplessis, like Gallio, cares for none of these things. On January 9, he appeared before the Montreal Canadian Club and brazenly challenged "anyone to point to one abuse" committed under the Padlock Act. Beginning with horrific references to the Dies committee and articles in Liberty, and "what has happened recently in France, . . . the speeches of the President and Premier and others, and everyone getting together, even Radicals and Socialists against the common foe of Communism," he proceeded:


"Let other provinces do what each province wishes to do, let Canada do what Canada wishes to do, but in the province of Quebec there is no room for Communism and if there is no room there is no house and if the room is bad the house should be padlocked . . . If a man got up on a platform and proclaimed the necessity of murder, . . . is there any decent country in the world where this man would not be obliged not only to retract and stop talking such things but even go to jail? And what is Communism if it is not the worst murder in the world—the murder of the body, the murder of the soul, the murder of the heart and the murder of the intelligence? What does the Padlock Law state? It gives to the Attorney-General . . . the right when he deems that there is sufficient proof that Communism is being practised in certain places, and more particularly when it is being preached to youth rather than to older people who might understand . . . to padlock such a place ... Is it not a fact, gentlemen, that when there is what is called tuberculosis, and by the way, T. B. represents Tim Buck—you spend a lot of money not only to cure it but to try and prevent it? Why not the same thing for the T.B. of the brain and the heart which is much more dangerous than the T.B. of the body? .. . What do we do when there is smallpox? We quarantine a person or a house if there is an epidemic, and nobody kicks. Smallpox is only a little thing on the face, Communism is something affecting the heart and the brain. Don't you think that house should be quarantined too? . . . We don't arrest the man; we padlock the house; we keep the liberty of the man. . . . In this province . . . the danger of Communism is over . . . We have positive proof that the danger was real and imminent. . . . If Canada does not want to make a fight, ... Quebec, in this field as in other fields, will be the one to show the light and be the bulwark of law and order and common sense."


One hardly knows what to admire most in this performance; the suggestion that "Canada" is a foreign power, the beauty of Mr. Duplessis' metaphors, the sparkle of his epigrams, the accuracy of his medical knowledge on the subject of small-pox, or the precision of his definitions of Communism. Murder, tuberculosis and smallpox: even Herr Hitler will feel envious when he reads this speech. Perhaps he will invite Quebec to join the Anti-Comintern Pact.


This clowning was received with positive rap­ture by Montreal's two great (?) English news-papers. The Gazette, in its customary fashion, devoted three-quarters of a column to quotations from the Holy Words, interlarded with pious ejaculations, the whole concluding with:

"The head of the Quebec Government is to be commended upon the character of his address, upon the substance of it, and particularly upon the success which its (sic) measures have achieved. Quebec does not want Communism. The Quebec Government will not tolerate it."


The Star, also characteristically, let itself go with a whoop:


"A logical, forceful and in more ways than one, an unanswerable argument. We must accept Mr. Duplessis' assurance when he tells us that he has got positive proof that the danger from Communism was real and imminent. . . . We must also accept—and the public of Quebec will do so with genuine relief and satisfaction—the Premier's declaration that the danger is now over. He attributes this to the application of the Padlock Law, and he is in the best position of anybody in the province to know the actual facts ... The Premier's plea against the confusion of the exercise of right and free speech with the abuse of both was another pungent point in a speech full of driving arguments. It is against this abuse—the masking, under the guise of free speech, of speech subversive of law and order, goodwill and peace, honour and all that makes for a united and happy community—that he is guarding the province. . . . The citizens of Quebec will feel the safer in the knowledge that the Premieris as resolute as ever to fight against such a danger with all the energy and vigilance at his command. As he rightly says, this is Quebec's affair."


Why, if the "danger" is over the Act is being applied with increasing rigour and frequency neither Mr. Duplessis nor his claque deigns to explain. As a matter of fact, at the time the Act was passed, there were according to Father Bryan (one of Montreal's leading Red-baiters) slightly less than 900 Communists in Montreal. Assuming that there were as many more in the rest of the province (which not even the Premier has had the temerity to suggest) would mean that approximately 57/1000 of one per cent. of the population was Communist. That was the "danger," "real and imminent," to combat which it is necessary to pass a law condemned in the most scathing terms by a committee of the Canadian Bar Association! Reliable information now indicates that there are several hundred MORE Communists in Montreal than there were in 1937. Perhaps Mr. Duplessis' "driving arguments" are not so "unanswerable," nor his measures so "successful," after all?

Source: Eugene FORSEY, "The Padlock - New Style", in Canadian Forum, Vol. XVIII, No 218 (March 1939): 362-363.

© 2005 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College