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


Under the Padlock



[This text was written by Eugene Forsey in the Canadian Forum. For the precise citation, see the end of the document.]


MARCH 24 marked the end of the first year of Quebec's famous "Act Respecting Com­munist Propaganda." As we enter the second year, the offensive against democracy and civil liberties is being pushed with increasing vigour and on a broadening front. To April 15, the Civil Liberties Union had records of five padlockings and seventy-four raids and seizures, including two or three in Quebec City. According to the Montreal Star there have been other cases outside Montreal. Not one of the persons or organizations affected has yet been charged with any offense, let alone convicted.


Nor is this the whole story. Those who fondly imagine that the Black Terror is being applied only against "Communists" would do well to ponder certain recent incidents and speeches.

On February 5, a Japanese boycott parade of cars with banners, organized by the Quebec C.C.F. and the League for Peace and Democracy, was stopped by the city police "Red Squad" and the banners confiscated. The official explanation was the well-worn "fear of a riot." Several previous parades had been held without incident.


On February 23, in a debate in the Legislative Assembly, Hon. T. D. Bouchard, Liberal leader, complained that copies of his newspaper, "En Avant," had been seized in a raid in Montreal under the Padlock Act and that the provincial police had refused to return them. The Premier tossed the whole thing off with jocular remarks.


On March 2, Jose Pedroso, Spanish rebel, addressed an "anti-Communist" meeting in the Plateau School. It had been announced that Mayor Raynault and Archbishop Gauthier would preside, but after protests by the Civil Liberties Union and other bodies against this discrimination in favour of the rebels, the Mayor sent his regrets and the Archbishop was represented by Canon Harbour.


On March 23, some person or persons unknown broke into and ransacked the apartment of John MacCormac, Montreal correspondent of the New York Times, of whose comments on the Quebec situation Mr. Duplessis had complained bitterly in the legislature. Nothing was taken, but Mr. MacCormac's papers were thoroughly gone through. The city police displayed an ostentatious lack of interest, and the provincial police, protesting perhaps a trifle too much, hastened to deny that they had raided either Mr. MacCormac's apartment or any place in the same street!


Early in April, the provincial police invaded C.C.F. provincial headquarters, carefully inspected a display of posters, and retired with a warning that they were keeping "a close watch."


For the moment these delicate hints are evidently considered enough to keep the C.C.F., the provincial Liberal party, the New York Times and similar subversive influences within due bounds. For the trade unions, however, something more is needed: "something lingering, with boiling oil in it." The legislature has obliged with three measures. The first two outlaw the closed shop and give the government power to change at its own sweet will collective agreements made binding under the Workmen's Wages Act. These Acts, and an abortive proposal by a government supporter to overthrow the whole Workmen's Compensation system, evoked vigorous, and ominously united, protests from the international and Catholic unions. The government had promised the unions not to bring down any further legislation affecting labour without giving them notice. But necessity knows no promises. At all costs a wedge had to be driven between the international and the Catholic unions. The method followed was the usual "smash-and-grab." On April 8-9 without notice, the government rushed through both Houses a bill making unincorporated unions liable to suit. The Catholic unions, being incorporated, were already liable. "The quickness of the hand deceives the eye."


One further menace to "the institutions dear to the province" remains to be eradicated: Protestantism. To this holy task the "Authorities," civil and religious, have now dedicated themselves. Some months ago the chief of police of Quebec City refused, in writing, to allow the Grande Ligne Baptist Mission to distribute the New Testament by colportage. A new chief, lent to the city by the R.C.M.P., has since added insult to injury by announcing that this is "the general practice." Furthermore the Mission has been warned not to hold prayer meetings in private houses on pain of having them padlocked. An isolated case of petty tyranny? Then listen to Cardinal Villeneuve, Montreal, January 28: "The religious and moral indifference of the state . . . perverse liberalism . . . The false principle . . . of the neutrality of the state between different religions, and different metaphysical, moral and social theories . . . The Church ... on a common footing with . . . all other religious denominations . . . False conception of the liberty of individuals and the role of the state . . . Liberty of conscience: does it mean that each person may, at will, render or not render worship to God? ... Odious liberalism! ... Freedom of speech and of the press, freedom of worship, freedom of teaching: liberties true, decent and precious when they are used in free matters and within the limits of the moral good, beyond which they are abuses, weaknesses and destructive principles . . . It is never permitted to ask, to defend, to grant, freedom of thought, writing or teaching, and the undifferentiated freedom of religions, as so many rights which nature has given to man . . . These . . . liberties may for reasonable causes be TOLERATED. ... Where custom has put these modern liberties, freedom of worship, of speech, of the press, of teaching, etc., into force, the citizens are to use them only for the good . . . In short, to prefer for the state a constitution tempered by the democratic element is not in itself against order, on condition, however, that the Catholic doctrine of . . . the proper exercise of public power is respected. . . . There are perhaps . . . strangers to our faith . . . listening to me . . . I tolerate you. ... I tolerate you so that you will tolerate me. I tolerate you . . . so that you may admire at once the splendour of my religion and the delicacy of my charity ... I tolerate you in order to have your collaboration in the common good, and when such collaboration stops, when you preach corrosive doctrines and spread everywhere poisoned seeds, then I can no longer tolerate you. Such, gentlemen, is Catholic liberalism."


Hear also what comfortable words Archbishop Gauthier saith, in a letter read in all churches on March 20 and 27: "Prohibition . . . in ... Montreal of meetings of the Communist party, and throughout the province the seizure . . . of the evil literature which it spreads. God be praised! We have been very slow to protect ourselves, but at last the public authorities . . . have had the courage to take measures of a pressing necessity .. . Note the . . . disguises with which Communism covers itself : . . . the campaigns against Fascism, the saving of democratic institutions, freedom of speech and meeting . . . How many minds, in a milieu like ours are touched, even without their knowing it, by the remote eddies of the religious revolution which, in the seventeenth century, put at the basis of its relations with God the principle of free inquiry. . . . Human liberty . . . can legitimately do everything that is not forbidden to it ... Let us allow to fall once for all into the discredit it deserves the theory that it is of the nature of liberty to be able to choose between good and evil." (The Archbishop is evidently imperfectly acquainted with the Book of Genesis.) "As Bossuet says, 'Liberty is given to man not to throw off the yoke, but to bear it with honour by bearing it willingly.' . . . we are limited on all sides by our ignorance, and our prejudices." (Speaking the truth unwittingly!)


Where the Cardinal and the Archbishop lead, who fears to follow?


In Montreal, on February 26, the Community Hall of the Church of All Nations (United Church of Canada) was visited by four detectives who seized publicity material relating to a concert. One of them said that they were going to close up "Katsunoff's International Brigade," by which he seems to have meant the "International Brotherhood," one of the religious activities of the Church, under the superintendency of the Rev. R. G. Katsunoff, D.D.


In Montreal also, on February 10, the Rev. R. B. Y. Scott, professor at the United Church Theological College, was informed that a meeting he was to have addressed that evening on "The Peril of Fascism in Quebec" had been cancelled, because the proprietors of the Jewish Educational Institute, where it was to have been held, were afraid of having their building padlocked. It had been visited not long before by a person describing himself as an "investigator," apparently from the provincial police. A week earlier a similar meeting, which was to have been addressed by Mr. J. K. Mergler, counsel for the Civil Liberties Union, had also been cancelled.


About the same time, Dr. Scott, on behalf of the executive of the Civil Liberties Union, applied for permission to use the hall of the Montreal High School for a members' meeting of the Union. Miss Mackenzie, principal of the Girls' High School, herself a member of the C.L.U. executive, readily gave her consent. But when she consulted the Assistant Superintendent of Schools, that functionary demurred, feeling that he must consult certain officers of the Protestant Board of School Commissioners. Two days later, he telephoned Dr. Scott, refusing permission, on the ground that the High School might be padlocked.


The Jewish Educational Institute and the Protestant Board of School Commissioners are not the only people who are afraid of being padlocked. Two months ago the McGill Social Problems Club arranged a series of meetings at which representatives of all parties were to present their views. Mr. Arcand, leader of the Fascists, had spoken, Mr. Buck was to be next. The Students' Council, however, refused the use of the McGill Union for fear of being padlocked. The Students' Society has voted unanimously for the repeal or disallowance of the Padlock Act and has requested the university authorities to take steps to restore freedom of discussion on the campus.


On March 24, CKAC rejected the script of a proposed broadcast on "The Right to Liberty," by Mr. Hubert Desaulniers, chairman of the Civil Liberties Union, because of its "English Protestant tone."

Meanwhile the avowedly Fascist "National Christian Social Party" continues to grow, unhindered, to say the least, by the state, praised with faint damns by the Church. You ask, says the Cardinal, "whether I am a Fascist, totalitarian or democrat? I shall answer in the very words of Mgr. Bilczewski . . . : 'I do not recognize the wild, lying, atheistic democracy which reigns to-day in almost all the states of the world. The masonic organizations, secret or avowed, the revolutionaries and the politicians in their pay, the scribblers, the Communist orators who have explained and still explain to the people that chance and a blind majority of votes shall decide the organization of power in the State, fill me with horror. The end pursued by this democracy does not really lead to the sovereignty of the people, but to the absolute power of backstairs financiers and their lackeys." (Now where have we heard that before?) Likewise, the Archbishop. Photographs of Fascists drilling, in violation of section 99 of the Criminal Code, appeared in the Gazette and other papers on January 31 and February 1. "And if," says Archbishop Gauthier, "some hundreds of young people are doing physical exercise or quasi-military training, would it not be that in their view there are not being taken against the peril which threatens us the measures which should be taken? . . . This is going on at the moment when seven or eight hundred Canadians are returning from Spain, where they went to improve themselves in the good methods of the Red Army, so that they will be the shock troops of which our enemies will dispose. Is it not a matter of elementary prudence that we should be ready for any eventuality? . . . What is there to be surprised at in our young people wishing to be at hand, if, some day or other, we are stricken by the same misfortune? . . . I am not at the moment defending the National Social Christian Party. There are in the programme . . . very mixed doctrines at which a Catholic should look closely before subscribing. It is German Nazism, with its errors and its tendencies . . . How could we forget the manner in which Hitlerian Germany treats our brothers in the faith? . . . Be that as it may . . . it is much more important for us to know whether the reasoning of our young people does not contain a part of truth, and whether our weakness, our evasions, our undecided attitudes do not in short act to the profit of the Communists . . . If it did not exist, our behaviour would bring Fascism into existence." (All quotations from the Cardinal and the Archbishop taken from Le Devoir of January 31 and March 21.)


In an atmosphere like this it is hardly surprising that the city of Sorel has elected a Fascist Mayor and two Fascist aldermen. The swastika occupies a prominent place in the city hall. On February 6, Mr. Arcand and the members of the Fascist Grand Council of Montreal journeyed to Sorel in uniform to celebrate the victory. About the same time Fascist delegations from St. Hyacinthe and St. Ours also arrived in Sorel to present the mayor with a swastika flag. Late in February, one non-Fascist alderman "resigned." A week later three more aldermen and the city clerk followed suit. On March 7, the "resignations" of nineteen city employees were "accepted." Mr. T. D. Bouchard and Mr. Bastien, M.L.A., declare that youths are being enrolled in the Fascist movement by "hundreds, weekly" in Montreal, and that on Christmas day the Fascists of St. Hyacinthe paraded openly, in uniform, to mass. Mr. Duplessis' reply is to accuse the Liberal leader of "insulting" the Church, and to blame all the talk of Fascism on an American newspaper campaign and a Communist "plot." "No one with a head on his shoulders will say that Fascism in Quebec is dangerous." The Premier says he "knows nothing" of the Fascist movement. Mr. Arcand, leader of the Fascist Party, is the editor of his official or semi-official organ in Montreal, l'Illustration Nouvelle. As well might Mr. Mackenzie King deny all knowledge of Mr. J. W. Dafoe.


Early in April the Fascists opened headquarters, perhaps not inappropriately, in St. James Street, where their offices occupy an entire floor.


French-Canadian defenders of the Padlock Act have been remarkedly few. Mr. Duplessis and Mr. Mignault, ex-judge of the Supreme Court of Canada, have compared it to the law which provides for padlocking disorderly houses. They omit to add that disorderly houses can be padlocked only after conviction of their owners in open court for a defined offence. After all, why should an Attorney-General and an ex-judge bother about due process of law? Mr. Duplessis also has compared the Act to "the British law" providing for handcuffing prisoners.


But the main task of defending the Act has been assumed by representatives (?) of the

English-speaking minority. The "first families" are silent. What they think, we may presumably surmise from the statements of their hangers-on and journalistic mouthpieces. Hon. T. J. Coonan, K.C., Minister without portfolio, says the Act could not define Communism because it had to be broad enough to cover "the many who are Communists without knowing it." He has also recently broadcast a long speech calling the Act a bulwark of democracy (but carefully refraining from discussing it). Hon. Gilbert Layton calls it "one of the best pieces of legislation ever passed in the province." Jonathan Robinson, M.L.A., stops short of mentioning the Act itself, but says that never has the English-speaking population been so happy and contented as under Mr. Duplessis. The Star speaks of the Premier's "quaint" "Latin" ways, and publishes Mr. Coonan's broadcast without mentioning that it was part of a debate. The Gazette prints three editorial defences and, under special heading, a very long letter of ingenious casuistry from the senior counsel of the Sun Life. The United Church and Presbyterian presbyteries, a few dauntless spirits like Dr. Lighthall and Mr. Calder, and a considerable number of English-speaking trade unions, brotherhoods, women's clubs, student and other organizations, have protested vigorously. But of most of those usually called the "leaders" of the English-speaking community, one can only say, in the words of Mr. G. D. H. Cole:

"We are called leaders, yes we are called leaders, although we can never tell why;

"For the last thing we do is to lead anybody, and mostly we don't even try."


The record of the French-Canadians is, all things considered, infinitely more creditable. It takes more courage for a French-Canadian to speak one word against the government than for an English-Canadian to make a dozen speeches. Yet French-Canadians have taken the lead in opposition to the government's labour legislation. A French-Canadian is chairman of the Civil Liberties Union. Thousands of French-Canadians have petitioned for the repeal of the Padlock Act and many of their trade unions have supported the petition for disallowance. To whom little is given, from them little is required. But they have given much.

Source: Eugene FORSEY, "Under the Padlock", in Canadian Forum, Vol. XVIII, No 208 (May 1938): 41-44.

© 2005 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College