Documents of Quebec History / Documents de l'histoire du Québec
La loi du cadenas
The Padlock Law
Duplessis Marches On!
[This text was written by Eugene Forsey. For the full citation, see the end of the document.]
TO those who shared Mr. Lapointe's simple faith that the Padlock Act could be effectively tested in the courts, the proceedings and the decision in the Lessard-Drouin case must have come as a severe shock. In the first place, the Crown did not proceed with either the original charge of "wilfully breaking a provincial law" or with the second one of "obstructing a peace officer." The former would have made it too difficult to evade the question of the validity of the Act, the latter carries a maximum penalty of only six months on summary conviction or one year if tried on indictment. It chose instead to press the charge of "conspiracy to obstruct a peace officer," and it was on this that Lessard and Drouin were convicted and sentenced to two years and one year respectively. The judge expressly refused to pronounce on the validity of the Act, or even to allow it to be called in question. When the jury asked whether it was to consider the legality of "l'acte d'arrestation," he answered "no." None the less, in his charge to the jury he quoted freely from literature seized under the provisions of the Act. Whether it will be possible to get the real issue squarely before the Court of Appeals, let alone decided, remains to be seen.
Meanwhile, the Attorney-General and his provincial police (I say "his" advisedly, for by law they are under his sole direction and control), go on from strength to strength. Last month's Forum had a note on the Kayne case. It omitted to state, however, that Mr. Kayne was not only photographed and fingerprinted, without any charge being laid against him, but also stripped and searched. Subsequent protest from his lawyer produced from the provincial police a gracious offer to destroy the positives of the photographs (not the negatives), after prints had already been handed to the municipal police and the R.C. M.P. With this Mr. Kayne must for the present be content. If he tries to get damages for wrongful arrest, he will doubtless meet the same fate as Mr. Gauld, whose efforts to recover his stolen car have already been chronicled in these pages.
Illegal arrest, if arrest it can be called when the whole proceeding takes place without warrant and without charge laid, is one technique of "enforcing" the Padlock Act without too much painful publicity. Mr. Kayne's case is by no means unique. Another delicate method of reaching the same objective is to get the landlord to evict any tenant who has incurred the displeasure of the Attorney-General, by threatening the landlord with a padlock order. Late in October, the Montreal city police, taking their cue, no doubt, from their provincial colleagues, descended on a Lithuanian school, without warrant, and closed it. As the school in question had been using the text books prescribed for the public schools in Lithuania, the charge of "Communism" looks in this case even more than usually thin. None the less, when the school reopened, on the advice of counsel, the provincial police called on the owner of the property, a member of a prominent and wealthy Montreal family, and told him he must evict his tenant or be padlocked. There, at the moment, the matter rests.
Mr. Duplessis' progress has met with only one check. Under the Provincial Police Act, the Commissioner and Assistant Commissioner are vested with the powers of a justice of the peace. The Attorney-General, in the plentitude of his legal knowledge, seems to have been under the impression that this conferred power to issue warrants. Accordingly, in the Lessard case and others, these police officers have been gaily issuing what they termed "warrants," on the strength of which their subordinates have ransacked premises to their hearts' content. Early in November, however, these antics were brought to an abrupt halt by Judge Monet, who ruled that warrants could be issued only by a judge or by two justices of the peace. Mr. Duplessis, nothing daunted, replied by a vigorous defence of the practice (on the ground, among others, that there was less chance of leakage if the warrant was issued by a police officer—a charming compliment to Quebec's judiciary), and an announcement that at the next session of the legislature he would see to it that the Commissioner and Assistant Commissioner were each given the power of two justices of the peace! Meanwhile, to prevent any further inconvenience from obstreperous judges, he has decreed that henceforth anyone who wants to get a warrant from a judge must first appear before a Crown Prosecutor, who would "question those with alleged complaints and make a report to the judge before any complaint is made out or directions for warrants signed." "The opinion was expressed by an official," says the Montreal Gazette, "that the departure from the time-honoured custom of judges listening to every complaint would prove a boon to the administration of justice."
It only remains for Mr. Duplessis to abolish the courts altogether and, following the precedent set in the Padlock Act, vest all their powers in himself and the officers of his police. It would be a measure of economy; it would certainly "prove a boon" to the administration of Mr. Duplessis' kind of justice; and it would probably awaken very little opposition, except from peculiar people like the C.C.F. and the Civil Liberties Union and "subversive elements." The Montreal Gazette could defend it by merely changing a word or two of its editorials on the Padlock Act, and the Montreal Star could trot out again its famous phrase about Mr. Duplessis' "Latin ways." And Quebec would still be, in the opinion of these great journals and those for whom they speak, the freest and most democratic community on the continent. Opposition from any but the peculiar people could be easily quelled by bringing forward Hon. T. J. Coonan, K.C., to explain that the judges were among the "many who are Communists without knowing it." I make Mr. Duplessis a present of the idea as an issue for the next election. But perhaps by that time he will have abolished the legislature, too.
Source: Eugene FORSEY, "Duplessis Marches On!", in Canadian Forum, Vol. XVIII, No 216 (January 1039): 298-299.
© 2005 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College