Documents de l’histoire du Québec / Quebec History Documents
The Quebec "Padlock Law"
by C. A. COUGHLIN, K. C.*
WHAT THE ACT IS NOT
The very first thing to know about the "Padlock Act" is that there is no "Padlock Act". There is an Act Respecting Communistic Propaganda, which is Chapter 11 of the Statutes of Quebec, 1937.
The word "Padlock Act" is an example of Communistic Propaganda. It is a "slogan" used to prejudice opinion against the Act, to cloud the issues and to prevent clarity of thought.
If people discussed "the Act respecting Communistic Propaganda" they would be forced to discuss the question at issue, namely, should Communistic Propaganda be permitted, or should it be suppressed? This would involve the question as to what is the nature of Communistic Propaganda? How far has it spread? What harm is it doing or likely to do? Who is behind the movement? What is the relation of Moscow with the Canadian Communist party? Who is supplying the funds? What is the Third Internationale? Is Communism Canadian, or subversive of all that Canadian stands for? What is Communism? Does it attack Religion, both Protestant and Catholic ? Is it Atheistic? Is it merely a political or economic movement ?
All that and more is involved in the very title of the Act. Ask yourselves how many of these questions have been asked and answered by those publicly discussing the Act. You will then realize to what extent the use of the word "Padlock" has succeeded in clouding the issues and in diverting attention from Communistic propaganda.
This naturally plays into the hands of Communists and sympathizers with Communists. They naturally do not want any of these questions raised, discussed or answered. Hence the discussion about "Padlocks".
HOW THE ACT WAS PASSED
The first thing to be noted about the Act is that it passed both houses unanimously, English, French, Catholic and Protestant, Government or opposition Members voted for it. It represents, therefore, the unanimous opinion of the elected representatives of the people. It is a striking example of principles of democratic government.
WHAT THE ACT PROVIDES
There are two separate and distinct prohibitions in the Act. First: "It shall be illegal for any person who possesses or occupies a house within the Province, to use it or allow any person to make use of it to propagate Communism or Bolshevism by any means whatsoever." (Section 3.)
The second prohibition reads as follows:
The two prohibitions of the Act are, therefore,
1st. the use of premises to propagate communism or bolshevism;
2nd. the printing, publishing and distributing of writings propagating or tending to propagate communism or bolshevism.
METHODS OF ENFORCING THE ACT
1st. To close premises.
The Attorney General is authorized to close premises for a period of not more than one year "upon satisfactory proof that an infringement of Section 3 has been committed." (Section 4.)
2nd. Seizure, confiscation and destruction of writings.
The Attorney General or his substitute or a person specially authorized by the Attorney General may instruct any constable or peace officer to seize and confiscate or distributed which propagate or tend to propagate communism or bolshevism and the Attorney General may order that they be destroyed. (Section 14.)
PROTECTION OF RIGHTS OF THE SUBJECT
Any owner of premises which have been closed may, by a simple petition to a Judge of the Superior Court, have the order of the Attorney General -
The Attorney General may
REVISION AND SUSPENSION OF THE ORDER BY THE JUDGE
If the owner was in good faith and was ignorant that the premises were used in contravention of the Act, the judge may revise the Closing Order. (Sections 6 and 7.) For instance, if Communists were to lease premises for the purpose of propagating Communism, the premises might be closed by the Attorney General. The Landlord can make a petition to the Court (which is a much simpler and less expensive proceeding than the issue of a writ). Notice of the petition is given the Attorney General and the landlord's lawyer and the Attorney General's lawyer appears before the judge. The Judge hears the parties and orders the revision of the order if good faith and ignorance of misuse are proved, or may suspend it if the owner gives security that the premises will not again be used to propagate Communism. (Section 7.)
Cases have already come before the Courts and the Attorney General has normally consented to the reopening of the premises on condition that they be not used for the purpose of propagating communism.
CANCELLATION OF CLOSING ORDER BY THE JUDGE
The Judge may cancel the closing order if the house has not been used for propagating communism for 12 months prior to the order (Sections 6 and 8).
The ordinary citizen, therefore, has nothing to fear from these provisions of the Act. Those attacking the Act are holding up a "Bogey" to frighten the ignorant when they pretend that anyone's house may be closed and kept closed by the Attorney General. The Attorney General must first have satisfactory proof of an infringement of the Act before he can close my house. He is a lawyer and I presume a rational man and a good politician. If he closes my house without the necessary proof he will be acting as no good lawyer acts; he will be acting irrationally and I certainly wont vote for him at the next election. I presume the Judge is a rational judge. He will not see me victimized by any public officer. After all, that is my protection against abuse of authority in all cases-the assumption of rationality, the Courts and my vote.
SEIZURE OF COMMUNISTIC WRITINGS
A number of seizures of Communistic writings, books, pamphlets, newspapers, circulars, etc., have been made.
The speaker has personally examined a great part of this literature so seized and can assure his hearers that it is not made up of novels by Dickens, such as "Oliver Twist" or the Biographies of great men such as the leader of the C.C.F. Mr. Woodsworth.
It consists of the staple revolutionary works by Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin, and others, books, pamphlets, circulars, magazines and posters inculcating the fundamental doctrines of Communism, dialectical materialism, Theism. Class warfare and the exaltation of revolution as the legitimate means to attain the ends of Communism. Many of the works are direct attacks on Christianity and on religion.
Some of the seized books are text books actually used in Communistic schools in Montreal, published in Moscow by the Soviet Government. Children attend Communistic Schools after ordinary school hours and they circulate amongst boys and girls attending Catholic and Protestant schools.
These text books exalt the principles of the Russian revolution, hold up Russia as the model for Canadian youth and depreciate Canada. This naturally brings up the question -are we in the Province of Quebec to bring up young Canadians or young Communists? That is one of the questions that must be answered and Quebec has answered emphatically that it prefers young Canadians.
CRITICISM OF THE ACT
Much of the criticism of the Act is based on misinformation or misrepresentation.
For instance, it has been stated any policeman can stop you on the street and confiscate a copy of Marx's Capital or McGill Library can be closed because it contains copies of Marx's works or More's Utopia or Mr. Calder's front door can be padlocked if he is caught reading Strachey's Theory and Practice of Socialism, or the one with the introduction by the Bishop of Durham or that the Bible may be confiscated. This is pure nonsense and any word less severe is insufficient to describe these assertions.
The Act does not prohibit the ownership of any of these books or the reading of them. It prohibits the printing, publishing and distributing of writings "propagating or tending to propagate communism or bolshevism."
I own many Communistic works. I have writings by Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin, Strachey, Browder, Ryerson, Tim Buck, Dimitroff, The Clarion, La Clarté. I am not contravening the law. I am using these writings to combat Communistic propaganda, not to propagate it. So I presume is McGill Library and Mr. Calder. As to Saint Thomas More, he closes his Utopia with the words:
"When Raphael (who had been describing Utopia to More) had thus made an end of speaking, though many things occurred to me (More) both concerning the manners and laws of the people, that seemed very absurd, as well in their way of making war, as in their notions of religion and divine matters; together with several other particulars, but chiefly what seemed the foundation of all the rest their living in common..." (More's Utopia in Ideal Commonwealths, pp. 98-99. )
The Act is alleged to be an attack on Freedom of Speech. Here again confusion of thought is rampant.
The Act does not prohibit Freedom of Speech for Liberals, Conservatives, C. C. F'ers, Monarchists, Republicans, Catholics, Anglicans, Presbyterians, members of the United Church, Baptists, Methodists, Jews, Mohammedans, Irish Republicans, Orangemen, Social Creditors, Advocates of planned and unplanned Economic Systems, Democrats, Rooseveltians, Hooverites, followers of Chamerlain or followers of Eden, upholders of the English Labour Party, Ulsterites or admirers of Mr. de Valera, Low or High Tariff Advocates, Imperialists and Separatists, Nationalists, pro-French and anti-French, pro-British and Canadians, Progressives, Reactionaries, capitalists, laborites, syndicatists, followers of Mr. Green or Mr. Lewis, Advocates of professional hockey as against amateur sport, National Unionists, Admirers of Mr. Priestly as against Mr. Walpole, Mickey Mouse as against Charlie McCarthy, movies as against the legitimate stage, the superiority of Mussolini to Hitler, or vice-versa, or of dictatorship to democracy, or the validity of Darwin's arguments for the "Origin of Species" against the Mendelian laws. People can still argue about the latest theories of hydrostatics, astronomy, physics, geology, psychology, anthropology, biology, ecology, ethnology, psychoanalysis, determinism, fatalism, philosophy, theology, history and economics. On the whole therefore, the field for Free Speech is fairly wide and should satisfy the requirements of the democratic citizen who is presumably so interested in preserving it.
HEIGHT OF ABSURDITY
The height of absurdity is reached by the opponents of the Act, who maintain that Free Speech has been abolished, when they themselves hold vociferous meetings condemning the Act which they say has abolished Free Speech.
One warning before I conclude. Those who are so intent on preserving "free speech" for Communists should spend a little time on considering what and how much "free speech" will prevail when and if communism prevails in Canada.
Speaking for the Communists, Mr. Strachey in his Theory and Practice of Socialism (page 210) says: "Thus we must face the facts that, for a period, the British and American workers will almost certainly be compelled to restrict the civil liberties of the dispossessed classes to an extent that these classes will consider outrageous."
Just as an Act imposing the death penalty for murder may properly be entitled "An Act to Preserve Life", so the Act prohibiting Communistic propaganda may properly be entitled "An Act to Preserve Free Speech."
* C. A. Coughlin was a prominent Montreal lawyer. This text was given as a speech on February 25, 1938 in Montreal .
Source: From L'oeuvre des Tracts , No. 234 (december 1938): pp 11-16
© 2004 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College