Quebec History Marianopolis College

Date Published:
June 2005

L’Encyclopédie de l’histoire du Québec / The Quebec History Encyclopedia


Equal Rights Association


Equal Rights Association. By the Quebec Act of 1774 the status of Roman Catholics in Lower Canada was determined, but not the fate of the religious orders. Following the expulsion of the Jesuits from France in 1764, and the suppression of the order throughout the world in 1773 by Pope Clement XIV, the British government definitely ordered "that the Society of Jesus be suppressed and dissolved, and no longer continued, as a body corporate and politic, and all their Rights, Possessions and Property shall be vested in the Crown". In due time their seigniories, estimated at 891,845 acres, were transferred to the Lower Canada government, which devoted their revenues to educational purposes.


Between 1811 and 1814 the order was reestablished by Pope Pius VII, and in 1842 a number of Jesuits returned to Canada. They founded St. Mary's College, Montreal, to which parliament granted a charter, giving it legal status. In view of the restoration of the order, the question naturally arose as to its claim upon the estates, and in 1888 the Quebec government effected a compromise, by which the Jesuits were to receive $400,000 in compensation, $60,000 being set aside for the Protestant educational institutions. This settlement proved unacceptable to many in Ontario, and in 1889 there followed a stormy debate over a motion in the House of Commons. Its supporters contended that the Jesuit Estates Act, passed by the Quebec legislature, was unconstitutional, and should have been disallowed, because it endowed from public funds a religious organization, because it recognized the claim of the Pope that his consent was necessary to empower the provincial legislature to dispose of a portion of the public domain, and because the endowment of the Society of Jesus was fraught with danger to the civil and religious liberties of the people of Canada. The motion was defeated, only thirteen members of the House voting in its favour [these members were called, in ultra-protestant circles, the "Noble Thirteen"].


The opposition to the Act, however, was quite vocal outside the Commons, and in Ontario the Equal Rights Association was formed to express protest and to take action. Having failed to procure disallowance at Ottawa, it carried on its agitation in federal and provincial arenas, under the leadership of D'Alton McCarthy. It was not without influence in several directions, notably in the abolition of separate schools in the province of Manitoba. This Association had as "its ultimate object the abolition of all special privileges granted to the Roman Catholics in Canada and the treatment of all religious denominations on the same basis."

[Consult the Orange Lodge Page to view the question of the Jesuit Estates Act from their perspective.]

Source  : W. Stewart WALLACE, ed., The Encyclopedia of Canada, Vol. II, Toronto, University Associates of Canada, 1948, 411p., pp. 295-296.


© 2005 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College