Right Hon. L. S. ST. LAURENT (Secretary of State for External Affairs): Mr. Speaker, in view of the many references recently made in the press to certain art treasures which were brought to Canada by the Polish authorities in 1940 and in order that there may be no misapprehension about the position of the Canadian government, I think I should give the house a rather full account of the circumstances.
On July 11, 1940, the Consul-General of Poland, Mr. Victor Podoski, informed the Secretary of State for External Affairs that the Polish ship Batory was en route to Canada carrying Polish national art treasures from the Wawel royal castle in Cracow. He requested that arrangements be made to permit the entry, free of customs inspection, of these articles, as Polish state property. On July 16, 1940, the Secretary of State for External Affairs was informed by the assistant commissioner of customs that free entry of these items had been arranged at Halifax and Ottawa.
Subsequently, at the request of the Polish consul-general, the Department of Public Works provided storage space for the treasures in the records storage building at the central experimental farm. These facilities were granted to the Polish authorities on the clear understanding that the Canadian government assumed no responsibilty for the safekeeping of these articles. No inventory of the treasures was given to the Canadian government. From the time that the treasures were deposited the representatives in Canada of the Polish government had sole access to the room where the treasures were stored, and they alone were responsible for the safekeeping of this property.
In 1945. after the retreat of the German armies, a new government was established in Poland. This government was unconditionally recognized by the government of Canada on July 16. 1945, on which date recognition was
automatically withdrawn from the Polish government-in-exile which had its headquarters in London.
On May 16 and again on May 18, 1946, a representative of the legation of the newly recognized government of Poland called on the Department of External Affairs and stated that not all the Polish treasures were in the room which had been made available for the use of the Polish authorities at the central experimental farm but that parts had been dispersed to various places in Canada. This was the first indication to officials of the Canadian government that some of the treasures had been removed from the records storage building, presumably by the Polish officials originally in charge of these articles.
On June 21, 1946, the Polish legation in Ottawa informed the Department of External Affairs that, in the spring of 1945, a large part of the Polish art treasures which had been stored in the records storage building at the central experimental farm had been removed to certain places in Ottawa and in the country, and requesting the Department of External Affairs to protect these treasures.
The attitude of the Department of External Affairs was fully set forth in a reply sent to the Polish minister in Canada, on August 2,
1946. It was pointed out that, while a place of storage had been provided for these treasures, the Canadian government had not accepted responsibility for their safekeeping, and that, from the original date of storage until May, 1945, officials of the government of Canada had had no access to them. The Polish minister was also advised that, after information had been received that some of the treasures had been removed, a new lock had been placed on the door of the storage room at the public records building where the treasures had been placed, and that since that time access to the room had been permitted to no one but Canadian officials. As a courtesy to the Polish legation in Canada, and without accepting responsibility in the matter, the Department of External Affairs had communicated with various companies and institutions where, according to an officer of the Polish legation, certain of the Polish art treasures had been stored. As a result of these inquiries the Bank of Montreal stated that it was holding in safekeeping two locked
Polish Art Treasures