June 20, 1938 (18th Parliament, 3rd Session)


James Shaver Woodsworth

Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (C.C.F.)


Mr. Speaker, the situation in Vancouver is so serious that we have no other course than to bring it to the attention of the house and of the government. On various occasions a number on this side of the house have endeavoured to call attention to the situation which was gradually becoming more dangerous in Vancouver owing to the occupancy of the art gallery and the post office by single unemployed men. I bring forward this resolution not to advocate greater police action, but on the other hand once more to attempt to get the government to take action in a critical situation- constructive action, not the action that has recently been taken by the police.
It is not necessary for me to spend any length of time in bringing to the attention of the house the causes of the trouble of yesterday. A number of these men had been in the camps. They came back to Vancouver and could find no work. In desperation they took possession of the lower floor of the art gallery and of the post office, and there for a month have been bivouacked. Strangely enough, it would seem- that they have received on the whole the support of the citizens of Vancouver.
Action has been urged by us along the line of providing work. The leader of the opposition (Mr. Bennett) took occasion to urge that the post office should be vacated. But the government offered no alternative place to which the men could go. As I see the matter, the men took the only means available
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to them of calling attention to their plight. They did not resort to arms; they did not resort to force. They simply attempted to bring their condition to the attention of the provincial and the federal governments. This government offered them one alternative and one only, namely, that they should be returned to their places of origin. As we have pointed out again and again, the majority of these men cannot very well establish residence anywhere. They belong to the great army of unemployed transients. They may be employed one year or one month in Winnipeg, the next in northern Ontario, the next in Vancouver. They are men of a class which has been called upon to do rough pioneer work all over this country. And they are not fools by any means. They know perfectly well that they cannot establish residence, and if they are returned from Vancouver to Winnipeg or Toronto or Montreal they will not be in one whit better position than they are in Vancouver to-day. So the only alternative so far as we can gather which the government offered them was of no value.
We have pointed out here again and again that if this kind of thing were allowed to go on, there would be some occasion when some incident would force trouble. In this particular case it seems that the authorities did not wait for the men to riot, but themselves took forcible action and used tear gas bombs and clubs for the purpose of evicting them from the post office. According to the press, the orders came from Ottawa; apparently there was some request from the premier of British Columbia.
I should like to ask the government very frankly, what choice had these men? They could not be sent to their places of origin. They could only go out in the streets. They did not resort to force of arms. They simply took a rather spectacular way of bringing their plight to the attention of the public. It is unfortunate, of course, that in their flight, after having been evicted, they smashed windows in a number of stores and caused, according to the press, thousands of dollars' worth of damage. The report which I had stated that these men were gas-crazed as a result of the gas attack. I do not know whether the gas used brings on craziness of that kind, but I can well imagine that if most of us were treated in that fashion we would be willing blindly to hit at almost anything that showed itself; I think that would be the natural reaction. After all, these men are not criminals-the house should be reminded of that-but poor fellows out of work, deprived of the opportunity of making a living. I am sorry, as we all are, that

Unemployment-Vancouver Situation
windows were broken. I am glad to know that when, in the afternoon, they congregated before the police cells, wiser counsels prevailed. One of the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation members of the legislature there urged that they should disperse, and I believe that was done. But no one will be able to control the feelings of resentment which have been stirred up by such an unwarranted act on the part of the government.

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