March 31, 1939 (18th Parliament, 4th Session)


Ernest Lapointe (Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada)


Right Hon. ERNEST LAPOINTE (Minister of Justice):

Mr. Speaker, the subject matter of this debate is of very great importance, and the difficulties it raises are the greater because of various conflicting views and opinions with regard to certain of its aspects. I was pleased yesterday that the keynote of the speeches which were delivered here was the imperative necessity of maintaining Canadian unity as our greatest objective. Speaking in this house at the time of the Rhineland crisis, the Prime Minister (Mr. Mackenzie King) said on March 23, 1936, as reported at page 1333 of Hansard:
I believe that Canada's first duty to the league and to the British empire, with respect to all the great issues that come up, is, if possible, to keep this country united.
In his statement of October 29, 1935, he maintained that the foreign policies which Canada should pursue must "ensure the unity and common consent in Canada as well as the advancement of peace abroad."

Foreign Policy-
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-Mr. Lapointe (Quebec East)
Another distinguished member of this house on the other side, my good and learned and hon. friend from St. Lawrence-St. George (Mr. Cahan), speaking in the house on June 21, 1926, said at page 4770 of Hansard:
May we not reasonably hope that those who succeed us in filling the highest offices in the gifts of the people of Canada shall only undertake such inter-imperial and international responsibilities as may be undertaken with the general approval of all sections of the country, and so ensure that the action of parliament, and of the government which this parliament maintains and sustains, shall have the approval not only of a majority of the electoral constituencies throughout Canada, but also have the substantial support and cooperation of the constituencies in every important section, district or province of the dominion? I am confident, Mr. Speaker-and my sole excuse for speaking is that I feel so strongly about this matter-that it is only by restricting all our external commitments and obligations within such limits as to merit and obtain the general approval, as I said, of each and every section of Canada, that we can ever hope to have such cordial cooperation between the peoples who compose the Canadian electorate as will enable us to solve our domestic problems in such a manner and so successfully as to maintain the continued solidarity and unity of the great Canadian nation, and thereby promote for all time the peace, progress and prosperity of this country, in which we were born, in which we will die and which will be the home of our children and our children's children for all future time.
I commend those words of the hon. member for St. Lawrence-St. George to all my colleagues and to the people of Canada. Whatever decision is reached on a question of this kind must be on the basis of putting Canada first in our national policies, as Canada should be also first in the hearts of her people. The policies of Canada must carry with them as much as possible the general support of her people. I believe that the shaping of our foreign policies is a phase of the problem of maintaining national unity.
I desire to discuss this question and to say what I have to say quite dispassionately and calmly, and, I hope, with strict impartiality. I shall not base my views on sentiment. I do not think that sentiment should be the main consideration in the discussion of a question of this kind. Reason, common sense and the interests of the country should prevail.
First let me say a word on the question of neutrality, which was discussed yesterday. There is all the difference in the world between the right to neutrality, and the exercise of that right-between the right to neutrality and a policy of neutrality. Canada, everybody knows, has gone far ahead in the march towards nationhood. She is no longer a selfgoverning colony. She is a nation in the British commonwealth. I need hardly remind
the house of the declaration of 1926 in the Balfour report:
Every self-governing member of the empire is now the master of its destiny.
And this other phrase:
Autonomous communities united by a common allegiance to the crown and freely associated as members of the British commonwealth of nations.
The crown is the bond that unites those nations. The crown is stamped on all the dominions' constitutions. It follows that the associations of the peoples of the commonwealth and their common allegiance make war between themselves impossible. The king cannot declare war upon himself. On the outbreak of such a war the commonweatlh would cease to be.
But can a dominion remain neutral in a war in which the other members of the commonwealth are engaged? The question has not been definitely settled, and opinions vary as to its solution. By far the larger number of authorities are to the effect that a dominion could not be neutral. Of course it could, because a dominion can do anything it likes now; but doing so would mean secession from the commonwealth. The weight of the authorities is on that line, and this is based on the doctrine of the indivisibility of the crown. But I must say that there are conflicting views. There are some constitutional authors and writers who state that the crown under the present circumstances is divisible. That view is entertained more particularly in South Africa and in the Irish Free State, and a certain official sanction was given to that view when the Irish Free State appointed a minister to Italy, with the recognition of Ethiopia as an empire under the king of Italy. Britain and the other dominions had refused to do so, and the Irish Free State minister was presented with his credentials to the king of Italy and as emperor of Ethiopia in the name of His Britannic Majesty; but only for the Irish Free State. This shows that the report of the constitutional committee of 1926 was right when it said that the commonwealth of British nations defies classification and is altogether different from any political organization which has ever existed. The main thing is that it has existed as such, and will continue to exist; and that after all is a sign of life.
It was rightly stated yesterday that recognition by foreign governments in a case of this kind is of the utmost importance, and, as far as I can ascertain, the opinion of all foreign authorities and foreign governments is to the effect that a dominion cannot be
Foreign Policy-Mr. Lapointe (Quebec East)
neutral when Britain is engaged in- a war. Foreigners say, in a pretty illustrative phrase, that the dominions "cannot have it both ways." Certain writers assimilate the situation of a dominion with regard to Britain to that of a personal union similar to that of Britain and Hanover at a certain time. My late distinguished friend, Mr. John S. Ewart, was of that opinion, and I remember having discussed that matter with him on a few occasions. It must be remembered, however, that no subject in the United Kingdom could owe allegiance or give obedience to the elector of Hanover as such; his allegiance attached only to the king of England. While British subjects in Canada possess British nationality and owe allegiance to the king, I do not think that the relations between the citizens of England and those of Hanover could very well be compared, under all the circumstances, to the relations between the citizens of Canada and the commonwealth and those of Great Britain.
The statute of Westminster never purported to dissolve -the bond between the nations of the commonwealth. Indeed, it was intended to strengthen and maintain that bond, which is the principle of unity. I have elaborated on many occasions in this house the view that the statute of Westminster, instead of being an agency of division, is an agency for unity,-unity in liberty,-without which no British nation can exist and progress.
For the purpose of reference, and rather to show what the views of others are, may I quote one extract from Keith, perhaps the leading authority on the question, in a recent book, The King and the Imperial Crown. At page 445 Professor Keith says:
Two questions, of course, arise on this theory. Is the right of neutrality possible under the constitution of the empire? Would a declaration of neutrality entitle the Union (of South Africa) to neutral rights at the hands of other powers? To the first question the only answer is that the preponderant weight of empire opinion denies the right of neutrality. It would insist on the tie of common allegiance to the crown and the voluntary association in the British commonwealth, together with the agreement to exchange information on foreign affairs, as negativing the right to remain neutral. It would stress the fact that Hanover and Britain were held by quite different titles, and that there was no common allegiance to the king. It is true that Hanoverians were deemed British subjects, but not vice versa, and the source of allegiance was quite different; moreover allegiance terminated on the accession of a female sovereign to the British crown and was always precarious.
To the second question there is available a very definite answer. The rights of neutrality can be claimed only by a power which is able and willing to perform the duties of a neutral.
IMr. E. Lapointe.l
Professor Corbett, of McGill university, in an address broadcast over the radio a few weeks ago, admitted frankly that for Canada to stand netural in a specific crisis might mean the end of our membership in the commonwealth; and he is willing to take that risk. But are most Canadians willing to take it? Let me give a few considerations which have weight on this matter.
We have, though it is of our own free will, kept the amending of our constitution in the hands of the Westminster parliament. We have not done away with appeals to the judicial committee of the privy council. I cannot say that two parliaments are quite sovereign and equal the one to the other when one of them has to go to the other to enact its most important legislation, that which relates to its own power of legislating. The same applies to the judicial appeals to the privy council. I myself have always been in favour of Canada's amending its own constitution when it sees fit. I have always been in favour, also, of having in Canada the last court of appeal for Canadian decisions. But many people in Canada are inclined the other way; and may I say that in my own province those who are most eager to declare that we would have nothing to do with any war of Britain or of the commonwealth are those who refuse peremptorily to have the right to amend their own constitution or to abolish appeals to the privy council. Surely the concept of neutrality is linked with that of a sovereign state. It is contrary to international principles to recognize the possibility of one country being neutral and another a belligerent when they are not separate sovereignties and when one is linked with the other in respect of its own power of legislation. Of course this could be changed, but it has not been changed, and I hope that some people in my province who are so peremptory in their declaration of views on the present question will help me in the future in doing away with those two things which they themselves want to keep.
We have a common national status. A British subject in Canada is a British subject in Britain. We have the use of the diplomatic and consular functions of Britain. Our criminal code would preclude, in many sections of it, any notion of neutrality. Many sections are based on the principle that Canada is engaged in a conflict when Britain is so engaged. The Foreign Enlistment Act of the United Kingdom which was in force in Canada until 1937, made it an offence to enlist Canadians for service in armies of countries at war with the king. We enacted similar legislation in Canada two years ago. In a case of neutrality

Foreign Policy-Mr. Lapointe (Quebec East)
this would have to be changed. We could not make it an offence to enlist in the armies of other countries while Canadians could enlist in the armies of Britain.
The British preference would be another obstacle. It is a family arrangement, and if we were no longer a member of the family I do not see how foreign countries could accept a continuance of the preference.
Then, Mr. Speaker, there is the matter of shipping legislation. If Canada was neutral the entire British merchant marine could shift its registration to Canadian ports, which would be inconsistent with the concept of neutrality.
Of course, all this could be removed by the parliament of Canada if we wanted to be neutral. But would Canadians desire it? Would it be in the interests of Canada to do it? A declaration of neutrality would make it necessary to close Canadian ports to all armed vessels, including armed merchantmen. Well, the citizens of Quebec would have to close the port of Quebec to the Empress oj Britain if she carries guns during a war, and even fight her if she wanted to come in against their will.
A declaration of neutrality would make it necessary to take control of all communications which might be used for war purposes, to forbid enlistment on Canadian soil and the raising of money for war relief, and all loans to belligerents. Would Canadians be willing to do that? That is the realistic rather than the legalistic side of the question. Would they be willing to protect their neutrality even against British vessels and British sailors and practically wage war against their own king? And if they do not do that, how can they have their neutrality recognized by the enemy? This might not happen in a war which would be limited and circumscribed to a distant territory, but in any of the wars which are possible and are looming up on the horizon just now it would, of course, be unavoidable.
There is more than that. We are bound by contract with Britain to give Britain the full use of the dry docks at Halifax and Esquimalt for British vessels. These dry docks were the property of the imperial government, and when, during the time of Sir Wilfrid Laurier, in 1907, I believe, they were transferred to Canadian control, a contract was entered into by the two governments-a contract that still exists. May I read one clause of it:
The dominion government will arrange for the storing of coal or other fuel at Halifax in a suitable manner for the use of his majesty's ships and will allow their local representatives to take charge of it, the necessary arrangements being settled as occasion requires by the Admiralty and the dominion government. . . .
And so on. Of course, there again we could put an end to that contract. Would
Canadians be willing to do that? And if we did not, during a war in which we claimed neutrality, British vessels and British soldiers would come to Halifax or Esquimalt and it would be the duty of Canadians there to prevent their coming and to intern them if they came. Even if some people in some part of Canada would like to do that, do you think the citizens of Halifax and Esquimalt would fight against British sailors and intern British vessels?
This question has to be considered in the light of all the conditions that exist. Could the dominion make a treaty with a country at war with the king? Moreover, in international law, neutrality depends partly, as in practice it depends essentially, upon its recognition by belligerents; and surely a state at war with Britain would recognize the neutrality of one of the king's dominions only if it suited its interest to do so. In the present attitude and temper of dictatorial states, considerations of mere constitutional power will not count much in their decisions. Only their interest as they see it will govern.
Perhaps I might give the definition of neutrality as laid down by Oppenheim, a leading author on international law:
Neutrality may be defined as the attitude of impartiality adopted by a third state towards belligerents and recognized by belligerents, such attitude creating rights and duties between the impartial state and the belligerents.
Can such an attitude of impartiality be possible in Canada during a war in our present international situation? A neutral state, as I said, would have to intern British troops or war vessels. I ask any one of my fellow countrymen whether they believe seriously that this could be done without a civil war in Canada. A neutral state would have to possess forces sufficient to deter any belligerent power from violating these neutrality rights, which Canada would have to uphold even against Britain if it were neutral.
It is clear that under the circumstances the right itself is meaningless. There is only the policy of neutrality, which would be rather a hazardous policy, hardly compatible with the national situation of Canada.
I have sympathy, I must admit, with the bill of my good friend the hon. member for Selkirk (Mr. Thorson), that if Canada takes part in a war the government of Canada should itself declare accordingly. Anyway, it will be for parliament to decide what part Canada should have in the war. The present situation, I confess, is perhaps not satisfactory. It is one of the problems that remain to be
Foreign Policy-Mr. Lapointe (Quebec East)
solved and it will be solved as all the other problems of the commonwealth have been solved.
I read in the Magazine Digest of January, 1939, a translation of an article that appeared in the great newspaper Candide of Paris, by one of the ministers of Austria under the former Chancellor von Schuschnigg, a confidante of Schuschnigg, who gave details of a conversation that took place between the former chancellor and Herr Hitler at the famous interview at Berchtesgaden before the invasion of Austria. May I be permitted to quote these words, which appear at page 64:
Hitler spoke plainly of the danger and the eventuality of a European war. He sketched briefly the external situation of the Reich and that of the other European states. The British empire, in his opinion, is a colossus with clay feet. The dominions would not take part in an empire war. The break-up of the empire is not only possible, but extremely likely, should war come.
I have said that this problem, this last problem, would be solved. May I say to the world that it will be solved in such a way that the British commonwealth of nations will resist all attempts to break it; and if any dictator in the world has made up his mind that the British commonwealth is going to be disrupted he is basing his future projects on utter fallacy.
No text of law, no resolution, could stand before public opinion. What really counts is the attitude that Canada would adopt in the event of war, legislation or no legislation. Could Canadians in one section of the country compel other Canadians to remain neutral and take the necessary steps to protect their neutrality even against Britain?
The Prime Minister (Mr. Mackenzie King) has been criticized in some newspapers for his statement that if London were bombarded he had no doubt what the decision of Canada would be. Well, was he not right? I have been a long time in parliament; I have gone through all sorts of experiences, and I think there are not many who know the mentality and feelings of their fellow citizens in all sections of Canada better than I do. Those writers do not know the situation if they think that in such circumstances there would not be in Canada immediately a wave of public sentiment which would force any government to intervene. What is the use of closing our eyes to stern realities? I am willing to go to every town in my own province and ask if there is one of my fellow countrymen who would deny the soundness of this conclusion.
Now may I also appeal to my fellow citizens of the other provinces and ask them to understand the feelings, the mentality, the views of the French Canadians of Quebec?

Their mind is altogether different. They have only one country, one home. None of them would say that he is " going home " when he leaves Canada. It requires exceptional power of self-discipline and restraint to tolerate and understand those who are different in mind and heart from ourselves.' Magnanimity in politics is always the truest wisdom, and a great nation and little minds go ill together. Mr. E. J. Tarr, K.C., of Winnipeg, in an address on Canada some time ago, said-I will not say he is right, but there is something in it-
The loyalty of French Canadians is concentrated too narrowly, and that of many English Canadians is spread too broadly.
But if it is so, can we not be tolerant of the views entertained by our fellow Canadians of the other sections of Canada? Their mentality is different. You would never find a French Canadian of Quebec who would have the idea at any time that at the close of his life he would go abroad to end his days. I do not blame my fellow Canadians who do that, but I mention it just to exemplify the difference of mentality and of view.
In a recent book, Professor F. R. Scott writes that the relation between the French and English Canadians will prove of paramount importance in the attempt to secure unity of purpose. He says that either the two major races must cooperate in solving national problems, or they will not be solved at all.
Now I am going to touch a subject which is a delicate one. The French Canadians will never agree that any government has the right to force them to military service on the other side of the ocean. In 1917 that was my view, and I have never altered it. I believe that conscription in 1917 was a blunder of frightful magnitude, and that we are still reaping the sad and sorry results of that ill-conceived policy. I was pleased that my hon. friend the leader of the opposition (Mr. Manion) said yesterday, what I have myself learned, that the results did not in any way justify the taking of the risk; because in the end very few conscripts ever saw the front lines during the war. All should be reconciled to the doctrine which I have just expounded. The best way, the most effective way of helping is not the way that would divide our country and tear it asunder.
We are not alone in that view. Australia has always been against conscription, South Africa will never have conscription, Ireland would never have conscription. I think I am true to my concept of Canadian unity when I say that I shall always fight against this policy; I would not be a member of a government that would enact it; and not only that,

Foreign Policy-Mr. Lapointe (Quebec East)
but I say with all my responsibility to the people of Canada that I would oppose any government that would enforce it. I agree with what was said yesterday by the leader of the opposition and the Prime Minister, and what was said by Mr. Bruce of Australia, that the time for expeditionary forces overseas is certainly past, and it would not be the most effective way to help our allies. The men would be needed here; and in any event it is parliament which will decide about it.
I am sorry to observe that my time has expired-[DOT]

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