William Erskine KNOWLES

KNOWLES, William Erskine, K.C.

Personal Data

Moose Jaw (Saskatchewan)
Birth Date
November 28, 1872
Deceased Date
July 17, 1951
barrister, lawyer

Parliamentary Career

February 6, 1906 - September 17, 1908
  Assiniboia West (Saskatchewan)
October 26, 1908 - July 29, 1911
  Moose Jaw (Saskatchewan)
September 21, 1911 - October 6, 1917
  Moose Jaw (Saskatchewan)

Most Recent Speeches (Page 1 of 290)

September 14, 1917


I was paired with the hon. member for Comox-Atlin (Mr. Clements). Otherwise I would have voted against the motion.

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September 14, 1917

Mr. W. E. KNOWLES (Moosejaw):

Mr. Speaker, having once taken our place in this great world struggle and having, as a people, approved, as we have approved, of the action of the Government in placing Canada by the side of the Mother Country in this great conflict, the question must always be present with us in the conduct of our public affairs: what is in the best interest of the carrying on of this great struggle? And all questions that are presented to us for solution must be brought to the bar of that test and decided in the light of whether they are in consistency with the purpose of this war and eonduciva to our maximum military effort in this great struggle.

When I spoke upon conscription, I endeavoured to address myself to the subject along that line, and I desire to ap-

proach this question to-day from the same viewpoint, to ask ourselves whether the Bill which the Government asks this House to endorse is one that is in the interest of Canada from the viewpoint of doing our utmost in. our way, small as it may be, to bring about victory and to relieve the suffering of the world in this great conflict. And in this connection I cannot but recall that in August, 1914, the two greatest Empires of the world classified themselves voluntarily, deliberately. The German Em. pire classified itself as a nation that was ready to pay a terrible price of money, blood .and sacrifice on the side of broken faith and broken pledges. The British Government had no selfish or material object in view, but it was ready to classify itself on the side of keeping its pledge, even if it cost, as it has cost, hundreds of thousands of lives, for no material, political or partisan gain, but simply because they believed that the name of England would ring down through the nations in disgrace if she did not stand by her pledge and by her plighted word. We have asked our soldiers to go to the front and shed their blood for nothing material, but for principle, and we .are still asking and will continue to ask them to do so. Many of them have fallen and it has been mine, as it has been yours, to walk in cemeteries in Flanders where thousands of our boys lie sleeping, and the only consolation is that they lie there because they loved principle more than material things, because they believed that the plighted word of England must be sustained, and that the honour of England must be kept high as it has been down through all the centuries before us. But now we in this country are asked to support a measure that takes the plighted word of Canada given in the name of His Majesty the King, and for no reason other than a miserable political reason tears into scraps of paper, not one treaty, but thousands, perhaps thirty thousand or forty thousand treaties and covenants, and in so doing we voluntarily classify ourselves in the same way as the Prussian Empire voluntarily classified itself in August, 1914. I have here the document which we hand to the man who gives to us the consideration for it, the oath of allegiance. That document reads:

This is therefore to certify to all whom it may concern, that under and toy virtue of the said Act "so and so" has become naturalized as a British subject, and is, within Canada, entitled to all political and other rights, powers and privileges.

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September 14, 1917


That is a fair question;

I can only give a fair answer. As far as I know anything about it, I did not approve of it. I do not like the principle of it, but I never studied it; it was not my duty to do so. However, that has nothing at all to do with this question. This Bill is following the German principle that might is right, not the British principle that right should prevail.

You, Mr. Speaker, were a member of a group of persons-I myself was among them-who had the privilege of meeting a number of men, from South Africa, while we were for a month in Europe a year ago. You saw among them men who had fought m the Boer army against Great Britain; the Minister of Trade and Commerce also saw them. To-day those men are filled with undoubted loyalty to the Empire and to the British King. You were told, I doubt not, in conversation with them and with their English colleagues from South Africa, that they were

won over beyond peradventure to the British Empire first and foremost because from Great Britain they had received a square deal; they had received freedom and liberry and justice, even while their hands were still warm from the butt of the rifle with which they had beer fighting the troops of [DOT] Ihe British Empire. That is what made South Africa, when the great test came :n 1914, loyal to the core as a British colony; it had learned from the British Empire the great principle, synonymous with British history, that men must have their rights; that the British subject, poor, humble, primitive as he may be, should not be denied his rights because the great, the powerful, the wealthy, the mighty, endeavour to disturb him in his enjoyment of those rights. I ain not afraid of any substantial difference being effected as against the Liberal party by the operation of this Bill, but I can only say that my heart is sick for my country when I think that there) are men in power who will force this iniquitous, vicious, un-British, Prussian Bill through the House simply because they want, to gain partisan advantage in the coming election.

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September 14, 1917


The balance has no

cogency to my argument, but since the minister asks me to do so, I shall read it.

-and subject to all Obligations to which a natural-born British subject is entitled or subject.

The weakness of my hon. friend the Secretary of State is shown in the fact that he asks to have read something that is entirely irrelevant to my argument, and he knows it. We- have given to that man while in Canada, in the name of the King, -all rights, powers and privileges of a political nature in Canada; and to-day, while he is still in 1 Canada, the Government is taking those rights from him for no other reason than the same reason for which a robber will pillage things that do not belong to him, namely, for his own personal aggrandizement.

The record of these men -in this country who took ns at our word and made their treaty with us is one that can be studied with the closest criticism and scrutiny, and all the pages of the history of these men as a class in this war are free from any objectionable conduct on their part. From the very opening of this war they behaved themselves in an exemplary manner, and the Government has admitted this in the present debate. I go back to the -short session held in August, 1914, -and o-n page 14 of Hansard I find the following statement by the Prime Minister, dealing with the - native-born Germans 'and Austrians.

We have no reason to believe that those people are inspired by the militaristic tendencies which influence the German Government at the present time or the Austrian Government for that matter. We have no reason to doubt, and we do not doubt, that these people will be absolutely true to the country of their adoption.

In the succeeding session, 1915, on page 20 of Hansard, the hon. Prime Minister, speaking of the Austrian and German-born:

So far as the others are concerned, I repeat what I said in August last when we were considering matters connected with the war that those of German birth and those born in the Empire of Austria-Hungary who have come to this country to be citizens of Canada have with very few exceptions borne themselves worthily and well. I believe that I can speak with peculiar knowledge as to this, because it has been part of my public duty to make myself acquainted with their sentiments and with the part which they are taking at this juncture of our affairs.

Deliberately, in the month of February of the succeeding year, the Prime Minister repeated -the assertion which he made in August, 1914, and which I have just read to you. But it is not necessary to go -that

far back. We have the statement of the Pri-me Minister in this debate at page 5891 of Hansard:

I have not one word to say against the loyalty to Canada of these men.

And the Secretary of State said:

I am quite free to admit, that, taken all in all, those who come from alien enemy countries have, in the main, during the progress of this war, conducted themselves satisfactorily within lines of obedience to the laws of Canada. It is not based ^>n any complaint of that kind that 'the principle embodied in this Bill is adopted.

Therefore I say that they are tearing up the srap of paper, for no reason of -a national nature whatever. There is no suggestion seriously made that those who have come amongst us and made this country tbeir home are -anti-British in their feelings, and no suggestion that, at the polls, they will select men who do not wish to carry on the war. The thing is a falsity on the face of it. Those residents of western Canada are represented in this House, as has been said before, by bon. gentlemen who, irrespective of their party affiliations, have stood for the prosecution of this war to the utmost, and there is no suggestion that that is not the case. We have in Canada to-day unfortunately, many men who are far more against the win-the-war policy, as hon. gentlemen opposite, boas-tingly call it, or the carrying-on of the war policy, than are those naturalized citizens. We have men holding riotious meetings in certain parts of our country. We have certain men in the unions of Canada who have pledged themselves against conscription and they are quite within their rights in so doing. There are men who will come out in the open and say that they do not approve of the methods of the present Government in reference to conscription. There are stronger argument against some of the men I have referred to than against these men in the West, who have kept silent. We have Mr. Bourassa and his press, and we have friends of the Government, who have preached to the people, and the first precept they would teach them was that, on no account, should they give any aid to Great Britain,and they were discouraging people

from helping us in the present war.

But there is no suggestion of disfranchising Mr. Bourassa, or Mr. Lavergne, o-r any o-f the friends, or quondam friends, of this present Government. The fact of the mat+ ter is that these German and Austrian citizens, so far as I know, came from Europe to disassociate themselves from the conditions which prevailed in their own coun-

tries, and they would be the very last to be filled with enthusiasm for those conditions, or the militaristic power in Germany. I am convinced that their wish is that the military powers in Germany may be crushed and overthrown. That is my belief, from my knowledge of the men, and there is no desire on their part that kaiser-ism, or the militaristic powers of the German Empire should be sustained. If, in this election which is coming, this great struggle, these people were allowed to vote they would have given their support to those pledged to win the war, because the candidates of both parties in the West will be in favour of a continuance of the prosecution of the war. If it could have gone forth to the world that the new citizens coming amongst us were filled with the desire to perpetuate, and to make victorious Canadian and British principles, it would have been one of the grandest encomiums that could have been pronounced, and one of the greatest compliments that could have been paid to Canadian and British statesmanship. It would have 'been a message, even to the Kaiser himself, that his militaristic days were numbered, that even those people from his own country were sending to Parliament men who were supporting the Allies in the prosecution of the war.

There is no way in which this Bill can be justified. If the Government were to lay down either of two broad principles I would say they might justify the Bill. The first principle would be this: that none should have the franchise unless they were actively engaged in the war. That principle, of course, is not laid down, and it would mean a straight military electorate. The other principle which they might lay down is that no one who is against the Government should have a vote. The Austrians and Germans in western Canada do not, generally speaking, live in cities, 'and they are largely Liberals for the same reason that English-speaking people in t'he country are Liberals, because they believe in the Liberal policy. We have not very many naturalized Austrians and Germans in our cities. They do not have to naturalize, and the people in the country . must be naturalized, in order to get their homesteads, and over 95 per cent of the voting power of the native-born Austrian and Hungarian is a rural, or agricultural vote, and it is Liberal, not because of the war, but because it believes in the principles of Liberalism, and does not believe

[Mr. Knowles. 1

in the perpetuation of the high tariff power now in Canada. The hon. gentlemen are not manly enough .to adopt the great broad principle that Liberals should be disfranchised and follow up that 'broad principle, but they come here in this insidious way, in this solicitor general way-I use the word in this sense as an adjective-and they beat round the bush, they draw red herrings across the trail, they split hairs, they appeal to race and passion and everybody in the country knows that this is a Bill for the perpetuation and the relief of the Conservative party, first, last and all the time, and it has no justification therefore, in the national way, and the Government itself is ashamed of the Bill.

I look upon this Bill as a great peril to us. If we are to lay down the principle that a government that is in power can go behind the Bill of Rights, and1 the principles of the Magna Charta, and can say, " We believe we must be perpetuated and continued in power, and we will disfranchise people who would vote against us," then the democracy is destroyed, and any tyrant who would assume power in this country could continue to possess that power, if you are going to once allow the principle that he is to be lalble, to dictate as to who will vote. I view Ithe matter with the greatest alarm, and I Tegret that the Bill is going through Parliament, and I say to hon. gentlemen, opposite-to the Minister of Trade and Commerce (Sir George Foster), who, in my opinion, is not a bitter partisan-that it is unfortunate that through the passage of this measure the day will never come in Canada when the tyrant will look in vain for a precedent when he is desirous of putting, his autocracy and his tyranny into effect. The day will never come when the wolf will not be able to look upon other instances in which the lamb has been devoured. The day will never come when autocrats will not have a precedent for asserting the German principle that "might is right." It is a sad day for Canada when we must admit that the Government, notwithstanding the fact that our boys are falling in the fight for the maintenance of our principles and our honour, have put before principle, before the honour of the country, political expediency and the( serving of their own party purposes.

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September 12, 1917


That would miake it


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