April 22, 1929

LIB

John Frederick Johnston (Deputy Speaker and Chair of Committees of the Whole of the House of Commons)

Liberal

Mr. DEPUTY SPEAKER:

Then it is

necessary to put the motion again. It is moved by Mr. Sanderson and seconded by Mr. Hepburn that Bill 96 be now read a second time.

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LAB

James Shaver Woodsworth

Labour

Mr. WOODSWORTH:

Thank you. Since the motion is only now properly before the house I suppose my forty minutes will begin from this time.

There is another question which has come to my mind very definitely during the course of these discussions. The leader of the opposition has taken the ground that parliament is a high court. I do not know that from a 'legal standpoint I am competent to differ from him, but I cannot believe that in any real sense, in the sense which concerns us in dealing with these bills, this parliament is a court.

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LIB

Charles Avery Dunning (Minister of Railways and Canals)

Liberal

Mr. DUNNING:

Will the hon. member

permit me to interrupt for a moment? A moment ago I understood him to mention the name of the Minister of Railways. I am anxious to leave the chamber and I would appreciate it if my hon. friend would go ahead and connect me with this bill in the way he wishes in order that I may hear it before I leave. I did not gather what he was saying.

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LAB

James Shaver Woodsworth

Labour

Mr. WOODSWORTH:

I will go back: I

was suggesting that the promoter of this bill, who objects to that word and who would like to be called the sponsor, agrees with the Minister of Railways that we, as members of parliament, are simply judges and that at this stage we have nothing to say with regard to the underlying principle involved. The Minister of Railways together with the promoter or sponsor of this bill voted against a divorce court for Ontario, but they come now and say, "Well, we are in a hopeless position; having voted against a divorce court for Ontario there is nothing else we can do but go ahead with bills of this character. We are simply judges having nothing whatever to say with regard to the principle involved." It is a curious situation when we consider that on one occasion we sit here as law makers and, with the help of the Minister of Railways and the promoter of this bill, reject a bill which sought to take these matters out of our hands; then a few minutes later we appear as jurors, supposed to carry on under regular a,nd judicial procedure; and we are told that we, as jurors, cannot discuss the underlying principle of divorce.

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LIB

Charles Avery Dunning (Minister of Railways and Canals)

Liberal

Mr. DUNNING:

In quoting my remarks

the hon. member goes a certain distance correctly, but I think he knows himself the point at which he departed from that path.

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LAB

James Shaver Woodsworth

Labour

Mr. WOODSWORTH:

I should be glad to have an explanation.

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LIB

Charles Avery Dunning (Minister of Railways and Canals)

Liberal

Mr. DUNNING:

So far as the principle is concerned, once the house has determined that a certain method shall not be followed then it is thrown back upon the method which the constitution of this country provides, and that method this bill seeks to follow. The hon. member talks about the principle, but I think he is a little bit confused as to what principle really is in relation to a bill of this character.

Mr. WOODSW7ORTH: I have thought all along that the underlying principle of these bills was the principle of the granting of divorce.

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LIB

Charles Avery Dunning (Minister of Railways and Canals)

Liberal

Mr. DUNNING:

This bill falls within the scope of the constitution in connection with divorce, that is all.

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LAB

James Shaver Woodsworth

Labour

Mr. WOODSWORTH:

We have no constitution with respect to divorce; we have a constitution which says that it is within the competence of parliament to grant a divorce, but the constitution does not say anything with regard to the circumstances under which the divorce shall be granted. Under the constitution we are quite free to give these matters to another court. It is quite true that the house, with the help of the Minister of Railways and the sponsor of this bill, has rejected that particular method, but I take it that the Minister of Railways and the sponsor of the bill are beginning to get restless when they realize the result of their action.

The Minister of Railways joins with the leader of the opposition in saying that to a certain extent we are a court.

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LIB

Charles Avery Dunning (Minister of Railways and Canals)

Liberal

Mr. DUNNING:

The hon. member is quite correct.

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LAB

James Shaver Woodsworth

Labour

Mr. WOODSWORTH:

And that we have to act more or lees as impartial jurors. I submit that that is absolutely impossible. The hon. member for Labelle (Mr. Bourassa) and other members of the house have disqualified themselves from voting on a measure of this kind. The hon. member stood in his place and said, "Under no circumstances whatever can I vote in favour of these bills." I submit that he would be challenged in any court in Canada and would not be permitted to sit as a juror. That would be true also of the majority of those who voted against the Ontario divorce bill. Those who voted against that bill on principle-there may be some who voted against it as a matter of political expediency-and whose position is that under

17S7

Procedure Respecting Divorce

no circumstances are they justified in passing any act for the granting of divorces, are absolutely disqualified from acting as jurors in a court of this character. They are prejudiced jurors; they have declared themselves, and the people who, as we are told, have paid their money and gone to a great deal of expense in coming here with petitions for divorce are faced with the curious situation that approximately a third of their jury are prejudiced. I challenge their right to vote on a bill of this character. The same thing is true when these bills are before the private bills committee, because approximate^ one-third of the members of that committee have conscientious convictions with regard to the granting of divorce. They are opposed to it, so they are prejudiced jurors.

I take it that they would be challenged in any court of justice, and I challenge them here to-day. We want to do the fair thing to those who come before this house; if they hav-e a right to a divorce let us give them that divorce, but do not let us put ourselves in the position where a third of the members of the court are so prejudiced that the case cannot receive a fair hearing. Some of us are driven to the rather extreme position of voting against these bills, not because we are opposed to divorce but because we are opposed to the whole procedure, and at the present stage we see no other way of accomplishing our purpose of bringing about a change in procedure.

If I understand the rules aright, any five members of the house can demand a roll call vote. A few of us in this comer of the house, along with one or two on the other side, have called for these divisions. But what about the forty, fifty or sixty other members who on religious grounds are opposed to divorce? Why do they not call for a roll call division-if they are in earnest about preventing divorces? Why do they not do everything they can to protest against divorce? Why do they not realize what is going on in the house and come out openly and do all they can to prevent these bills passing? Because they know perfectly well that this is not a true court; they know perfectly well that in this atmosphere we cannot conform closely to judicial procedure; hence for years they have let these bills slip through and the speaker has simply declared them passed "on division." So far as I am concerned I do not intend to take the responsibility of continuing to ask for a roll call division. A single member has only a certain amount of power or influence in this house, but I do urge that w7e should ask that a vote be taken, if only

the yeas and nays. I would not like to be accused of holding up the house by insisting upon a roll call division each time, but I should like to have every bill passed separately and with some semblance of decorum.

Some of us have been accused of introducing this matter simply because we were piqued at the non-passage of the Ontario divorce bill. Personally, I have no interest in that bill. It is true I sponsored it-to use the term of the sponsor of this bill-in the house, but I did that because year after year it has come up and no one has taken care of it. When it was defeated I was in no different position from that occupied by other members, but there seemed to be no way of impressing this house and the country with the seriousness of the situation other than by bringing on a debate or a series of debates of this character.

I have no intention of resorting to mere obstructionist tactics. The course followed has been actuated by the desire that the house should be more clearly apprised of the seriousness of the situation. Later on, some of us may feel called upon to move certain amendments in committee, amendments which, I believe, ought to be placed in every divorce bill.

The leader of the opposition made rather a telling point when he said that we ought not to go into the details of evidence at this stage. I will not insist on those details being brought out in the house, but we ought to have, as in this bill we have already had, a certain outline of the case.

If ever I felt any qualms of conscience with regard to taking up the time of the house in connection with such matters as this, they have been all set at rest by some of the communications I have received in the last few days. Only last Friday night I had a letter from a poor woman whose husband is seeking a divorce. The case will come before us a little later on. For reasons that I think the house will appreciate, I do not want to give publicity to the name of the woman, but I wish to read the letter as an instance of what is going on and how unsatisfactory the present procedure is. The case is a Quebec one. I have not had time to go down to the city of Montreal to investigate the matter. Years ago I had something to do with trying to determine the authenticity of certain documents and I remember we used to distinguish between internal evidence and external evidence. I have no external evidence at all with regard to the genuineness of this case, with regard to the truthfulness of the woman's statements, but there is certain internal evidence which would indicate that her statements are true.

Procedure Respecting Divorce

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LIB-PRO

John Livingstone Brown

Liberal Progressive

Mr. BROWN:

Has the ease been passed on by the senate committee?

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LAB

James Shaver Woodsworth

Labour

Mr. WOODSWORTH:

It has been before the senate committee and is shortly to come before us. I would rather the hon. member did not ask me the particular name.

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LIB-PRO

John Livingstone Brown

Liberal Progressive

Mr. BROWN:

There is no danger of my

doing that. The demand for details will all come from elsewhere.

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LAB

James Shaver Woodsworth

Labour

Mr. WOODSWORTH:

Let me read a few extracts from this letter. She says:

I have never had the chance to defend myself, and for five years I had had to endure insults from my husband's people. I have never been really mistress of my home.

Again:

I have been a good wife and mother for five years with this one exception and all that I have done

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LIB

Charles A. Stewart (Superintendent-General of Indian Affairs; Minister of Mines; Minister of the Interior)

Liberal

Mr. STEWART (Edmonton):

I rise to a

point of order. My hon. friend is quoting from a letter and he must know perfectly well that if he reads a letter, he must lay it on the table. If he does not want to table the letter, he should not read it.

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LAB

James Shaver Woodsworth

Labour

Mr. WOODSWORTH:

There is no rule in this house which makes me lay a private letter upon the table.

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LIB

Charles A. Stewart (Superintendent-General of Indian Affairs; Minister of Mines; Minister of the Interior)

Liberal

Mr. STEWART (Edmonton):

I object to the reading of private letters in the House of Commons. My hon. friend is insisting on all evidence coming out, but he is giving us only partial evidence. Surely we should have the whole of it, not scraps.

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LAB

James Shaver Woodsworth

Labour

Mr. WOODSWORTH:

I am reading a

letter that came to me. I have not tried to make this a point of evidence in the case.

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LIB

Charles A. Stewart (Superintendent-General of Indian Affairs; Minister of Mines; Minister of the Interior)

Liberal

Mr. STEWART (Edmonton):

What is it if it is not evidence in the case?

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April 22, 1929