May 21, 1935


The house resumed from Tuesday, April 16, 1935, consideration of the motion of Mr. Ernst that the house go into committee on Bill No. 43, for the relief of Clarence MacGregor Roberts.


UFA

Michael Luchkovich

United Farmers of Alberta

Mr. MICHAEL LUCHKOVIGH (Vegre-ville):

Mr. Speaker, before the Easter recess

I made the remark that connivance, condonation or collusion were grounds for rejection; in other words, that they were defences, so far as the respondent was concerned, against the granting of a divorce to the petitioner. The hon. member for Queens-Lunenburg (Mr. Ernst) asked me this question:

Will the hon. member permit a question? Will he indicate where in the evidence there is shown to be any connivance with respect to the particular act on which this petition is based?

I do not intend to speak at any great length on this matter to-night, because I realize that there are other more important matters awaiting the consideration of the members of this house. Therefore my remaining remarks in this regard will be very brief. The evidence shows that Mr. Roberts obtained for Mrs. Roberts a pass to Reno. He had no objection whatever to her proceeding to Reno; indeed, he did everything to make it possible for her to go there in order to get a divorce. To my way of thinking that certainly was an act of connivance; there must have 'been some incentive, otherwise the petitioner would not have done that. In summing up the evidence before the private bills committee the solicitor for the petitioner, Mr. Ker, stated that Mrs. Roberts was using this Reno divorce as a cloak to cover up her relations with the corespondent, Mr. Jenkins. I think that argument could be used both ways. If it was a cloak with which Mrs. Roberts covered up her relations with this corespondent it might be said just as easily that it was a cloak which was used to cover up the relations of the petitioner with this so called Miss X.

In his memorandum to the members of the House of Commons, Mr. Roberts makes

Clarence MacGregor Roberts

much of the fact that prior to this case being heard by the private bills committee a memorandum was sent to the members of that committee by the respondent, but Mr. Roberts is doing the same thing when he sends his memorandum not only to the members of the committee 'but to every member of this chamber. In other words he regards as a sin what has been done by his wife but as a virtue what he has done himself, in sending this memorandum to all the members of the house. When Mr. Roberts says the members of the private bills committee have been misled and deceived might I remind him that the circulation of this memorandum certainly has not done anything to shed any new light on the situation. If anything the petitioner has hurt his case rather than helped it. The first paragraph of this memorandum reads as follows:

Before the senate committee the act of adultery was proven definitely by three reliable witnesses whose evidence was unshaken in cross-examination and accepted by the senate. The evidence of respondent and corespondent in denial is valueless. The record shows various instances where they have directly contradicted themselves when confronted with sworn statements made in the Montreal courts, and' the fact that they deceived petitioner by going to Maine and living in the same house for two weeks is conclusive as to their relationship.

Might I remind the house that these three gentlemen mentioned by the petitioner were unemployed at the time and were hired by the petitioner to get evidence against Mrs. Roberts, the respondent. The evidence they secured was of a very dubious and suspicious character. It seems to me that the evidence was made too convenient for these three so-called detectives; the stage was set too perfectly for them, as is shown in the evidence. This Mrs. Roberts, the respondent, and this Mr. Jenkins, the corespondent, were charged with committing the offence upon which this petition was based in the living room, with all the blinds up, with a bridge lamp and a ceiling light burning and with an uncle washing dishes in the adjacent kitchen. While this alleged offence was being committed these three detectives-tomcats I might call them-were upon the roof of an adjacent building opposite, fifteen feet away. These tomcats with the microscopic eyes were up on that roof when they should have been down in the lane below rummaging among the tin cans and the refuse contained therein. They were prowling about under the starlight and the radiant beams of a midnight moon when they should have been announcing their presence to the respondent from the back gate or the back fence. Instead of that they made their way-pussyfooted, as it were-into this respondent's boudoir. I do not attach very much credence to the evidence of these so-called detectives.

As I have already said, the evidence is of too suspicious and too dubious a nature for any hon. member to believe. So far as the main incident to which reference is made in paragraph 1 of the memorandum is concerned, I say Mr. Roberts, the petitioner, might have given us an account of the three weeks' journey with the so-called Madam X. He describes the relations of Mrs. Roberts, his wife, with Mr. Jenkins, the corespondent, as flagrant misconduct. In other words according to his view it is a sin for his wife to run around with another man but it was a virtue for him to run around with Madam X. I do not know why he has called her Madam X, unless it be that there was a long string of women whom he designated 'by letters of the alphabet and that at this time he had reached the letter X. Probably Madam X had had the most recent claim to his affections.

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LIB

Samuel William Jacobs

Liberal

Mr. JACOBS:

May I remind the hon. gentleman that X is the unknown quantity.

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UFA

Michael Luchkovich

United Farmers of Alberta

Mr. LUCHKOVICH:

Yes; certainly it is an unknown quantity, so far as this case is concerned. I believe the principle was established two years ago in the private bills committee that unless a petitioner came before that committee with clean hands he would not be granted a divorce. Does the hon. member for Queens-Lunenburg wish to upset that principle? If he has his way in this chamber undoubtedly he will ask for a vote to-day, but I would say the proper procedure would be to send the matter back to the committee for reconsideration, and have it dealt with as on previous occasions other matters have been considered.

So far as the attempt by the solicitor for the petitioner is concerned to blacken the character of the respondent by attempting to show that upon occasions she threw ash trays at her husband, I should like to ask whether there is a woman anywhere who is so virtuous that at some time or another during her life she has not thrown something at her husband, especially when he came home at an ungodly hour with the hiccoughs, whether it be an ash tray, a poker, a broom, a wash pail or possibly an axe handle. I say the arguments in this connection hold no water.

Members of the House of Commons committee have been accused of being too sentimental and humane in these matters, and the suggestion is made that we have not adhered to the strict letter of the law. It is true that

Clarence MacGregor Roberts

I have chosett to take the humane view rather than that of adhering to the strict letter of the law. I have before me the paragraph on which I based my reasons for my vote when the matter was before the private bills committee. At page 628 of Bourinot we find the following:

... for the decisions of the House of Lords on bills of divorce have not the weight that attaches to the regular legal tribunals. The majority determines, and in a minority on a vote may be found men of learning, wisdom and experience, expressing opinions adverse to the determination, more in accordance with the eternal principles of truth and justice.

The evidence was heard by the senate committee, and that committee passed the bill by a vote of four to three. In view of that small majority it would seem that there must have been some grave doubts in the mind's of the members of that committee. In other words there were at least three men in the committee who cast their votes on the grounds I have quoted, namely in accordance with "the eternal principles of truth and justice." So far as I am concerned I have considered the custody of the children and the fact that so far as the offences charged in the divorce proceedings are concerned both husband and wife might have been equally guilty. With that in mind we decided not to pass the preamble to the bill.

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LAB

Humphrey Mitchell

Labour

Mr. HUMPHREY MITCHELL (East Hamilton):

Mr. Speaker, I shall not detain the house very long. In my view the whole affair, apart altogether from the justice of the application, must bring clearly before this chamber the insane policy of adjudicating upon matters of this description. The matter having been dealt with by the senate committee and by a committee of the house-and in passing it may be fair to say that probably ninety per cent of the members of this chamber have not read the evidence-we are asked to make a decision simply because one of the members of the committee has felt the matter should be carried to the floor of the house. I believe this should be an object lesson to indicate the necessity for bringing about the adoption throughout the whole dominion of a policy already followed in some provinces under which cases of this description are not considered by parliament. When a committee is sitting we see members walking in and out as the evidence proceeds. Many of the members do not attend. I wonder what the complaint would be if members of a jury acted in the same manner. We should be frank and in the interests of British justice and fair play admit it would be far better if cases of this type were decided in the courts in a

dignified manner rather than in the atmosphere which sometimes prevails in committees charged with dealing with divorce cases.

I have always taken the view that the first consideration in these matters should be that of the children; secondly would come the woman and then the man. We make no provision whatsoever for the children nor do we make any provision for the wife. I believe conditions would be more satisfactory if the courts were given the responsibility of deciding the right and wrong in these matters and in the present instance I suggest the house should accept the decision of its committee. After the evidence had been presented I decided that there had been connivance that they were both guilty that they had both agreed to have the Reno divorce, and that when the husband thought he would get his fingers burned he jumped out and she went ahead to get the divorce. I have maintained that when we have circumstances such as have been described it is better not to enter into a discussion. I believe it would be in the best interests of the children and of the other parties concerned if the decision of the committee were carried out. It should be noted that the vote in the committee was almost two to one against granting the divorce. We listened to the pleadings of counsel on both sides counsel for the petitioner admitting that there had been connivance in the matter. I think under the circumstances the house would be well advised not to listen to the pleadings of one member of the committee, although of course he is merely exercising his right as a member of the House of Commons in seeking to have the decision of the committee reversed. The hon. member is probably a brilliant lawyer, but a man may be a brilliant lawyer and a university man with many degrees and still lack judgment, and I would rather accept the next to unanimous view of the committee than the judgment of simply one individual member of that committee.

In conclusion I reiterate, Mr. Speaker, what I got on my feet primarily to put before the house. I am not going into the details of this unhappy case at all. Personally I would not believe the word of a private detective, having some knowledge of them in connection with labour disputes, if he stood on a pile of bibles as high as this House of Commons. I feel that I have made a contribution in putting before this house the plea that cases of this kind should be passed upon by the courts rather than by committees of the Senate and House of Commons. I hope that the house in its

Clarence MacGregor Roberts

judgment will agree with the overwhelming opinion expressed by the committee that this divorce be not granted.

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CON

Edward Armour Peck

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. E. A. PECK (West Peterborough):

Mr. Speaker, as a member of the private bills committee and having heard the evidence and argument before that committee, I should like to say a few words in opposition to the motion which is before the chair.

I think we ought to consider very seriously this motion as it might affect the life of one of our citizens, and that citizen a woman. If the motion carries, the respondent in this case is going to be charged with what is possibly in the minds of some people the worst offence of which a woman can be guilty, disloyalty to her husband; and not only would it brand her with that disloyalty but in all probability it would have the effect of separating her from her children and depriving her of the support of her husband. It is a very serious matter. This woman has strenuously opposed the charge which has been made against her. She has fought this case as hard as she could before the senate committee. The seven members of that committee were unable to agree, after hearing the testimony, that she was guilty of the charge against her. The senate committee divided with a very narrow majority of four to three. Then the case came before the private bills committee of the house, where we considered the testimony and heard the argument and voted on the question, and the committee to which this case had been referred by this house came to the conclusion by a majority of over two to one-I think the vote stood at 21 to 9-that the woman was not guilty and that the petition should be dismissed. Then the matter came before the house by way of report from the chairman of the committee, and the report was adopted. Now at this late stage we are asked to reopen the whole matter, and the question is brought up through a form of procedure that as far as my experience in this house goes has never before been attempted. I have sat in this house for ten years and I have never heard of any report of the private bills committee being upset, certainly not any report dealing with a matrimonial case. I do think that this is a most unusual proceeding and that it should not be permitted to establish a precedent in this house for the future.

I refrain from dealing with the testimony. I quite agree with the hon. member for Lisgar (Mr. Brown) that we should not in an open sitting of this house deal with matters of this kind. We are dealing with a question of fact. We are sitting here either as jury or as judges,

and whichever way you look at it we are not properly constituted to be a court of appeal because we have not before us the litigants nor have the litigants the opportunity of appearing before us through their counsel. It seems to me a most unwise proceeding for us sitting here as members of the house to undertake to deal with this question, which after all is a question of fact. I submit, therefore, that if there is any doubt in the minds of any of the members and they feel that this matter should be further considered, it should be done by a reference back to the private bills committee, or by a reference of the case to a special committee, or by reference to a judge. The case might be dealt with in any one of these ways, but I do submit that we should not at this stage undertake to reverse the decision of a tribunal appointed by this house which has given this matter the fullest consideration. I submit, Mr. Speaker, that the motion should be negatived.

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CON

Samuel Gobeil

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. SAMUEL GOBEIL (Compton):

Mr. Speaker, it has been stated that we of the Catholic church would in any event vote against divorce on account of our religious principles. That is true, but I wish to remind the house that where there is no dissent, as there is in this case, we always refrain from expressing our opinion. But in this particular case I do not want to vote without making a few remarks. I do not wish to repeat what has been said on a previous occasion and again to-night, but I do not think there can be any doubt that there has been connivance between the petitioner and the respondent. I am not quite sure that it has been mentioned here that the husband provided his wife with a pass to Reno so that she could obtain a divorce. It is quite true that the pass was not used when the petitioner found that a divorce in Reno would not help him in Canada. There are other facts that clearly establish connivance between the petitioner and the respondent.

There is this other angle. It seems to me that a petitioner when he asks for a divorce should come before the senate committee with clean hands. While I have not read the whole of the evidence there is not a doubt in my mind that the petitioner is not in that situation. I will not say that the petitioner is worse than the respondent, but I say that he certainly did not come before the committee with clean hands.

Another reason why I cannot vote in favour of this motion is that the respondent is a mother who from the start seems to' have cared for her children. In the letter that was read before the committee by the hon. mem-

Clarence MacGregor Roberts

ber for Queens-Lunenburg (Mr. Ernst), and which will be found at page 106 of the evidence, I find these two paragraphs:

You wanted a divorce at one time, Greg, and made me feel for nearly a year I was in the way. Only the good God above knows what I suffered during that time and for a long time after-I am sure you can't know what a blow it can mean to a wife and mother to know there is someone else who is taking her place.

Later on in the letter she writes:

I had begun to think you had other reasons besides the one you gave me-and worried through sleepless nights if you would not stick to your word about the children either. You promised them to me, Greg, I doubt if I would have come out as soon as I did if we had not talked this affair over and you wished me to get away as soon as possible.

The respondent apparently has always cared for her children as should a respectable mother. The care of the children will probably be affected by the decision of this house. A case is now pending in the courts to decide whether the wife or husband shall have the care of the children, and there is no doubt that if this divorce is granted the children will not be given to the mother. The wife is asking for a certain amount of money for the care of the children and for her own needs, and that question will probably be affected by the decision of this house. I have no desire to prevent a vote on this question but I do want to state my reasons for voting against the motion.

Mr. LESLIE G. BELL (St. Antoine): Mr. Speaker, before entering the chamber this evening I had no intention of speaking on this bill. The hon. member for Compton (Mr. Gobeil) belongs to a different faith from that to which I belong, but my faith is also opposed to divorce. Aside from these questions there is the responsibility of a member of parliament in connection with questions of this sort which at times must be aired in the house. The demands of this humble petitioner should receive justice.

What are the facts of this case? A man and a woman are married and they cannot agree. Rightly or wrongly there is connivance, or whatever you wish to call it, and the woman proceeds to Reno and obtains an American divorce. It is all right for the hon. member to ask about the children, but did this woman think about her children when she went to Reno and obtained an American divorce? Not at all. After getting her divorce she comes back to Montreal, but does she want to live as a divorced woman? No, she wants to live as a married woman. Why? Because she will then be able to obtain alimony from her husband in the courts of the province of

Quebec. Either this woman is right or she is wrong; either she wants a divorce or she does not want a divorce. This parliament is her last court of appeal. When the husband came to the senate committee to ask for a divorce, what haippens? He proved adultery against this woman. That evidence was submitted to the senate committee and he was granted a divorce.

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LIB
CON
LIB
CON

Leslie Gordon Bell

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. BELL (St. Antoine):

My hon. friend

says, "What about him?" Has anything been proved against him?

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LIB
CON

Leslie Gordon Bell

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. BELL (St. Antoine):

He admits what? He has never admitted anything. It has never been proved that this man has done a wrong thing.

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LIB
CON

Leslie Gordon Bell

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. BELL (St. Antoine):

Nothing has been proved against Miss X, not a thing. Unfortunately the hon. member has been charmed by the good looks of this woman and he claims that this man has acted as wrongly as his wife.

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LIB

William Duff

Liberal

Mr. DUFF:

The hon. member for St.

Antoine (Mr. Bell) should be the last man to accuse me of being charmed by a woman. I have been a member of this house for twenty years, and there is no one can cast reflections upon me.

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CON
LIB

William Duff

Liberal

Mr. DUFF:

You had better, and quickly. Otherwise I will tell the hon. member something he would not want to hear.

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CON

Leslie Gordon Bell

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. BELL (St. Antoine):

I am ready to hear anything the hon. member wishes to say.

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LIB

May 21, 1935