February 16, 1942

CENSORSHIP OF MAIL ADDRESSED TO MEMBERS OF PARLIAMENT

NAT

Richard Burpee Hanson (Leader of the Official Opposition)

National Government

Hon. R. B. HANSON (Leader of the Opposition):

I rise to a question of privilege, affecting not only myself but every member of this house. On January 21 the hon. member

for Rosetown-Biggar (Mr. Coldwell) raised a similar question. No answer, so far as I know, has been forthcoming from the government and I desire to demonstrate that the practice of which he complained is still continuing and to register my firmest and most emphatic protest against it.

I hold in my hand an air mail envelope postmarked "Wolfville, N.S."-which is in the constituency of the Minister of Finance (Mr. Ilsley)-"February 12, 1942." The end of this envelope has a label pasted over it, upon which appear the following words: "Examined by DB/C 106." This label obscures any initials which may have appeared on the envelope, but the following appears very clearly, "Hanson, Esq., M.P., Leader of the Opposition, Parliament Buildings, Ottawa, Ont." There could have been no doubt in the mind of the censor that this letter was addressed to me as a member of parliament and as leader of the opposition. The censor none the less took upon himself to open and examine this letter.

I protest, first of all, against that. In this connection I should like to draw the attention of the house to the reply made by the Postmaster General (Mr. Mulock) to the hon. member for Parkdale (Mr. Bruce) on January 21 last, Hansard, page 4463, in which the hon. member asked this question:

If any criticism of a department of government has been found, has such criticism been extracted from letters and sent with the name of the writer to the department involved?

The answer of the Postmaster General was:

Such extracts are referred in confidence to the head of the department concerned, when it is considered in the public interest to do so.

In other words, if this letter from the constituency of the Minister of Finance, addressed to me as a member of parliament and as leader of the opposition, had contained critical reference to the minister's conduct of his department, shall I say, it might have been referred to the minister.

Mr. Speaker, this is an intolerable situation and one which the members of this house cannot permit to continue. This practice converts a censorship, which exists solely for the purpose of securing the safety of the state in wartime, into a petty Gestapo spying upon members of parliament and others.

May I make it very clear that my protest is not based upon any objection to the contents of this particular letter being made known to anyone. I hold it in my hand and anybody who wants to do so can read it. The letter is merely a general condemnation of the plebiscite and I would have no hesitation in reading it to the house if anybody wants to hear it. My protest is based upon a principle and that principle I enunciate

592 COMMONS

Privilege-Mr. Hanson (York-Sunbury)

as follows: Mail addressed to any member of parliament or dispatched by any member of parliament must be considered inviolate and free from interference by any servant of the crown. Unless this principle is firmly established, I do not believe it is possible for members of parliament adequately to perform their duties. If it is possible, as it is, for a letter addressed by me to, shall I say, the leader of the Conservative party in Nova Scotia, or by such leader to me, to be examined by a censor and the contents thereof communicated to the Postmaster General or even to the Prime Minister himself, I do not see how anyone can continue to carry on the duties of leader of the opposition. I do not say that this has occurred, but, under the procedure followed, it may occur.

I propose to lay on the table of the house the envelope to which I have referred. I protest against this practice with all the vigour and emphasis at my command and I ask the house to deal with this violation of privilege. Unless I have an unequivocal assurance that this practice will be stopped immediately I shall take the earliest opportunity to assert by way of a motion the rights and privileges of members of this parliament.

Mr. Speaker, I am trying to carry on one of the functions of government-perhaps in an inadequate manner but nevertheless with all the loyalty and power at my command- but if I am to be subject to this sort of espionage, I shall protest to the utmost and if I get no redress I shall carry the matter to the court of public opinion.

Topic:   CENSORSHIP OF MAIL ADDRESSED TO MEMBERS OF PARLIAMENT
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LIB

William Lyon Mackenzie King (Prime Minister; Secretary of State for External Affairs; President of the Privy Council)

Liberal

Right Hon. W. L. MACKENZIE KING (Prime Minister):

May I say first, with respect to the underlying principles that are vital in the matter to which my hon. friend the leader of the opposition has just referred, that I am in entire agreement with him. May I also say that if what I have been told is correct, some of my own mail has been similarly opened by censors, against which I wish to protest just as strongly as he has done.

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NAT

Richard Burpee Hanson (Leader of the Official Opposition)

National Government

Mr. HANSON (York-Sunbury):

I am in good company.

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LIB

William Lyon Mackenzie King (Prime Minister; Secretary of State for External Affairs; President of the Privy Council)

Liberal

Mr. MACKENZIE KING:

It could not be better for either of us. May I say further something with which I am sure my hon. friend will be the first to agree. It is that great difficulties present themselves to some of the officials who are discharging public duties, in the matter of carrying out the instructions given to them. The letter to which my hon. friend has referred, as well as that referred to the other day, were air-mail letters, if I am not mistaken?

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NAT

Richard Burpee Hanson (Leader of the Official Opposition)

National Government

Mr. HANSON (York-Sunbury):

Yes.

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LIB

William Lyon Mackenzie King (Prime Minister; Secretary of State for External Affairs; President of the Privy Council)

Liberal

Mr. MACKENZIE KING:

And there is the further fact, I believe, that they came from areas known for certain military reasons as prohibited defence areas. I think there is a part of the district represented by the hon. Minister of Finance (Mr. Ilsley) which is a prohibited area.

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LIB

James Lorimer Ilsley (Minister of Finance and Receiver General)

Liberal

Mr. ILSLEY:

Halifax is, but I did not think any part of my constituency is.

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LIB

William Lyon Mackenzie King (Prime Minister; Secretary of State for External Affairs; President of the Privy Council)

Liberal

Mr. MACKENZIE KING:

I understand that part of Halifax is. I cannot say just how far the area extends, but there are certain prohibited defence areas and certain restrictions in regard to air mail coming from those areas. I should not be surpised if that and that alone is the reason for the opening of the letter of my hon. friend the leader of the opposition.

I can assure him that the last thing any member of the administration would wish is to have his mail or the mail of any hon. member opened for purposes of espionage or anything of the kind. I shall take up at once with the ministers concerned with censorship the representations which have been made, and see if it is not possible to have any occurrence of this kind prevented in the future. Hon. members will realize that in a time of war of necessity there are occasions when with the utmost desire to give the fullest discretion to officials they may err. on what they regard as the side of strict compliance with instructions. I am sure the present instance is one of that kind only.

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LIB

Olof Hanson

Liberal

Mr. HANSON (York-Suntbury):

I should like to add this: I realize that from a proclaimed defence area such as Halifax a good deal more care has to be taken than from an area which is not a defence area. But Wolf-ville is not a defence area. An air mail letter is mailed at Wolfville; I assume it goes to Halifax and takes the plane there. But it does not originate in Halifax. I think we ought to know what instructions are given to the censors. A letter directed by a citizen of this country to a member of parliament should not be opened even if it does take the plane at Halifax. I should like to know what the rules are.

In the early part of the war I was in Florida, and my family was living at Halifax, and all our mail was censored. I expected that; there was the element, an important one, of possible contravention of the regulations of the foreign exchange control board. Such mail was international in character. People have sought to send securities out of the country by mail, and the foreign exchange control board exercise some control over that through the censorship. That is quite proper. But mail from Wolfville to Ottawa surely should

Fall oj Singapore

never be opened. I cannot see on what principle they are opened. I suppose it is charitable to think that probably it is due to some too officious official. But that is not enough; we ought to know what the rules are.

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LIB

William Lyon Mackenzie King (Prime Minister; Secretary of State for External Affairs; President of the Privy Council)

Liberal

Mr. MACKENZIE KING:

I shall try to get for my hon. friend the information he has requested. I would only wish to substitute the word "conscientious" for "officious".

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NAT

Richard Burpee Hanson (Leader of the Official Opposition)

National Government

Mr. HANSON (York-Sunbury):

Well, I think it is officious.

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NAT

Herbert Alexander Bruce

National Government

Hon. H. A. BRUCE (Parkdale):

May I add a word in this connection, as I happened to bring this subject to the attention of the Postmaster General? The Prime Minister has said that he thought this opening of letters by the censors would apply only to air mail letters. In one case a letter was opened, an ordinary letter, mailed to my wife from Montreal. It happened to contain a Christmas card. It seems extraordinary that that should happen. I have been informed that on other occasions photostatic copies have been made of extracts from letters and these have been sent to the departments of government concerned when there has been criticism.

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LIB

William Lyon Mackenzie King (Prime Minister; Secretary of State for External Affairs; President of the Privy Council)

Liberal

Mr. MACKENZIE KING:

I think the last statement of my hon. friend is one on which the government should have a little more information. If he can advise me of any instance in which photostatic prints have been made from letters and sent to the government, I should like to have particulars.

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NAT

Richard Burpee Hanson (Leader of the Official Opposition)

National Government

Mr. HANSON (York-Sunbury):

The Postmaster General said it was done.

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THE WAR IN THE FAR EAST

FALL OF SINGAPORE-TRIBUTE TO HEROIC RESISTANCE OF ITS DEFENDERS


On the orders of the day:


LIB

William Lyon Mackenzie King (Prime Minister; Secretary of State for External Affairs; President of the Privy Council)

Liberal

Right Hon. W. L. MACKENZIE KING (Prime Minister):

Hon. members will I assume be anxious to know whether the government has received any information with regard to the critical situation in the far east which it is in a position to impart, beyond the momentous announcement made yesterday by the prime minister of Great Britain (Mr. Churchill) in the course of his world-wide broadcast that Singapore has fallen. Hon. members will I am sure appreciate the fact that such information as our government receives with respect to matters in the far east comes to us for the most part from London. There are very few connections between Canada and the far east if we except

the direct communications we have with Australia and New Zealand. So far as London itself is concerned the sources that may be regarded as reliable with respect to events and happenings in the far east are becoming increasingly limited, and in Britain the government itself is obliged to take additional precautions by way of investigating the reliability of information before sending it out.

We have thus far received no information that would throw additional light upon the situation in the far east, beyond the announcement that was made by the Prime Minister yesterday.

I am sure, however, that hon. members would not wish this fateful hour to pass without some recognition on the part of the parliament and the people of Canada of the heroic resistance of the defenders of Singapore, a resistance which will be recalled throughout time as comparable to any recorded chapter of valour and endurance. The position of the defenders of Singapore has deeply stirred the hearts of the Canadian people. It has made us more determined than ever to resist with all our might onslaughts of the enemy where-ever we can assist to that end, and to devote the utmost of our strength to the defence of freedom. This major reverse should not be allowed to become an excuse for undue pessimism, or undue recriminations. I should like to re-echo the words of the Prime Minister of Great Britain that as a people we must steel ourselves against "many misfortunes, severe and torturing losses, remorseless and gnawing anxieties." At the same time we must, with a faith that is stronger than ever, believe, again to quote Mr. Churchill, that the same qualities which brought the British people through the awful jeopardy of the summer of 1940 will bring all through this new ordeal.

Let me add, too, that with the Prime Minister of Great Britain I believe nothing could be more harmful at the present or any time than a lack of unity within our nation, or between the nations that to-day are united in seeking to preserve the liberties of mankind. We must stand together as never before in preserving our national unity and the unity of the united nations. For Canada the fall of Singapore should emphasize the gravity of the whole world situation. Coming, on the eve of the victory loan campaign, it should serve to bring forth from the people of Canada a full and immediate response to the loan as an essential factor in the war effort of our country.

Secret Session

Topic:   THE WAR IN THE FAR EAST
Subtopic:   FALL OF SINGAPORE-TRIBUTE TO HEROIC RESISTANCE OF ITS DEFENDERS
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SECRET SESSION OF THE HOUSE

February 16, 1942