On the orders of the day:
Hon. ANGUS L. MACDONALD (Minister of National Defence for Naval Services): I should like to make a statement with reference to certain remarks made in this house on Friday last by the hon. member for Gaspe (Mr. Roy). I might recall to the house that on May 12, I believe it was, I gave a statement to the press, and on the 13th I made a statement in this house, respecting sinkings on the eastern Canadian coast. In those statements I endeavoured' to lay down certain rules which should guide in further pronouncements of this nature. Subsequently to those dates, the chief censor for Canada, Colonel Biggar, in cooperation with the officers of the naval services, issued a circular which was directed to the newspapers of the country setting forth in greater detail the considerations which
should be kept in mind in making statements of this sort. I am very glad to say that the newspapers of this country have observed with the greatest care the suggestions made to them by Colonel Biggar.
I should like to point out that in Great Britain announcements of sinkings of merchant ships are not now made. For a time in the earlier days of the war it was the custom, in due course, to announce that certain vessels had been sunk and that the next of kin of the casualties, if there were any, had been notified. But in more recent months you will not find any such reports of sinkings in the British press. There are excellent reasons for that. In the first place any immediate announcement of sinkings will prevent the next of kin of casualties from being informed before the announcement is made. The result is that every person who has a friend or relative on these ships sailing the seas is in anxiety until he gets a letter from that friend. Consequently it is only proper, in common decency and Christianity, to wait for some time, and to inform the next of kin of casualties, and when the announcement of the sinking is made, to say that that has been done. Then everyone who has not been notified knows that his relative or friend is not involved in the sinking.
There is another reason, the main reason of course, which is that announcements of this sort are likely to give useful information to the enemy. That is the chief reason why some secrecy has to be maintained. The ways in which announcements of this sort may be of use to the enemy are many and varied. If he does not get the information from us, he has to work it out for himself. He has to separate rumour from fact; he has to judge of the reliability of his information, and in a hundred ways he may remain uncertain. But when we in this country, and particularly in this house, give him the information on a platter, then the thing is settled and he does not need to inquire any further as to the accuracy of the information.
As I say, the hon. member for Gaspe last Friday did not ask a question but made a statement. He said that three ships out of a convoy of fourteen had been sunk. The hon. member having made that statement, and having made it, I must assume, with every sense of his responsibility as a member of this house, and the matter having therefore become public and having been announced in the press of the country and on the radio of the country, I may now state, I think I am almost required to state to the house, that three ships belonging to the united nations were torpedoed and sunk in the gulf of St. Law-
rence about a week ago. I must add with regret that four members of the crews of those ships are known to have been killed, four are reported missing, and ninety-nine have been safely landed. I am glad to say one pleasant thing in what must be an unpleasant duty, and that is that the citizens of that region, the constituents of my hon. friend, and of other hon. members of this house too perhaps, have shown in this and in the other instance which occurred two months ago, the highest measure of charity and kindliness. They are not, I understand, wealthy people, they have little to give, but what they had to give they gave with a cheerful heart to those men who were perhaps worse off than themselves.
Information as to the sinking of these ships was in the possession of many people early last week. There is no doubt about that. Many people knew of it; it was known along the waterfronts of the country, it was known to the press by Monday or Tuesday of last week. The press refused to publish it; not one newspaper, so far as I know, endeavoured to make any use of this information until an official statement was made. It was in the possession of mjr hon, friend the leader of the opposition, because he had heard the story on the train and spoke to me about it. I felt it quite proper to inform my hon. friend as to the facts, asking him-what perhaps I did not have to ask him, because I knew I could rely on his good sense in the matter-to say nothing about it, and of course my hon. friend said nothing about it. So the information was widely known to people in this country. But I point out now-and it is a mistake that is commonly made-that people say to me, "Well, the public know about this anyway; why don't you make an announcement about it?" But there is a tremendous difference between Canadians knowing about something and Germans knowing about it. The entire people of this country might know of a sinking or some other event of that kind, but so long as that information did not get to Germany, so long as it was not made public in our papers or broadcast over our radio, the chances of its getting to Germany would be small. Of course once it is broadcast it becomes the property of the world. It is known in the United States, it becomes known in neutral countries; speedily it finds its way to Germany and is used there for propaganda purposes.
These rules laid down two months ago and repeated by the chief censor are not made for the purpose of keeping information from the people of Canada-not at all. They are made for the sole purpose of keeping
from the enemy information which may be of great value to him in directing the movement of his ships.
This brings up a much more serious question, one which concerns the rights and privileges of this house. There is very little use, there is very little purpose, in censoring the press and radio of the country if any hon. member of this house can stand in his place and, by asking a question, or by making a direct statement, as the hon. member for Gaspe did, undo the whole work of the censorship authorities and all the efforts of those who are endeavouring to ensure the safety of allied ships and allied seamen. We are constantly urging the average citizen to guard ihis tongue. You see noticesin almost every elevator. in public
buildings, in government buildings, urging people not to talk about the movements of ships or troops or the manufacture of munitions. "Guard your tongues", we are telling the people in French and English all the time. But how can we expect the average citizen of this country to guard his tongue if hon. members of this house do not guard theirs?
I will say this to the hon. member for Gaspe; had I been in the house on Friday I think I should have felt constrained to rise and ask this house to expunge from the record the statement which he made. Thereby it would not have become a public statement. But he having made it, and it having been allowed to stand on Hansard, it of course became public; and the members of the press gallery had a right to use it. But if this sort of thing is to go on; if any hon. member can stand up and, by innuendo, by question, by statement, jeopardize the whole security system of this country, then I am afraid it will be necessaiy for someone to say that statements of that kind will either not be allowed to be made or, if made, will not become part of the record of this house.
My hon. friend talks of the protection of his constituents. I would say to my hon. friend that statements such as he made are not adding a single jot or tittle to the safety of his constituents; on the contrary they endanger the lives of his constituents. I would say further that there are other people in this country, other citizens of Canada, who are in greater danger, or are much nearer the battle line, much nearer the danger zone, than his constituents; and not once have I heard from that easternmost part of Canada any break of this kind. Not once have I heard an hon. member from the easternmost provinces of Canada rise in his place and ask questions of this kind. Not once in the newspapers of that part of the country, where information as to the movements of ships is fuller and more complete than anywhere elsp.