March 28, 1945

PRIVILEGE-MR. POULIOT ALLEGED TAPPING OF TELEPHONE WIRES USED BY MEMBERS OF PARLIAMENT


Mr. JEAN-FRANQOIS POULIOT (Temis-couata): Mr. Speaker, I regret profoundly to have to rise to a question of privilege to claim respect for the privileges which you have, sir, and which every private member of this house should have. I will admit that in time of war there may be certain curtailments of liberties and of freedom, but there are some rights that belong to members of parliament which must be jealously guarded by each one of us because they affect all of us. If you ask me, sir, what is the subject matter of my question of privilege, I will tell you that it is an abuse which some members have noticed for some time and many members from all parts of the house have mentioned to me, namely, the tapping of telephone wires and the recording by the Bell Telephone officials or by government officials of private conversations of members of parliament.


LIB

George Alexander Cruickshank

Liberal

Mr. CRUICKSHANK:

Was she a blonde?

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IND

Jean-François Pouliot

Independent Liberal

Mr. POULIOT:

Some members may joke

about it, and I regret very deeply that some other members laugh at such silly remarks as that just made. It is a shame to them. It means that they know nothing of the rights of members of parliament; they know nothing of what we claim as our rights in a democratic country.

On Wednesday or Thursday, in the middle of last week, I telephoned to inquire about my son,, who was not well, and I heard a noise that lasted two minutes over the telephone- I wonder if I will have to pay for it. On Sunday night last I telephoned from Riviere du Loup to Ottawa, to a friend of mine of the press gallery, and there was the same noise, but this time it was not for so long. This morning I had a lengthy conversation with an official of the Department of Labour who had come to my county and done such good work that I telephoned to the Minister of Labour (Mr. Mitchell) to congratulate him on the efficiency of that official. Again I heard the same noise. That means that not only are our long distance calls tapped but also our local calls; I wonder if there is a member of parliament with a head on his shoulders who will tolerate that for a moment! It is an abuse and a crime and it is on behalf of my colleagues as well as myself, on behalf of all those who want the privileges of parliament to be respected that I denounce this practice.

Here is what I ask. I ask that the president and the general manager of the Bell Telephone company be called as witnesses before a committee of this house to give evidence under oath with respect to this matter. I want also to have the sworn evidence of the manager of the Bell Telephone company in this city of Ottawa, in Toronto, in Montreal, in Winnipeg, in Quebec City, in Halifax and in Saint John, and then we shall know who is responsible for this thing.

My last word is this. WThen there is a fight for democracy in the whole world, I do not see why such Himmler methods are practised in this country; and I hope that when the Prime Minister goes to San Francisco he will not go there as the leader of a government which might be a gestapo, and an ogpu combined.

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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):

I do not know whether I caught the significance of the last words of the hon. member, but if he was reflecting in any way on the government in the matter to which he has referred I would ask him to prefer some charge in the proper way and we shall see that it is investigated.

May I say that the fact that conversations may be heard over a telephone is nothing new. I remember many years ago having been appointed as a commissioner to look into the question of the conditions under which telephone operators worked, and I found, much to my surprise at the time, that the exchanges had what were known as "listening boards" for the express purpose of taking down conversations which were heard over the telephone. The matter was brought up in this House of Commons, and if I am not mistaken a measure was subsequently passed making it an offence to disclose any information which was obtained in that way. The reason given at the time was that the companies found it desirable to know whether telephones were being used for private purposes or for business purposes. It has been public knowledge ever since that there is the possibility of conversations over the phone being heard by others in some way. But to insinuate that a government is adopting methods of espionage in connection with the use of the telephone or the telegraph is going very far. May I tell the hon. member that I do not think there is the slightest justification for believing that any department of this government, or any government, would lend itself to that kind of thing.

Privilege-Mr. Pouliot

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IND

Jean-François Pouliot

Independent Liberal

Mr. POULIOT:

If the right hon. gentleman will permit me, my information is that it is a war service rendered by the Bell Telephone company to the government.

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NAT

Gordon Graydon (Leader of the Official Opposition)

National Government

Mr. GORDON GRAYDON (Leader of the Opposition):

May I say that this is a matter which, of course, affects the membership of the house at large. I know nothing about the charges or allegations made by the hon. member for Temiscouata (Mr. Pouliot) but it is shocking if that situation exists, and I suggest to the Prime Minister that if charges are made, perhaps the proper standing committee, that on privileges and elections, might be convened, assuming the situation is such as requires an investigation of this kind. We should not have the slightest breath of suspicion upon the government or upon parliament in respect of a matter which affects in such a vital way the members of the House of Commons. I think that is a fundamental right which we all have, and I would not like to think that it was being impaired in any way.

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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 something will have to be preferred in the nature of a charge with sufficient evidence to warrant investigation. The government cannot be investigating every allegation or rumour which is made. But no one is or could be more anxious than myself to prevent anything of the kind being even a matter of suspicion.

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NAT

Richard Burpee Hanson

National Government

Hon. R. B. HANSON (York-Sunbury):

May I suggest that the Prime Minister make inquiry at his early convenience in the ministry of war services to see if they maintain a service of listening in? I do not know anything about this charge-if it can be dignified by that term; I do not think it can-of the hon. member for Temiscouata. But I had reason to believe between 1940 and 1943, when I had the honour of leading the opposition, that something of that sort was going on, and I think I had the manager of the Bell Telephone Company in to see me. I know this, that all my telegrams were censored, that they were read, and I protested most vigorously against it. It was possible to have excerpts taken from my telegrams and letters. But no harm came of it and the matter was allowed to drop.

I think there may be some basis for the position taken by the hon. member for Temiscouata; and the only ministry I can think of which would know about this is the controlling censorship branch.

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CCF

Major James William Coldwell

Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (C.C.F.)

Mr. M. J. COLDWELL (Rosetown-Biggar):

No evidence has been placed before the house on this matter, and we have had the assurance of the Prime Minister with regard

to it. I believe there is authority under the defence of Canada regulations to do this kind of thing and I have heard it said that it has been done. I think it would be in the interests of the government and of this house if some inquiry were made. The Minister of Justice (Mr. St. Laurent), who is in charge of the defence of Canada regulations, may know definitely whether anything of this sort is done; and perhaps he would be prepared to give the house an assurance after himself inquiring into the matter. It should be cleared up, because we hear these suggestions from time to time, and the power, I believe, does lie, under the defence of Canada regulations, with the ministry.

Hon. L. S. ST. LAURENT (Minister of Justice): I know of no censorship of telephone conversations; but I will inquire from the commissioner of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, who is in charge of the security services, as to whether or not there is any system of the kind in vogue.

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NAT

Richard Burpee Hanson

National Government

Mr. HANSON (Y'ork-Sunbury):

Better

inquire of your colleague the Minister of National War Services (Mr. LaFleche) too.

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ROYAL AIR FORCE

LOSS OP AIRCRAFT EN ROUTE TO CANADA WITH AIR MINISTRY OFFICIALS

LIB

Colin William George Gibson (Minister of National Defence for Air)

Liberal

Hon. C. W. G. GIBSON (Minister of National Defence for Air):

Mr. Speaker, I very much

regret to inform the house that word has been received1 that an aircraft in which Commander Brabner and other senior Air Ministry officials were coming to Canada is reported as missing and must be presumed to have been lost. These officials were coming to Canada to attend the "Wings" parade at Uplands to-morrow.

The government of Canada extends its .very deep sympathy to the families of those who are missing.

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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):

I should just like to supplement the words of the Minister of National Defence for Air by repeating how profoundly our country as well as the United Kingdom will feel the loss of these public servants, some of them well known to us here, and all of whom have rendered such great service in a gallant way in the course of the war and whose lives were very precious to the state. The reference which my hon. friend has made is to officials coming from Britain to Canada to be present at the ceremony which is to take place to-morrow; the names of those who are lost will be announced later. I may say that included among the number are some who have

Prisoners oj War

2S7

played a very distinguished) part in the great work of the air force in Britain and in connection with the commonwealth air training plan.

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NAT

Grote Stirling

National Government

Mr. STIRLING:

The Royal Air Force.

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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:

Yes; they are all of the Royal Air Force. I should like to have it known that this .parliament and the people of this country will sympathize deeply with the relatives of those who have been so greatly bereaved, and with the British government and people in the tragic loss of these distinguished public servants.

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NAT

Gordon Graydon (Leader of the Official Opposition)

National Government

Mr. GORDON GRAYDON (Leader of the Opposition):

May I associate this party with the. words spoken by the Prime Minister, and at the same time extend our sympathy as well and express the hope that better news may yet come with respect to all on board.

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CCF

Major James William Coldwell

Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (C.C.F.)

Mr. M. J. COLDWELL (Rosetown-Biggar):

We should like to associate ourselves with the remarks which have been made. Knowing the

distinguished careers of the gentlemen, the news that they may not arrive at the function to-morrow is indeed a great disappointment; but greater still is the sorrow that comes to their families, with whom we deeply sympathize.

Mr. J. H. BLACIvMORE (Lethbridge): We desire-to associate ourselves with the kind things that have been said. There is one remarkable fact that I have observed on many occasions in the course of this war. Men have gone through all the perils of tours for example, operational flights, successfully and without injury and have been released, and on the way home they have met disaster. It is something which it seems almost impossible to understand, but that is war. We deeply sympathize with those who are bereaved.

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SC

Ernest George Hansell

Social Credit

Mr. E. G. HANSELL (Macleod):

May I add one word to what has already been said? It grieves us very much when great men are taken from us, especially when, as some of us recognize, there is in the character of these men the quality of humility, and that quality is also outstanding. I could not help thinking of an experience that has come to me personally in the loss of my own son, on the occasion of which Air Marshal Breadner and some of the highest officials, even in their busy lives and with their tremendous responsibilities, took enough time out to send a personal word expressing their regrets, signed by their own hands. It is something that brings home to our minds, I think, the difference between our way of life and that perhaps of people who live under some other form of government. I am sure we all regret the passing of these great men and sympathize with the families of the loved ones in the sorrow that has come to them.

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March 28, 1945