March 19, 1937 (18th Parliament, 2nd Session)


Charles Hazlitt Cahan

Conservative (1867-1942)


-is entirely in favour of the suggestion which I have made. In my opinion this parliament should again and again, at every opportunity, assert its sovereignty in regard to matters affecting the peace, order and good government of Canada which are within its legislative jurisdiction. We have emerged from the colonial status, whether the judicial committee of the privy council recognize the fact or not; and, when they decline to recognize it, it is absolutely necessary in the present temper of this country that they be brought to a condition of mind in which they cannot avoid cognizance of certain fundamental facts. One way of doing that is to proceed as I have suggested, although there are cumulative remedies which on an appropriate occasion I shall take pleasure in expounding in this house from my point of view. I have simply to say that I approve the principle of this bill.
There is one matter which I might mention now, and which I think will require further consideration. This bill is a criminal statute. It provides penalties for certain crimes. It also proceeds to deal with nationals of Canada who commit these breaches of the law. To mention that fact is to revert to a consideration which I have very much at heart, and that is the necessity and the advisability of an amendment and consolidation of the laws of Canada relating to Canadian nationality. In the consideration of the provisions of the treaty of peace at Versailles dealing with reparations and other matters I was brought face to face, week after week and month after month, with the fact that this parliament has never clearly expressed tne meaning of Canadian nationality nor decided
Foreign Enlistment

Mr. Cahan
the qualities which apply to a Canadian national. Following up some work which had been done under the present prime minister before I came into office in 1930-he procured a professor of the law department of the university of Toronto to prepare a report in connection therewith-I attempted the preparation of a bill on Canadian nationality and submitted it to this house. But I was unable to proceed with the matter, for the reason that, while the permanent officials of the various departments of government are intelligent and of ripe experience in the administration of their departments, their minds are very obtuse indeed to the reception of new ideas which concern general public policy in matters only incidentally affecting their departments. I ran up against barriers which I could not overcome, and I was unable to accomplish what I had sought, the enactment of a comprehensive measure setting forth the qualifications of a Canadian national and the definition in express terms of Canadian nationality. I repeat that sometimes I fear we have more of the colonial spirit of inferiority than even our fathers and grandfathers had, and certainly the time has come in the history of this dominion when, if we seek to ascertain who are Canadians and who are Canadian nationals, we should be able to find it in some substantive enactment outside of the immigration act, the real purpose and intent of which is to exclude certain classes of people from obtaining domicile in Canada. Why we should be compelled to look to that act for a definition of who are Canadians, who are Canadian nationals, I cannot understand. I think it is a discreditable condition in which we find ourselves to-day. Canada has taken an important part in international affairs. Under -the imperial conference resolutions of 1923 and 1926, and again at the imperial conference of 1930, we assumed a large part in the administration of external affairs relating to Canada. But we are now met by that same old imperial spirit, as expressed by certain members of His Majesty's Privy Council of England, who cannot understand that men of English descent and men of French descent whose forbears have been living in Canada for a century and more, and who are Canadians to the backbone, are not of the same inferior mental complex as all colonials were deemed to be a century and a half ago. The sooner we assert the sovereignty of Canada in all matters with which this parliament is competent to deal, the better I think it will be for this country -far better for the development of that national sentiment in Canada, which is absolutely necessary if we are to maintain cohesion
among the various races and creeds and all sections of the dominion.

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