July 10, 1942 (19th Parliament, 3rd Session)


Some hon. MEMBERS:

Read it.
Mr. ST. LAURENT: If hon. members desire that the letter be read, it is as follows:

Defence oj Canada Regulations
Honourable Louis S. St. Laurent, K.C.,
Minister of Justice,
Ottawa, Ontario.
Dear Mr. Minister:
Re: Prosecution of George A. Drew.
When advising as to the prosecution of Mr. George A. Drew in reference to the statements made by him to the public press on the 5th day of June last, the following facts and circumstances particularly impressed me:
(1) That this statement or utterance must be considered in its effect on others in the light of existing circumstances;
(2) That it alleged that the findings of the commissioner were not based upon the evidence; and further, that findings were made without evidence;
(3) That it alleged that secrecy was purposely imposed to hide from the public evidence of inexcusable blundering, confusion and incompetence;
(4) That it alleged that there were bloodcurdling facts which the commissioner suppressed and which should have been made public;
(5) That it alleged that the government withheld information upon which a finding could be made;
(6) That the accused was a party to the inquiry having been appointed as counsel at the instance of the Hon. R. B. Hanson, the leader of the opposition in the House of Commons;
(7) That the accused is an ex-army officer and must be aware of the necessity of secrecy in war time;
(8) That he impugned the bona fides of the commissioner in holding the inquiry in secret.
In my view, the clear meaning of the statement is that the commissioner was corrupt or incompetent and that he suppressed or misconstrued the facts.
The commissioner is the Chief Justice of Canada and a member of the judicial committee of the privy council. Having regard to his long and honoured career on the bench and his well known ability to weigh facts, and his wide experience in the conducting of public inquiries extending over many years, it is quite unthinkable that he should be corrupt, incompetent or unmindful of all the facts presented before him.
In peace time these statements, while serious, have not the same effect as in war time. There was no doubt in my mind that under the circumstances, and considering the author of the statement, and the nation-wide publicity which the statement wras given, it would be likely to prejudice recruiting in this country and the efficient prosecution of the war.
As I have already said, the statement was given to the press, obviously for wide circulation throughout this country, and in fact reached the press in the United States of America.
The report in question is unquestionably a report on matters in which the public have great interest; and particularly the relatives of those in the armed forces.
Since first advising in this case, matters have developed which in my opinion are of paramount importance, and which must be weighed along with the considerations which influenced me in advising a prosecution. There has been a widespread demand by members of parliament and the public and the press for a full and free debate and discussion of the commissioner's report. That these discussions, either in parliament, by the public, or in the public press cannot be freely and fairly carried on, while these proceedings are in progress, is obvious.
This is well illustrated by a report in this morning's press. While discussing the Prime Minister's promise that facilities for debating this question w'ould be afforded to the house, the leader of the opposition, the Honourable R. B. Hanson, took the position that "the government has taken every means in its power to frustrate debate by withholding evidence and from time to time resorting to an alleged rule that a certain inquiry is sub judice".
No doubt the inquiry referred to is the preliminary inquiry that is pending as a result of the information that has been laid in this case. That is true that it is sub judice. It is a well-established and traditional principle of British law that there should be no comment on or discussion of matters relating to judicial proceedings while they are pending. It is plain that if the commissioner's report is to be fully discussed in parliament and in the press, as it should be, this principle of British law must inevitably be violated. Events that have taken place since the information was laid more than justify this conclusion.
On the one hand it is unfair to the public, members of parliament and the press that they should be put in the position at this time either to refrain from discussion of this important public matter, or to run the risk of committing a contempt of court, which is itself a breach of lawr. On the other hand, if these judicial proceedings are carried on while the debate in parliament and public discussion is taking place, it is obvious that the prosecution cannot continue in that freedom and independence that is so essential in our administration of justice.
Therefore, weighing the importance of free parliamentary debate and public discussion as against the continuance of this prosecution, at a time when matters affecting the carrying on of the war are of such vital and immediate importance, I am bound to come to the conclusion that it is in the public interest that this prosecution should be withdrawn and I so advise.
I am,
Yours very truly,
D. L. McCarthy.
Then there is a memorandum dated July 10, 1942, as follows:
For the reasons given by special counsel for the Attorney General of Canada, I concur in the opinion that the charge against Mr. George Drew under the defence of Canada regulations should be withdrawn.
F. P. Varcoe,
Deputy Minister of Justice.

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