March 24, 1944 (19th Parliament, 5th Session)


Gordon Graydon (Leader of the Official Opposition)

National Government


I believe the minister is going to make a statement, x
Mr. ST. LAURENT: Mr. Chairman, I just wish to state most emphatically, in answer to the remarks of the leader of the opposition, that there is nothing behind this bill which would be in line with his suggestion that the government might be contemplating the creation of a court to administer the law of divorce for those provinces which at the present time do not have such a court.
I do not wish to discuss the matter of divorce. The only two provinces which have no divorce courts at the present time are those of Quebec and Prince Edward Island. In Prince Edward Island I do not know whether divorce jurisdiction is exercised by the governor in council. But I see from a very interesting
book on parliamentary divorce by Gemmill that there was jurisdiction in the governor in council to deal with divorce cases.
In Quebec not only is there no jurisdiction to deal with divorce, but there is a preconfederation law, which was continued in force by the British North America Act, and which will remain in force until this parliament chooses to deal with it, as it has jurisdiction to do under section 91 of the British North America Act. This pre-confederation law declares that marriage is dissolved only by the natural death of one of the spouses. No matter what jurisdiction you set up, so long as that is the law of the province, no divorce could be granted by any court.
There are applications for legislation which come before this parliament, and where divorces are enacted. This is not as a matter of right; no one has any right to a parliamentary divorce. That is a special legislative grant that is made under special circumstances revealed by the investigation carried on before a committee. I do not wish to enter into any controversial discussion of the matter, but for [DOT] those who admit the supreme authority of the Scriptures, the natural inquiry is, as stated in Gemmill: what law has the Saviour propounded on the subject?
Many Christian people believe that the law He has propounded on the subject was that divorce could be granted for adultery. Many other Christians believe that that exception in the Scriptures about adultery does not authorize the granting of a divorce, even for that cause. The latter view is that held by the Roman Catholics; the former is the view held by the other Christians who also take their law from the Scriptures, because of their reading of the Scriptures.
But for a great many years there has been the tendency in many countries to disregard that as the fundamental law, and to provide for divorces for causes other than adultery. I do not wish to discuss the merits or demerits of the case; but there is one province in which there is no right to a divorce under any condition-because of a positive statutory enactment existing prior to confederation, and confirmed by the British North America Act, which constitutes the law of that province until it is otherwise dealt with by the proper authority, which, in this instance, would be this parliament, and which denies absolutely that there can be any divorce or any dissolution of marriage otherwise than by the natural death of one of the parties. This bill has nothing to do with what some might consider advisable and others consider inadvisable, namely, to establish divorce as an institution where under certain conditions parties in the
Exchequer Court Act

province of Quebec would be entitled as of right to obtain a judgment of divorce. That matter is not intended to be dealt with at all by this bill.
The only other point with which I wish to deal is the suggestion that there have been serious delays in the handing down of judgments in the exchequer court. Only one case has been brought to my attention. That was some time in January. I inquired about it and found that the hon. justice required, for the purpose of his judgment, a transcription of the evidence which had been taken; the stenographer had been prevented from transcribing his notes, and the judge was waiting for them. This information was transmitted to the litigant who had complained of the delay. He wrote again about a fortnight ago, and I made a further inquiry and found that just a week before I made the further inquiry the transcription of the evidence had been filed and that the judge hoped to be able to dispose of the case within a very short time afterwards. I have no doubt that there are cases in that court, as there are cases in all courts, where judgments are reserved for a period which seems unduly long not only to the litigants but to the lawyers who represent the litigants. I practised at the bar too long not to have found that to arise all too frequently, I thought, but I have not heard any serious complaint of undue delay in the exchequer court.

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