February 14, 1916 (12th Parliament, 6th Session)


William Thoburn

Conservative (1867-1942)


If that practice became general, where would it land the people of this country? If one denomination has a right to make laws for its members, so has every denomination in the Dominion, and if the members of these different denominations should prefer to obey the laws of their own church rather than the laws of Canada, a very serious state of affairs would develop. That is a question that might be debated in this House for several weeks, and it is one which might cause a tremendous upheaval. It does seem to me
that the laws of Canada should have precedence over the laws of any church.
I wish to give some reasons why I think the power of granting divorces should be taken from Parliament and vested in the law courts of Canada. As the hon. member for Cape Breton said, there are very few members of this House who know the procedure of a divorce suit in Parliament. And let me tell the hon. member for East Hastings that it is not so much a question of cost. Let him reduce the expense of divorce proceedings here to almost any price he pleases, and still there will be danger of injustice as the court is constituted. Here is the procedure, as well as I can remember it. The case goes before the Senate Chamber and it is then relegated to the Senate Committee on Divorce. The hon. member for Cape Breton did not agree with the verdicts given by that committee. That committee is composed of eleven members, if I recollect aright, and among these are some of the brightest minds of the Senate, including some of the ablest lawyers to be found in this country. And, from my experience, I would go so far as to make this suggestion which the hon. member for East Hastings may think it worth while to consider: If divorce is to remain with this Parliament, then let the proceedings end with the Senate Divorce Committee. When the divorce Bill is brought before this House it is relegated to the Private Bills Committee, and before the subcommittee was, appointed, the Private Bills Committee took the evidence in these cases as read, and the same might almost be said when the matter came before the House of Commons. I would like to know how many members of this House ever read the evidence in divorce cases before giving their vote, if they were called upon to vote.
I have a vivid and enduring recollection of one case that came before this House last session, and which had passed the Senate Committee unanimously. Let me tell hon. members that for a divorce Bill to pass that committee the evidence has to be conclusive beyond the shadow of a doubt. This case came before the Private Bills Committee of this House and was there argued pro and con to the best of the ability of those who took part, with the result that the Bill was defeated by a majority of one. The evidence was printed, and the case was considered such a miscarriage of justice that, if I remember well, it was submitted to the Prime Minister, and he voted with others to refer it back to the Private

Bills Committee. Here is where comes in the nefarious work of which I complain, and that is a strong word, but the occasion requires strong words. When it was found that the case had to go back to the Private Bills Committee outside influence was brought in and wire-pulling engaged in. If the case had been before a bench of judges the parties would never have dared to act as they did on that occasion. I stood at the door of the corridor leading to room 16, and saw an individual standing outside that door, button-holing the members as they came out, and using his influence to get them to vote against the applicant for divorce, and this was an individual whose name was actually mentioned as one of the parties implicated. That is why I say it was a nefarious transaction. The result was that when the Bill was sent back to the Private Bills Committee, owing to the influence that had been brought to bear on some of the members, and because they had heard only one side of the question, the Bill was defeated. There were only a certain few members who were familiar with the evidence in the case, but as a result of the canvassing that was done by that individual the Bill was lost. Were the printed evidence submitted to any court of justice in Canada that decision would be reversed.
Reference was made here this afternoon to the law courts and divorce laws of the United States. It does not follow that because divorce procedure in the United States is lax that it should be lax in Canada. We know that there are many laws of the United States the enforcement of which seems to us to be lax. I have too much faith in the judiciary of Canada to be in the least afraid of the results of their decisions if suits for divorce were referred to them. There would be no chance in the world that resort would be had to such tactics as I have spoken of here to-night.
I have given, as plainly as I possibly could, my reasons, based upon personal experience, for holding that divorce cases should be removed from the Parliament of Canada and delegated to the law courts, presided over by at least three judges. I feel satisfied that if this plan were adopted, justice would be done to all persons concerned, and the expense would be small compared with what it is at the present time.

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