|Keep Canada British|
On the 22nd of February, Kathleen Wynne, the Premier of Ontario, offered her province’s apologies for the implementation of Regulation 17. This regulation was imposed on the French-Canadians of that province in 1912. It outlawed bilingual education in Ontario, making English the only language of instruction allowed by law. In an article published in Le Devoir on the 29th of February, a professor from the University of Ottawa, Gilles Levasseur, maintained that the main intent of that regulation was to improve the quality of English instruction in primary schools. The measure caused much prejudice, but thanks to a courageous gradualism, many wrongs were righted.
But what was the spirit of this regulation? Was it simply a desire to improve the quality of English instruction? Not exactly! In the context of the times, Regulation 17 did not intend to improve the lot of the minority. Just the opposite! The Anglo-Saxons of the province simply took advantage of their majority in the legislature to declare war on what they called the French-Canadian “threat”. Their objective was not to educate, but to denationalize the French-Canadians of the province, and indirectly, to intimidate the others – i.e. those from Quebec – who had the bad idea of moving to Ontario. After all, the slogans of the time were things like Hands off Ontario! Keep Canada British! The message couldn’t be clearer .
The goal was therefore to prevent northern Ontario from falling into the hands of the French-Canadians. At the time, the agricultural potential was estimated at 16 million arable acres, which constituted a zone of considerable potential expansion. The province tried to entice and to recruit colonists from Scandinavian countries, but to no avail. As for the Anglophones of the province, they were already starting to leave their lands for the city and jobs in industry. So, did they have to resign themselves to leave such rich lands undeveloped? It would seem so .
As for the French-Canadians, they had been familiar with those territories for more than two centuries, and they had amply demonstrated their ability to organize and settle new lands. But the social Darwinian theories of the time, which were increasingly popular since the 1880’s, made them into a threat against racial supremacy in the province. People no longer spoke about the French-Canadian problem, but rather of the French-Canadian “threat”. A solution had to be found for the “French-Canadianism” that was spreading in the province .
In 1912, Regulation 17 constituted an adequate solution for the denationalization of those who were already established, but what good was it if nothing was done against the arrival of new French-Canadians. The solution would come in 1918.
Since Confederation, Ontario got rich from the sale of Crown lands and the granting of forestry rights. But there was still a lot of land left, especially in the North. Since French-Canadians were the only takers, a decision had to be made: should the path be left open for them, or should it be shut down? Public opinion, alarmed by the danger, wanted a vigorous response. It wasn’t long in coming. It would arrive in January of 1918. So, what was it?
The dragon breaks its chains
The ministry of lands and forests would continue to sell Crown lands to French-Canadians, but a clause would be added to the contract. Henceforth, the buyer agreed to obey, expressly and without reservation, all “laws, statutes, rules and regulations of every character whatsoever” of the province, under penalty of forfeiture of all real estate which would revert back to the Crown . The attorney general would act on his own discretion without interference from the courts. In addition, no compensation would be given for payments already made, improvements to the terrain, or the construction of a house or buildings.
By 1918, the laws and regulations of Ontario already numbered in the thousands. A buyer exposed himself to ruin over the most minor of infractions. For instance, if he were caught with one broken headlight, or an expired fishing permit, he risked having his land confiscated, along with his house and other buildings. Can one imaging anything more violent and uncivilized? Modern history doesn’t give very many examples, except perhaps the confiscation of Jewish property during the Second World War.
In the face of such a denial of rights and common sense, one would have expected cries of indignation from the public and the press of Ontario, but nothing of the kind happened! The few newspapers that talked about the issue tried to justify its necessity . The policy of provincialization of French-Canadians, i.e. keep them from leaving Quebec, had to be supported.
From a legal point of view, the measure was justified by a frankly imperialist interpretation of the constitution. Thus, when the French-Canadians accepted to submit to the Constitution of 1867, they also renounced to “all their political rights and claims based on the past”. It was as if French-Canadians had no rights prior to 1867. From now on, their only rights are those that appear expressly, in black and white, in the 1867 bill. If it wasn’t in there, it didn’t exist! It was that simple .
Interpreted that way, the Constitution of 1867 became a new capitulation: the French-Canadians were subject to the proposed contract, and handed over the keys of the country to their new masters. In addition, they agreed not to have any ambitions outside their province. They were provincialized: Hands off Canada! As George Brown put it as he left the Quebec Conference of the 27 of October 1864: “French-Canadianism entirely extinguished!”
Their fate within Confederation was therefore sealed.
We shouldn’t be too surprised; the judicial spirit of English Canada is strong. One only has to read the ruling in the Caron-Boutet case by the Supreme Court on November 20 2015, to realize that the judicial spirit of 1918 crossed the generations and that it still dominates us like the sword of Damocles above our heads.
By Christian Néron, member of the Quebec Bar association, constitutionalist and historian, March 10th 2016.
Christian Néron, Dans le placard des donneurs de leçons
William H. Moore, The Clash! A Study in nationalities, J. M. Dent and Sons, London, Ontarion, 1918.
William H. Moore, The Clash! A Study in nationalities, J. M. Dent and Sons, London, Ontarion, 1918.
Excerpts from The Clash! A Study in nationalities by William H. Moore, 1918:
 Page 217
"In Ontario it is pointed out that if we were to allow the French-Canadians to extend and flood over Northern Ontario, we should some day have to fight for the predominance of Anglo-Saxonism. Within the past few months hundreds of thousands of chauvinists' dollars were devoted to publicly advertising the imminence of the peril which threatens Anglo-Saxonism..."
 Page 227
"...while in Ontario, as we have seen, English-speaking farmers, so far from being willing to replace French-Canadian farmers, are by thousands giving up their land sometimes not waiting for a purchaser and moving to city and town. But there were the King's lands in New Ontario. Over these English-speaking Canadians, possessing a majority in the Provincial Legislature, were trustees. The Provincial machinery could be used to prevent French-speaking subjects of the King from preserving their lingual interests in this part of Canada. What did it matter that Canada's crying need was food, and more food? What did it matter that the Mother Country had cabled: Speed up farm production? What did it matter that Ontario had for many years vainly endeavoured to find colonists for these fertile, unplowed lands?"
 Page 223
"Mr. Foy was then a Minister of the Crown in Ontario, the Minister responsible for Ontario's law, and his statement must have been accepted by English-Canadians as the government's opinion that the French-Canadians had already too many rights; and by French-Canadians as equally authoritative that the government was in reality preparing for the complete destruction of the French language in Ontario."
 Page 228
"All these considerations were submerged in the resolve that the King's subjects who spoke French and attended mass, should not secure a further footing on the King's lands in Ontario. Plainly the situation was extraordinary and could be met only by extraordinary measures. But the government was not abashed; it went the full distance and required applicants for the King's lands to sign papers that they would obey unreservedly "all Provincial laws, statutes, rules, and regulations, of every character whatsoever," on the understanding that failure to comply with any of these rules and regulations should "entail forfeiture without compensation" of "all rights and of any moneys paid on account of purchase of the land." A moment's reflection will serve to show the far-reaching importance of such action. Will the reader think for a moment of the vast amount of "Provincial laws, statutes, rules and regulations of every character whatsoever that may be in force from time to time," and say that there is not somewhere in his hidden past particularly if he own an automobile a blemish which stands for a violation of law or regulation that would under this regulation have put his home in jeopardy?
That the government is aiming at violation of the school laws, and not its veterinary or automobile regulations, affects the principle only to make it worse. There is nothing that more readily saps respect for law than the existence of government regulations which it is not intended to enforce. That it may be intended to enforce the regulation only against French-Canadian violation of school regulations and not against that of English-Canadians and statements to this effect are being freely made from the hustings affects the principle only to make it more vicious. The foundation of loyalty is justice. The State expecting equal loyalty from all, and now demanding equal military service from all, ought to give justice equally to all."
 Page 229
"Men are being forced to swear away their rights to a common participation in the protection accorded property in the land of Ontario and yet the press to which we might naturally have looked for a defence of justice, raises no outcry at its destruction. It is not the properties of its owners, nor the properties of its readers and advertisers that are being deprived of the protection of the Courts. So far from condemning Ontario's action, the English press of the Province has defended it as a fitting punishment upon men and women who resolutely struggle for the preservation of their fathers' tongue in a land discovered and explored and made safe for civilisation by their fathers."
 Page 219
"On behalf of the Ontario Government, it is contended that there is constitutional justification for cancelling any privileges which may have been previously allowed ; which may have been implied in the Quebec Act. Granting that at the time of the Conquest the French-Canadians were guaranteed the preservation of their religious faith, and that then schools were universally considered as a matter of religion (exclusively so in Canada) granting that the French-Canadians, were for many years, continued in the free use of their language, even after Confederation (after the Ottawa River had become a boundary line) it is pointed out that their special lingual rights had ceased to be revealed by tacit and unwritten agreement after they had been put down in black and white in the British North America Act. It is therefore argued that the Canadian Constitution of 1867 must be regarded as superseding all pre-existing political arrangements; hence, by accepting the document, the French-Canadians have forfeited all right of appeal to earlier promises and guarantees."