5. The Politics of Panic - A History of Canadian Firearms Control


In 1919, there would be 298 strikes involving 138,988 people and causing the loss of 3.9 million working days (Myers, 1987, p. 171)

On 16 March, 1919, the Western Labour Conference opened in Calgary and sent fraternal greetings to workers in the Soviet Union (Bothwell, et al., 1987, p.165).

On 1 May, 1919, the metal and building trades in Winnipeg, Manitoba, went on strike demanding union recognition and collective bargaining. On 15 May, over 22,000 workers in Winnipeg, including government employees, walked off their jobs in sympathy with the metal and building trades beginning the first, and only, general strike in Canadian history.

The government was convinced that there was a Soviet-style revolution in Winnipeg, especially since all municipal services were being controlled by the Strike Committee (Bothwell, et al., 1987, p.166).

On Saturday, 21 June, 1919 ("Bloody Sunday"), the Royal Northwest Mounted Police charged a demonstration of strikers in Winnipeg. Two strikers were killed and twenty were charged. The militia moved in and the strikers gave up. On 26 June, 1919, the General Strike was called off (Bothwell, et al., 1919, p.171).

Parliament was quick to react. It jailed many of the strike leaders and amended the Immigration Act to allow the deportation of any immigrant belonging to organizations teaching "...disbelief in or opposition to organized government" (Stacey, 1972, p.190).

In July and October of 1919, the government debated the introduction of additional firearm controls. This time the politicians made no attempt to hide who they considered to be the malefactors.

Arthur Meighan, Acting Minister of Justice: "...The great difficulty that the police are confronted with today is the really alarming prevalence of revolvers and other weapons held by people in their homes ready for action at any time and conveyed from one another without any control whatever being exercisable by the civil authorities... these weapons shall not be carried. My last words apply to aliens only; they do not apply to British subjects."

(Hansard, 1919, p.4357)

Samuel Jacobs (Lib. Montreal-Cartier): "...Why make a distinction between people who are aliens and who are not aliens? Personally I do not like to see on our satute books anything which makes a distinction between an alien and a British subject."

(Hansard, 1919, p.4357)

Meighan (to Jacobs): "The statute books are full of such distinctions."

(Hansard, 1919, p.4357)

Jacobs (to Meighan): "Why should that be the case?"

(Hansard, 1919, p.4357)

Meighan (to Jacobs): "Have you not the alien vote?"

(Hansard, 1919, p.4357)

Hugh Guthrie (Con. Ont: Wellington-South): "During the last two years, almost all serious crimes of violence, murder and the like, committed in Ontario, have been committed by aliens...The population of our penitentiaries is almost 75 per cent alien. "

(Hansard, 1919, p.4357)

Jacobs: "...Do I understand that so soon as that person sheds his alien citizenship and becomes a British subject, or as soon as the Secretary of State, under the new law, immerses him in the official baptismal font, he, ipso facto, is permitted to carry a weapon? That this is one of the rights of British citizenship?"

(Hansard, 1919, p.4359)

Meighan: "He cannot carry a weapon, but he can have it in his home."

(Hansard, 1919, p.4359)

Hugh Morphy (Con. Ont: Perth North): "The City of Stratford, in the county that I have the honour to represent, has sent to the Government a petition based upon evils that have arisen through aliens in that district."

"Are we to allow these aliens to bring their bad habits, notions and vicious practices into this country."

(Hansard, 1919, p.4360)

Charles Doherty, Minister of Justice: "..Undoubtedly I think the records of our criminal courts would show that crimes of violence are disproportionately frequent among newly-arrived aliens. It is no reflection upon aliens to say that. But there the fact stands, and these crimes of violence result from the greater readiness with which certain classes of aliens resort to the use of weapons than do our own people."

(Hansard, 1919, p.873)

As passed by Parliament on 7 October, 1919, any "alien" who "..has in his possession any weapon, air gun, device or contrivance aforesaid..." were required to have a permit. Permits were valid only within the jurisdiction in which they had been issued (Criminal Code, 1919, Sect. 118).