Courtesy Reuters

Embryo Fascism in Quebec

IN THESE days of clashing ideologies, nations are studying with unusual care the political philosophies of their neighbors. The United States and Canada, the two North American democracies, have watched with no little interest the tendency towards Fascism in some of the South American republics. Clearly the Monroe Doctrine is no defense against an invasion of ideas. Fascism has put in an appearance in certain parts of North America also. A recent examination of Fascist organizations in the United States indicates that at the moment they are not of great consequence.[i] In Canada, Fascism appears to have made more progress. Quebec, the most French and Catholic province in the Dominion, has in the past two years been the scene of a number of incidents which bear all the marks of Fascist inspiration and leadership and which give evidence of a native movement of considerable proportions.

The outward manifestations of Quebec Fascism run true to type. A strong anti-Communist drive has been organized in the province, backed by all the authority of the present Duplessis government and the Catholic clergy. The inhabitants are daily being told that Communism is the greatest evil of the age, that it is rampant in Canada, and that it must be sought out and exterminated. In the name of law and order, traditional liberties hitherto enjoyed by the citizens have been taken away. In March 1937 the Quebec legislature adopted the Act Respecting Communistic Propaganda,[ii] popularly known as the "Padlock Act." Under this statute the Attorney-General of Quebec may, without the necessity of any judicial authority, place a padlock on any house or building which he suspects of being used to "propagate communism or bolshevism." The owner of the property must then come before the court and prove his innocence if the padlock is to be removed, and no appeal lies from the decision of a single judge who hears the case. The words "communism" and "bolshevism" are left undefined. In addition, the printing or distributing of any literature propagating or "tending to propagate" these doctrines is prohibited, and the police are given power to enter any house, also without judicial warrant, and to seize and destroy any literature so used. No charge is laid against the owner of the literature and no court reviews the selection made by the police. Such unlimited powers of police censorship and invasion of private homes, such deprivation of the right to trial in open court before sentence, have never been known in Canadian law since the country became British. Yet, because of the clerical sponsorship of the Padlock Act, not a single vote was cast against it in a legislature of 115 members.[iii]

Actually there is little evidence to suggest that the Communist Party has any following in Quebec outside the industrial areas of Montreal. Even there its candidates have never succeeded in polling more than a few thousand votes at any elections. In all the ten legislatures of Canada only one Communist is sitting,[iv] and the strongest unit of the party is not in Quebec but in Toronto. A membership of 15,000 in the entire Dominion is probably a conservative estimate. The Communist Party in Canada, as elsewhere, has lost most of its revolutionary ardor, has liquidated its separate trades unions and defense organizations, and is now following, without marked success, the Popular Front tactics. So little fear of the movement is felt in English Canada (where Communists are as free as other parties to propagate their beliefs) that in 1936 the Dominion Parliament repealed Section 98 of the Criminal Code under which Communist leaders were jailed in 1931. Yet the Padlock Act is now enforced throughout Quebec against this largely imaginary enemy. In three months, a newspaper office, an alleged "communist school," and two other suspected places in Montreal have been padlocked, and some sixty bookstores and private homes have been raided for dangerous literature. The public has no means of knowing what justification there is for any of these applications of the law.

The attack on civil liberties is also showing itself in ways that do not involve the Padlock Act. A Baptist Mission in Quebec City has recently been told that it may not distribute Bibles to the people;[v] members of the sect known as the Witnesses of Jehovah have been persecuted frequently on charges of "sedition." The incidents which have attracted most attention have been the banning of public meetings of alleged "reds" by the civic authorities in Montreal. On two occasions this was done after organized bands of students from the University of Montreal had threatened riots unless the step was taken. These demonstrations of students, which resulted in the smashing of windows in Jewish shops and minor disorders in the streets, were not only carried on under the sympathetic eyes of a tolerant police force, but received public approval from both M. Duplessis, Premier and Attorney-General, and Cardinal Villeneuve, head of the local hierarchy. In November 1937, acting under such pressure, the Mayor of Montreal refused to allow General Yakhontoff, the well-known author, to address a meeting, and shortly afterwards cancelled a talk on the Front Populaire of France by Réné Costes, a Communist member of the French Chamber of Deputies. The latter incident is illustrative of the divisions of opinion in Canada today; it meant that the citizens of the largest city in the largest British Dominion were prevented by a French Canadian mayor from listening to an elected representative of France, Britain's most important ally, who wished to describe the activities of the French government of which he was a supporter.

Meanwhile Fascist political groups have been organizing in the province without any interference from the police or disapproval from the clerical authorities. The Italian and German colonies in Montreal are reputed to be centers of Fascist propaganda, but their numbers are small. It is amongst the French Canadian youth that organization has proceeded farthest. A variety of groups exist, evidencing varying degrees of Fascist behavior. There are, first, numerous youth organizations such as the Jeunesse Ouvrière Catholique, the Jeunesse Agricole Catholique, and the Association Catholique de la Jeunesse Canadienne Française, which are not strictly Fascist but which are under a control and discipline not unlike that of a Fascist party. The National-Corporatist Movement, which emphasizes particularly the economic aspects of the corporative state, professes to speak for 33,000 supporters, and to have its organization in 1,245 parishes. The National Social Christian Party, under the leadership of Adrien Arcand, is the most aggressive and the most complete copy of European Fascism, as its name implies. It has adopted the swastika emblem, the usual shirt (blue), and is violently anti-Semitic.[vi] Its lieutenant, Dr. J. G. Lambert, now before the Quebec courts on a charge of inciting to riot, claims a membership of 15,000.[vii] He is drilling his followers in military fashion, and predicts his achievement of power within three years. The party has units in many centers in the province. Recently M. Bouchard, leader of the small Liberal Opposition in the Legislature, has said that in addition to these known groups there is a secret Fascist organization which includes even high officials in the present government.

Along with suppression of civil liberties and the growth of Fascist political groups there is proceeding a subtle form of propaganda which tends to promote Fascism, though this is not said to be its purpose. The Catholic Church, through its educational institutions, is teaching "corporatism" as the best solution of contemporary social and economic evils. The legislation adopted at Quebec is becoming increasingly impregnated with this philosophy. In the "corporatist" state which is being aimed at, every trade and industry will be organized into a "corporation" in which employers and employees will be equally represented. Professions, such as law and medicine, will be similarly organized -- only with the lesser forms of labor unrepresented, much as at present. To these corporations will be entrusted the management and regulation of all matters affecting their members. Parliament will apparently be replaced by a Chamber of Corporations. Such a corporatist society would be authoritarian from the start; existing class and property relations would be perpetuated, and a small number of employers would in the corporation be given voting and control rights equal to those of the representatives of the much larger number of workers. The protagonists of the system usually refer to Austria or Portugal, sometimes to Italy (where the resemblance is close), as countries whose evolution they wish to follow.

These are the principal forms which the Fascist movement in Quebec is taking. The description will have made it clear that the term "Fascist," as that word is used in respect to Italy or Germany, must be applied with certain reservations. The situation in Quebec is peculiar. The National Social Christian Party is undiluted Fascism, but it has no great influence as yet. The legislature that unanimously passed the Padlock Act did not contain a single member who called himself Fascist. The great majority were simply obedient Catholics carrying out the request of their spiritual leaders. The denunciations of Communism and of freedom of speech, the expressions of congratulation and approval to the young men who demonstrated on the streets of Montreal, did not come from avowed Fascists, but from the leaders of Church and State. Cardinal Villeneuve himself has recently stated that he is not interested in Fascism;[viii] yet he has invited the students to demonstrate in the same way on future occasions, and has used these significant words on the question of the legality of their procedure:[ix]

"Si l'on argue que c'est contre la loi, je reponds qu'avant la loi il y a le droit de nature. Rien dans la loi ne me confère le droit de marcher sur les pieds plutôt que sur la tête. C'est la nature qui me le donne et il me suffit."

Thus the breach of public law is justified by an appeal to the "law of nature," which in Quebec means the Canon Law. This is not Fascism, but its effect is to free men from their allegiance to the existing law of the land and to make violence appear a virtue so long as it is directed against someone whom the clerical authorities dislike. As in all primitive societies, the "outlaw" has no rights. In such an atmosphere Fascism takes ready root, and the practice of democratic toleration appears definitely sinful.

There is another factor in the Quebec situation which differentiates it from the more avowedly Fascist régimes. The large industrial and financial interests are not supporting the political movements, for the very simple reason that "big business" is for the most part English or American and is consequently the object of frequent racial attacks by the young French Canadians. The rich forest, mineral and water power resources of the province have been developed by non-French corporations; the trusts and semi-monopolies, the chain stores, banks and railways, have very few French Canadians on their boards of directors. A feeling that the French are hemmed in and subjugated economically in the land which their ancestors settled over three centuries ago is a potent influence in Quebec stimulating the present nationalist movement. French Canadian nationalism is wider and deeper than the Fascist movement, and yet most of the Fascist groups are also nationalist. Fascism appeals as one way of reconquering Quebec for the French Canadians, getting rid of English institutions like parliaments and parties, and giving the race a distinctive political framework in North America. Part of the nationalist movement, carrying this idea to its logical conclusion, is outspokenly separatist, and looks to the creation of a French-Catholic authoritarian state on the banks of the St. Lawrence. The permeation of Quebec Fascism by these racial, religious and nationalist elements makes an alliance with English groups unlikely. At the same time, the denunciation of Communism and the attacks upon international trades unions and the C. I. O. that have gone on in Quebec suit the purposes of Montreal's English financiers well enough, and no championship of provincial democracy has come from that quarter. So long as the local Fascists content themselves with battling hosts of imaginary Communists, English capital is content; the attitude would change if the Fascist movement really became powerful enough to give expression to the nationalist demand for the "refrancisation" of the natural resources of the province.

If, as seems to be the case, there is no strong Communist movement afoot against which the Quebec authorities need to use these undemocratic devices, and if no frightened capitalists are financing the local Fuehrers, how are we to explain the marked tendency toward Fascism and dictatorial behavior in Quebec today? The answer to this question cannot be given until the recent developments are seen in their wider social setting. They are merely symptoms of an unrest that is evident in the whole of French Canada. Quebec has always been one of the most law-abiding, conservative and Catholic countries in the world. The French Canadian has hitherto successfully resisted the forces that would draw him into the vortex of North American life. His language, his race, his religion, his culture are constantly in danger, if not of extinction, at least of dilution and -- to him -- adulteration. For centuries he has fought to preserve his identity. In that struggle the Catholic Church has been his strongest supporter, for it saw in the differences of race and language a potent barrier to the kind of intercourse with non-Catholic America which leads easily to toleration, anti-clericalism and free thought. Thus the struggle which has been so valiantly and successfully waged in French Canada since the capture of Quebec in 1759 is seen on analysis to have a dual basis; it is the struggle of a minority race to survive with its language and culture in an alien environment, and the struggle of the Catholic Church to maintain its dominant position over that minority by acting as the champion of its rights and the defender of its traditions. So well has this rôle of national champion been played that the French Canadian has become firmly convinced that the abandonment of his Church would be followed by a double penalty -- the loss of his racial identity in this world, and the loss of his soul in the next.

Because of this careful identification of interests the Catholic Church enjoys in Quebec privileges which it possesses in few other countries of the world. Legal protections exist on every hand. Tithes are still paid by the country inhabitants, and they constitute an annual charge enforceable at law against the crops and given priority over claims of ordinary creditors. When a Catholic church or presbytery is to be built, the ecclesiastical authorities have the right to impose upon each of the Catholic parishioners a share of the cost, which becomes a privileged mortgage on their real estate, also enforceable by legal action. As assessment rolls are changed every five years only, even a non-Catholic must pay this assessment until the revision if he purchases property on which the charge rests. Bonds issued by religious corporations are trustee securities, yet a Quebec court has recently held that when a parish goes bankrupt the holders of bonds cannot enter upon the property which is pledged as security and bring it to sale, since church property cannot be so treated. No lands or buildings used for church purposes are liable to municipal taxation, and the Church is the wealthiest landowner in the province. Education is, so far as French Canadians are concerned, a matter of religion; every bishop is ex officio a member of the Catholic Committee of the Council of Education, and the clerical members always constitute half the total number of the committee. There are no state schools distinct from those under clerical management. In the everyday affairs of the community the Church takes care to provide Catholic societies to fill every social need of the people so as to prevent their joining "mixed" or "neutral" societies, which are in every way discouraged. This policy is particularly evident in the encouragement of the Catholic Trades Unions and in the warnings given to avoid the international unions.

From time to time in the history of Quebec, however, nationalist aspirations and Catholic interests have not coincided. When Louis Joseph Papineau raised a rebellion in 1837 against the English oligarchy that was then dominating Lower Canada, he was fighting for principles of civil liberty that the Church could not sponsor; the clergy opposed the rebellion, and Papineau died a Protestant. The youthful Wilfrid Laurier, later Prime Minister of Canada, was bitterly attacked by the clergy in Quebec because of his liberalism;[x] for it must be remembered that the Quebec hierarchy condemned liberalism in the nineteenth century exactly as they have condemned Socialism and Communism in the twentieth. Laurier fought the Dominion elections of 1896 against the entire weight of the Church; priests had gone so far as to refuse absolution to Catholics who voted Liberal; yet the French leader was given a large majority even in his own province. The pull of nationalism overcame the dictates of clericalism. The same conflict is evident in the Church's attitude toward France. An intelligent nationalism would make the French Canadian wish to maintain constant relations with his mother country. A close cultural alliance would enable him to enjoy the encouragement and stimulus of the great stream of modern French art, literature and thought. Yet nothing would be more abhorrent to the clerical group, for while old France is admired, modern France is thought of as the country of the Revolution, a persecutor of the Church, a land of atheists and radicals. The great masters of French literature are not sold in French Canadian bookstores if their names are on the Index, except surreptitiously. Recently the Quebec censors even banned the film "The Life of Emile Zola." They gave no reasons; but did it not glorify a man whose writings the Church has forbidden the faithful to read? Catholic influence has turned the French Canadian against France, whereas for his own advancement and for the greater spread of French culture in North America he needs coöperation with France.

In no way does the present clerical control in Quebec conflict with the national needs of French Canadians more than in the matter of education. The otherworldly character of the present schools, the emphasis on Thomist philosophy and the classics, the lack of scientific and technical courses, the continual subjection of the pupil to dogmatic instruction, the small encouragement given to independence of mind -- all these combine to turn out graduates who, while well versed in some of the humanities, are not only ill-prepared for life in industrialized North America but too often lack the initiative and imagination that would enable them to rise to positions of authority in the modern world. French Canadians frequently complain that they are "hewers of wood and drawers of water" in their own country and blame the English for this state of affairs, but boys and girls who are taught always to obey their superiors without question are likely to find themselves in this position. It has been observed that Sir Wilfrid Laurier, probably the greatest statesman French Canada has produced, came under the influence of a Scottish Presbyterian schoolmaster in his youth and read his law at McGill University. Recently the teaching of English in French schools has been postponed until the fifth grade, which means that a large proportion of the children will have left school for jobs in shops and factories without having learnt any English at all. Visitors to Montreal may have noticed two large edifices on the northern slopes of the mountain round which the city is built; one is the shrine erected to Brother André, the miracle-worker and healer, the other is the new quarters for the University of Montreal. The shrine has no lack of funds and has just added the largest dome in America; the university is incomplete and empty, starved for money. These two buildings symbolize the underlying conflict in French Canada today.

Quebec has only 26 public libraries, of which 17 are English Canadian, in a population of nearly 3,000,000; Ontario, the slightly more populous neighboring province, has 460. The circulation of books is 0.4 per capita for Quebec, 4.1 for Ontario.[xi] The infantile mortality rate in Quebec for 1935 was 92 per 1000 live births, the highest in Canada; the industrial town of Three Rivers actually had a rate of 222 per 1,000 live births in that year, and Quebec City one of 101.[xii] The death rate from tuberculosis is more than twice that in Ontario. Women have no vote in the province, are barred from most of the professions, and if married are by law greatly restricted in their capacity to contract without their husband's consent. There is no civil marriage, no divorce,[xiii] and no compulsory education. The spoils system is rife in the provincial civil services, and democracy is blamed for the corruption of the politicians. Social and industrial legislation has made some progress in recent years; there exist such measures as old age pensions, wages and hours control through collective labor agreements, workmen's compensation laws, and widows' allowances; but standards are low considering the degree of industrialization and many abuses go unchecked. A recent minimum wage ordinance, affecting over 100,000 employees, proposed minimum hourly rates as low as 15-25 cents per hour, yet this was expected to raise current rates anywhere from 5 to 20 percent.[xiv] The same ordinance (which has not yet come into force) has established $400 per year as a minimum salary for a school teacher -- a considerable advance for most teachers employed in the Catholic schools.

These facts are given, not as presenting a whole picture, but as illustrating the existence in Quebec of a degree of backwardness, judged by modern social standards, for which both the clerical and lay authorities must take the blame. The answer repeatedly urged, that the French Canadian is more interested in "spiritual" things and is not so "materialist" as his neighbors, is merely a myth created to allay discontent. There is nothing very spiritual about a high death rate amongst babies or the rearing of large families on subsistence wages.

What is now happening in Quebec is that, after many years' comparatively slow social progress, the people have at last begun to call for action. The need for reform is producing the will to reform. New groups and alignments are coming into existence; old parties are being stirred to action. One big change has already occurred-- the ousting in 1936 of M. Taschereau and his Liberal Party, which had become atrophied and corrupt after holding office for forty years, and the coming into power of a new party, the Union Nationale, under the present premier, Maurice Duplessis. This of itself was a minor revolution, and though the cynics remark that there is little improvement, the process of change is only just beginning.

At the same time, as has already been intimated, a great revival of French Canadian nationalism has taken place. The nationalist movement is possibly the dominant driving force in Quebec today. Except for some of its extreme expressions in separatism and a narrow racialism, neither of which is truly representative, it is one of the most hopeful forces stirring in the Dominion. Out of it is bound to come reform. A few years ago it seemed as though the extremists might get the upper hand, but many indications today point to the revival of a new liberalism in the province which will lead the nationalist movement into the fruitful path of social reform, educational improvement and economic reconstruction. French culture and influence in North America will be the greater if this result is achieved.

Such a national awakening is bound to make people question the utility of some of the privileges which the Church now enjoys in Quebec. The rising demand for change thus begins to threaten the totalitarian control of the clergy. There is not yet an antireligious movement in the province; there is little anti-clericalism visible, though one meets it frequently in private conversation; but there is considerable evidence of a desire to see the clergy confine their ministrations to a much narrower and more exclusively spiritual sphere. The Church is sensitive to this pressure, and is determined to yield as little as possible. It is the effort on the part of the Church to prevent the spread of anti-clericalism and anti-Catholic doctrine which accounts for many of the manifestations in Quebec that are called Fascism. The people are being steered or frightened away from a path which it is feared they may wish to travel. The experiences of Spain and Mexico, constantly held up to the French habitant as examples of the dire consequences which follow from tolerating Communist propaganda, are sought to be avoided by a tightening of the control and a stricter supervision of the agencies of public information. Hence the Padlock Act emanates from clerical sources: it is students, at all times under clerical authority, who demonstrate in Montreal; it is the religious bodies which supply the literature on "corporatism," and sanction it with references to papal encyclicals. The democratic state -- in the sense of a state which is neutral toward religious beliefs, political theories and economic doctrines, and which merely demands that constitutional methods must be followed in their propagation -- is a state which has never been accepted, save as a political necessity, by Catholic dogma, and Cardinal Villeneuve has recently denounced it in no uncertain terms in Quebec.[xv] The Church is simply striving to make Quebec's political life conform as far as possible to the Catholic concept, in which truth is Catholicism, error is anything non-Catholic, and liberty is liberty to speak and live that truth.

To explain the Quebec situation in these terms is not to explain away Quebec Fascism. Something so close to Fascism as to be scarcely distinguishable from it may yet come to power in Quebec if the reviving liberalism is crushed. The Church is still immensely powerful. Austria,[xvi] regarded as a Fascist state by most democracies, is thought of as a good Christian society by most French Canadians. The sympathy for other Fascist countries is very noticeable; the province was on Italy's side during the Abyssinian dispute, and is overwhelmingly in favor of Franco in Spain. De la Rocque, before his recent decline in France, was given great prominence in papers like Le Devoir of Montreal. The police recently stopped a parade in Montreal organized to call for a boycott on Japanese goods. Hitler having persecuted the Catholics, Germany is not admired; a sharp distinction is always made between Nazism and Fascism. Nazism and Communism are condemned together, but when a daring Liberal suggested that the Padlock Act should be made to apply to Fascists as well as Communists, M. Duplessis refused to comply. So long as the avowed Fascist groups make it clear that the totalitarianism they seek is a Catholic totalitarianism, they are likely to receive no opposition from the clergy, and from certain clerical quarters they will continue to be actively supported.

Moreover, the clerical control in Quebec accounts for part only of the present trend. Economic conditions in the province create a soil for Fascist ideas. For several years the young French Canadian has found employment difficult to obtain; even today Montreal has a relief roll of approximately 135,000. Poverty and luxury exist side by side. The big "trusts" to which he looks for work are under English control. The old political parties have been hidebound and corrupt. It is not surprising that with his instinctively authoritarian outlook due to his education, with ideas of change in the air and with the Fascism of Italy and Austria to encourage him, he should express his sense of frustration and injustice in a Fascist manner. He is a product of the system, and the system is one which the English as well as the French have made. Thus the economic and social conditions combine with a militant Catholicism to push certain individuals in the direction of Fascism. For that reason the Fascist movement may be expected to increase for some considerable time.

In the writer's opinion, however, the people of Quebec will not be drawn into a political Fascist movement in any large numbers. They have always shown, in the long run, a practical common sense and a sturdy individualism. Being of French blood they are as little given as are Anglo-Saxons to political subjection. The majority realize the need for compromise with the other races and religions amongst whom their lot is cast. A clerical Fascism in Quebec, or indeed any Fascism in Quebec, will inevitably provoke the hatreds and tensions that Fascism everywhere creates, and when violence is unleashed a minority race would not fare very well in Canada. Perhaps the more liberal sections of the clergy realize that even the Catholic Church has need of democracy. Just as Cardinal van Roey opposed the Belgian Rexist leader, Degrelle, and Cardinal Verdier extended a friendly hand to the French Communists, so the Catholic hierarchy in Quebec may decide not to ally itself so completely with the political "Right." If this decision is made in time, the Church in Quebec will escape the fate which befell it in Mexico and Spain.

[i] Frank C. Hanighen: "Foreign Political Movements in the United States," FOREIGN AFFAIRS, October 1937.

[ii] Quebec Statutes, I Geo. VI, cap. II. The term "communistic" is significant; the Statute aims at ideas far wider than Communism.

[iii] The eleven non-French members of the Quebec legislature also voted for the law.

[iv] In Manitoba.

[v]Montreal Gazette, February 7, 1938.

[vi] The French Canadians, though staunch defenders of "minority rights," are apt to define the term so as to exclude Jews.

[vii] These figures are considered by many observers to be greatly exaggerated, but reliable statistics are not available.

[viii] Speech of August 2, 1937, reported in the Montreal press.

[ix] Quoted in La Presse, Montreal, November 7, 1937.

[x] See Siegfried, "The Race Question in Canada" (London, 1907), p. 194-5. The University of Montreal Calendar for 1928-29 contained the following warning to parents and students (p. 19): "On apportera une vigilance particulière à empêcher les élèves des Facultés laïques de se laisser séduire par les théories spécieuses et de tomber dans les filets de l'erreur. Parmi ces théories erronées figurent le matérialisme, le libéralisme et le modernisme." Precise directions follow for eradicating each of these three errors from the student mind.

[xi] Report of M. Félix Desrochers to the French Language Congress in Quebec, 1937.

[xii] "Canada Year Book: 1937." The rate for Canada was 71.

[xiii] Individuals who can afford it may however have their marriage annulled by a private bill in the Dominion Parliament.

[xiv] It is typical of Quebec that this proposed ordinance was not made to apply to employees in religious institutions. Their wages may be below the minimum.

[xv] See Le Devoir, Montreal, January 31, 1938.

[xvi] Before the recent alliance with Hitler.

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