Historical review. Canada’s use of emergency powers to attack Communists, trade unionists, and anti-fascist ukrainians


“Once completed, this memorial will teach future generations how millions lost their lives and suffered in inhumane conditions at the hands of Communist regimes,”….”It will also serve as a reminder to all Canadians that glorifying Communist symbols insults the memory of these victims, and that we must never take for granted our core values of freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law.” – Minister Jason Kenney on anti-communist monument, August 23, 2013

The Canadian government has a long history of using “legal means” to attack the communists and progressive people, under a variety of excuses. One well-known example is Trudeau’s implementation of the War Measures Act in 1970 after declaring a so-called state of apprehended insurrection.

The War Measures Act was inaugurated in 1914 after the outbreak of the First World War, and gave sweeping emergency powers to the federal Cabinet, allowing it to govern by decree if it perceived the existence of “war, invasion or insurrection, real or apprehended.” The Act stayed in force in Canada from 1914-1920. With the victory of the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917, additional regulations and orders were added, forbidding membership in communist and socialist organizations. The Emergency Powers Act, an offshoot of the War Measures Act, was put in force from 1951-54, during the U.S.-led aggression against the Korean people.

The mass internment of Canadians of Japanese, German and Italian origin, as well as communists and others, was carried out under the Defence of Canada Regulations. Shown here, the interment of Japanese Canadians in BC.

The Mackenzie King federal government also put the War Measures Act into force immediately following the August 23, 1939 signing of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Non-Aggression Pact in Moscow. The Soviet Union signed the Pact with Germany to give itself additional time to prepare for an eventual attack by the Hitlerite Nazis, which occurred on June 22, 1941, as predicted. On the same day the Non-Aggression Pact was signed, the King government announced that provisions of the War Measures Act would be enacted again in Canada, if necessary. Two days later, the government declared a state of apprehended war and the Defence of Canada Regulations, drafted only a month previous, were instituted under the War Measures Act. Canada declared war against Germany on September 10, 1939 following the September 1 Nazi invasion of Poland and after similar declarations by Britain and France.

The 1939 Defence of Canada Regulations (DOCR) legalized repressive state measures such as waiving of habeas corpus, waiving the right to trial, internment, bans on political groups, restrictions of free speech including banning of certain publications, and the confiscation of property. Section 21 of the DOCR allowed the federal Minister of Justice to detain without charge anyone who might act “in any manner prejudicial to the public safety or the safety of the state.” The War Measures Act remained in force in Canada until the end of 1945, after which the National Emergency Transitional Powers Act replaced it until March 31, 1947. The Continuation of Transitional Measures Act was then enacted, maintaining certain wartime orders and regulations until April 30, 1951, by which time Canada was embroiled in the U.S.-led aggression against Korea, part of its “containment of communism” strategy.

Prime Minister Mackenzie King with German officers at the Olympic Stadium in Berlin, Germany, 1937.

Prime Minister Mackenzie King (second from left) consorts with Nazis at the opening ceremonies of the All-German Sports Competition at the Olympic Stadium in Berlin, Germany, 1937.

The King government’s official line was that the wartime DOCR were intended to suppress anyone obstructing the mobilization of Canadians in support of the war effort against Germany. However, the government mainly used the DOCR to attack those who were staunch anti-fascists and who in no way sympathized with Nazi aggression but who, until Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union, regarded the war as another imperialist war for redivision of the world. The people mainly targeted by the state were communists, trade unionists, and the anti-fascist Ukrainians because King and others in the ruling circles saw communism as a far greater threat to Canada than fascism.[1] The King government had never opposed fascism, failing to act against Italy’s fascist invasion of Ethiopia in 1935, failing to oppose Franco’s fascist uprising in Spain, and supporting British and French appeasement of Hitler. Although Canada was not officially at war with the Soviet Union, the ruling circles considered the Soviet Union an “unofficial” enemy because of its socialist project. Meanwhile, the Canadian communist party maintained close relations with the Soviet Union.

Repression of the communists under the DOCR began in November 1939 with the forced closing of the communist newspapers The Clarion and Clarté. The internment of communists began in May 1940 with a judge’s ruling during a trial, although it was not until June 6 that the King cabinet issued an official order-in-council banning the Communist Party of Canada, the Young Communist League (YCL), and thirteen other organizations, including the anti-fascist Ukrainian Labor Farmer Temple Association.[2] RCMP officers, empowered to issue their own search warrants, were ordered to arrest members of the banned organizations, as well as anyone who distributed literature or spoke publicly. Anyone who advocated for or defended the principles or policies of the banned organizations was to be presumed guilty unless proven innocent. The RCMP, which had been harassing the party since its founding in 1921, began arresting suspected communists who were sent to internment camps in Kananaskis, Alberta, and Petawawa, Ontario, and an unused jail in Hull, Quebec.[3] Following their release in 1942, the communists once again took a leadership role in the anti-fascist struggle and many served bravely in the Canadian forces overseas, such as steelworker organizer, Dick Steele, who was killed in the Falaise Pocket in August 1944 during a major allied victory.

The DOCR were also used to attack trade union leaders. Wartime inflation from 1939-41 eroded workers’ wages which, along with labour shortages, set off an upsurge in union militancy and organizing. The state used the DOCR as a weapon to block organizing and to undermine strikes and picketing. To give one example, in December 1939, Canadian Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) secretary C.H. Millard was arrested for telling Timmins, Ontario steelworkers that “[we] should have democracy here in Canada before we go to Europe to defend it.” Communist trade unionists were singled out by the state as the main “agitators” in the labour movement because they were not only active union members, but leaders and organizers of unions such as the Canadian Seamens’ Union (CSU), the United Electrical Workers (UEW), the International Woodworkers of America (IWA), the Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers, the Steel Workers Organizing Committee (SWOC), and the United Automobile Workers (UAW). To give one example, on June 20, 1941, the RCMP arrested UEW president, C.S. Jackson, on direct orders from Minister of Labour Alexander McLarty and Minister of Munitions and Supply C.D. Howe because UEW was on strike at the Toronto General Electric Plant and organizing workers at Westinghouse in Hamilton.

The DOCR were also used to attack and smash progressive organizations, in particular the anti-fascist Ukrainian Labor Farmer Temple Association (ULFTA) which at the time had about 20,000 members across Canada and was very influential in the Ukrainian-Canadian community. On June 5, 1940, the government banned the ULFTA, closing its halls and interning thirty-six of the most experienced anti-fascist Ukrainian leaders on trumped up charges. Labour temples, which had been built and financed by the Ukrainian workers, were raided from one end of Canada to the other, printing presses were stolen and many libraries were burned or shredded, similar to Nazi book burnings in Germany. The government then turned over some of the ULFTA’s principal halls and properties to the pro-fascist, anti-Soviet Ukrainian National Federation or to other rivals of the actual owners for next to nothing.[4] Mass demonstrations were held against the illegal confiscations, resulting in some halls simply being padlocked. It was not until the summer of 1942 that the anti-fascist leaders of the ULFTA were “conditionally” released” from internment, however, their organizations and newspapers remained banned, and the ULFTA property was never restored.[5]

6th Convention, Ukrainian Labour Farmer Temple Association, in front of the Ukrainian Labour Temple in Winnipeg, Manitoba, January 26-28, 1925.

Surveillance of Canadians by their government has been broad and ongoing, and has only come to light occasionally. Take the case of internationally known Canadian author Farley Mowat. In 1985, as part of a book tour, Mowat was to make a visit to California, but was barred from entering the U.S. by customs officials. It later came to light that Mowat was on a watch list based on files passed to U.S. authorities by the RCMP. News reports about the Canadian government spying on its citizens came to light in 2001. It was reported that the RCMP set up a Public Order Program in the spring of 2001 to exchange secrets on protestors in the lead up to the G8 Summit in Kanaskis, Alberta the next year. The reports stated that the Raging Grannies, former NDP leader Ed Broadbent, Amnesty International and the United Church of Canada were targets of surveillance or infiltration.

Today, the Harper dictatorship follows in the footsteps of Mackenzie King and others of his ilk by also using “legal means” to attack those who dare to stand up for their rights. Recent examples include mass police attacks on the G8/G20 demonstrators in June 2010 which were “justified” by an obscure wartime law; the back-to-work bills passed against the striking postal workers on June 15, 2011, the striking Air Canada workers on March 12, 2012, and the striking railworkers on May 30, 2012; and the continuing attacks on Aboriginal people and their allies, for example, the RCMP’s arrests of protestors defending their hereditary rights against the energy monopolies, as well as their fatal shootings of First Nations men such as has occurred three times in Alberta in August alone. It is also well-known that since September 11, 2001, “legal” surveillance of the people’s activities has been ramped up. A recent example is the revelation in December 2011 that in 2007 the RCMP set up a vast surveillance network to spy on First Nations, including regular reports to “industry partners” such as the energy monopolies. Another example is Canada’s involvement in the U.S. National Security Agency’s ECHELON global spying network, which dates back to at least 1971, but has come to further prominence in recent months. Canada’s participation in this network affords it the possibility to indirectly spy on its citizens through intelligence gathered by other partner countries in the network, while still giving it plausible deniability that it spies on its own citizens.

Overall, it is important to note the frequency with which the Canadian state has placed the Canadian people under umbrella emergency legislation that has legally limited their rights. Such measures were in place in Canada from 1939-1954, a total of 15 years, and then again in 1970, so it would not be surprising for the ruling circles to implement them once again, should it suit their nefarious purposes.


  1. King met and was impressed by Nazi leader Adolf Hitler. He wrote in his diary, “My sizing up of the man as I sat and talked with him was that he is really one who truly loves his fellow-men, and his country, and would make any sacrifice for their good.” (Diary of William Lyon Mackenzie King, June 29, 1937). Hitler appeared to be “a man of deep sincerity and a genuine patriot.” (Diary, June 29, 1937).
  2. The banned communist party reformed itself as the Labour Progressive Party in 1943. In 1959, members renamed it the Communist Party of Canada.
  3. For personal accounts of life in the internment camps, see Repka, William, and Repka, Kathleen (1982). Dangerous Patriots: Canada’s Unknown Prisoners of War. Vancouver: New Star Books.
  4. The reactionary Ukrainian National Federation continues to enjoy state support. In November 2012, the Harper government handed it $40,050 to refurbish its North Winnipeg centre,
  5. For further details, see Davies, Raymond Arthur (1943). This is Our Land: Ukrainian Canadians Against Hitler. Toronto: Progress Books.

TML Weekly, August 24, 2013 – No. 33

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