What would you do with 800 nude paraders? Out in B. G. Government is building jails to house them
EDMUND E. PUGSLEYSeptember11932
What would you do with 800 nude paraders? Out in B. G. Government is building jails to house them
EDMUND E. PUGSLEY
WHEN Canadian Parliament in the spring session of 1932 decreed that it was unlawful to appear in public devoid of clothing, it was little expected that within a month more than eight hundred offenders against this act would be arrested and sentenced to the arbitrary penalty of three years in penitentiary.
It is, of course, generally known that the act was aimed specifically at the Doukhobors of British Columbia with the fond hope that the knowledge nudism was now a crime would restrain at least the majority of these fanatical adherents from further offense against local modesty. But to the dismay of all those charged with maintaining law and order it luíd the opjx>site effect. The Sons of Freedom (including the Sons’ wives and children) accepted the challenge en bloc and straightway provided the raw material for the initial test.
On Sunday, May 1st, a body of eighteen Provincial Police intercepted a band of 117 nude Doukhobors on the public highway between Thrums and Nelson and ordered them to don their clothing or get off the highway. They did neither and fought arrest for some forty-five minutes. The police, however, had come prequired with itching powder which, when applied freely, gave the offenders a new and violent interest in their teguments. The scene ends with several trucks backed into an orchard by the roadside to be filled with the subdued pilgrims of nudism, and driven off to jail.
There were several more such scenes in the days and weeks that followed. Chanting their weird Russian music they left the farms by the score to register in this strange, fanatical manner, their protests against Canadian laws and customs which included compulsory registration of births, marriages and deaths, compulsory school attendance, and such trivialities as rent, taxes and interest. To all these they now could add the matter of arrest of their fellowcountrymen on the charge of discarding their clothes.
The jails were crammed to capacity. Tents were raised and courts held daily, the prisoners to all intents being the least concerned. They were now fed and housed without charge, which was all quite agreeable to them. No toil was required other than that some few delegates should prepare and cook the abundant supply of food brought to them by these strange Canadians.
This was becoming serious. The Attorney-General hastened from Victoria direct to the scene of strife to issue in person a proclamation in the form of an ultimatum. Offenders who persisted in defying the new law would be arrested and sent to the penitentiary for three years, he affirmed. There could be no evasions—no leniency. The government meant business this time, even to the extent of arresting the last man and the last woman.
Law' to be Enforced
HPHEY listened, gathering around while the word was passed that a Head Man was in their midst. Then they gave the representative of law and order his reply. It was prompt as it was revealing. Six stolid female delegates stepped forward and pulled the key strings of their simple garments, standing before the majesty of the law uncovered and unashamed. The retreat was sounded. It is not recorded that the offenders were promptly placed under arrest, but it is known that the Attorney-General returned to his office without delay.
The business of arrest and trial went on apace. There
was no other alternative. The act was law, passed for a specific purpose. The law must take its course, no matter how much its sponsors might regret its serious penalty.
The following arrests gave little difficulty. Indeed, one day’s court was interrupted by the presentation of a small band, of Doukhobors for voluntary arrest.
“But how do we know you were naked?” the magistrate questioned. “We’ll prove it by stripping right here,” came the prompt response. The testimony of word was quickly accepted.
In court the offenders were as orderly as could be desired. Their replies to the charge were not all alike, however. Some disputed they were naked, claiming the same dress as Adam. Others put forward the plea that they followed only the custom of their sect for prayers. Still others argued that this was their only means of protesting against the arbitrary actions of the Community leaders in driving them from the Company lands.
Parents and Children Separated
AMONG them were some few who possessed wealth in farms, cash and other personal property. A mother, caught in the net of this strange behavior, was overheard admonishing her son to keep clear of the nude parades as she gave him possession of her land and cash.
Until sentence had been passed and the prisoners prepared for removal to more permanent confinement, they looked upon the whole matter as just another peculiarity of the strange white men. But they were soon to be undeceived. The day of departure arrived and men were called upon to bid farewell to their wives. Consternation prevailed. This was something different. They became loud in their wailing. But the guards were adamant and soon the first train pulled away, bearing a goodly number of the former Sons of Freedom to become merely numbered convicts doomed to labor for His Majesty’s Canadian Government for the next three years. As the train slowly receded from view, there drifted back to weeping women and children the chanting strains of their native songs.
But the worst was to come. Another train was backed into
the Nelson jailyard and word went forth that all children
were to be made ready for shipment. At this the wailjng and
weeping were loud and prolonged, but again the officers were
coolly, though sympathetically, insistent. The children
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were sorted out and tagged; parents were warned that they must make their farewells, and finally the hour of departure came and the children were torn from loving arms and placed aboard the coaches. In some instances parents escorted the juveniles aboard themselves but the parting was none the less pathetic. The train moved out. Hands waved frantically. But above it all there floated back the strains of many youthful voices. First came a bar or two in native chanting, but this was soon swallowed up in another. And as the train disappeared the distinct tune of a modern song rose above the noise. These Canadian-born children were embarking on a new adventure, singing “Springtime In the Rockies!”
They were bound for schools in Vancouver, New Westminster and Victoria, where it is earnestly hoped that an entirely new environment and teaching may prove a final solution of this intolerable situation. These children of a hopelessly unassimilative people have been the main bone of contention throughout the years leading up to the present impasse. Their parents have consistently refused to register their birth, have fought against sending them to be taught in Canadian schools and against taxation for that or any other purpose.
For many years patient officials have labored to overcome this prejudice, and for a time it almost seemed that they had succeeded. Peter Veregin, the elder, who ably led and directed his fellow-countrymen in business as well as spiritual matters, always countenanced obedience to the laws. But there was one law he disagreed with — conscription. His people had no quarrel with man. They believed in a direct mandate from God. They also believed in ixriodically reducing themselves to the simplicity of Nature before their Maker. And Peter Veregin, to the day of his assassination, considered this formof humble subservience an actual virtue. The Doukhobors escaped conscription and were admonished by Peter to confine their nude pilgrimages to their private property.
Veregin and the Dissenters
TN 1922 a general feeling of dissatisfaction A with Canadian restrictions culminated in several thousands of Doukhobors emigrating to Mexico. But Peter Veregin had a better idea. In the fertile valleys of the Kootenay in British Columbia were large tracts of land to be had for a nominal price. He negotiated a limited company to be known as the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood, Limited, of Canada. Some 67,000 acres of land were procured by the company to be developed in the interests of the whole community, no one member having any personal rights to property while remaining in its confines. The Community Council of Economics was later formed to determine what share was to be allotted to a member leaving the Community. And this was the root cause of much strife and dissension in the British Columbia settlement.
Gradually the number of dissenters grew until they, in turn, formed a sect of their own under the radical name of the Sons of ! Freedom. They loudly disputed the arbiI trary rulings of the Council of Economics,
! and from the ranks of the new party sprang I radicals who resorted to modem methods of protest. Schools were burned or bombed.
I Railway property was destroyed and trains ¡endangered. Irrigation work was injured, i And the more common form of protest, the nude parade, became almost a daily habit. Passenger trains were frequently treated to the sight of men, women and children boldly exposing their nakedness beside the track. Highways became more and more frequently a place where Canadian settlers were subjected to the exhibition of nut-brown bodies. And, because the more violent aggressors
were religiously shielded, there remained but one thing to do, authorities reasoned. They must make it a serious offense to appear in the nude in a public place. These fanatics must be taught once and for all time that, if they were to remain in Canada, then they must obey Canadian laws. Their fanaticism had led to the death by bombing of their venerable leader during a railway passage in 1924, and at any time it might be followed with crimes of similar seriousness against others.
Parades Still Continue
YET what a tremendous price Canada pays for the near-sighted policies of politicians for the period following the year 1900! A constant source of annoyance, trouble and expense since their immigration, this country now, in its desperation, finds no other recourse but to snatch these people from the soil in hundreds to confine them for a period of three years at a cost variously estimated in millions.
And the blame for no little of this recent trouble is laid at the door of Peter Veregin, the younger. His trait of inciting to unrest and revolt traces back to the days prior to his choice as a successor to his uncle. Sentences of death had more than once been passed upon him in Russia, and his invitation by the Canadian Doukhobors probably saved his life. The five years of his regime here as leader of his 15,000 countrymen have not done so badly for Peter. The $18,000 subscribed as an inducement for him to leave Russia has been increased until he now acknowledges a personal banking account of well over $700,000.
Perhaps this affluence has led to his recent downfall. Accustomed to seeing wealthy men in North America keep clear of imprisonment though unquestionably guilty of serious offenses against the law, he little suspected that he would be convicted and sentenced for such a trivial matter as perjury. Strange, indeed, are the ways of these Canadians. Some have the temerity to hope that, with Peter Veregin in jail, the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood will be dissolved, its six millions of assets divided and its members so thrown on their own resources that they will be forced to live individually according to western standards.
Is this the climax to one of the most extraordinary periods in Canadian immigration history? Or is it merely the prelude to a more startlingly naked truth that “East is East and West is West?” Time alone will tell.
Meanwhile spasmodic parades continue in miniature, both in British Columbia and Saskatchewan, for fanatical religion is not readily suppressed. And. though many weeks have elapsed since the first offender was sentenced to penitentiary, provincial jails are still crammed to suffocation awaiting construction of the special institution, for it was early realized that it was neither advisable nor physically possible to find accommodation for convicts to such numbers in present buildings.
For a time it seemed that one of the publicly owned islands of the Gulf of Georgia would be used for this special purpose. D’Arcy Island, with several large buildings idle, was freely named as quite suitable. But again the critic of party favor system triumphs—whether justified or not by pointing to the official announcement that a private island named Piers, has been leased and will be improved with extensive docks and buildings at tremendous cost for a temporary penitentiary.
Ho. hum! Who knows? Piers is a very pretty island ! Should depression continue it is not at all improbable that many more of us may find the federal Doukhobor plan alluring.
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