HOW RUMRUNNING CORRUPTED CANADA
Smuggling liquor to the prohibition-stricken U.S. was legal in this country, but the rumrunners were crooks— and they made crooks out of Canadian officials and politicians
MOST CANADIANS born later than, say, 1920. are under the impression that their country came wholly unscathed through the social, moral and political ordeal of prohibition. Nothing could be further from the truth. Canada did escape the great consolidated headache of a Volstead Act, but the headache it took piecemeal was nevertheless a memorable one.
Except to collect sales and excise taxes and duties,
Ottawa stayed largely clear of the liquor traffic during the first war and the postwar years. The provinces were left to write their own regulations — and in many cases to rewrite them and then rewrite them again. Prohibition, semi-prohibition and the open bar raced back and forth through the statute books of the nine provinces like the lights on a pinball machine, but there was never any time after 1921 when at least two or three of the provinces weren’t at least damp. And even in those that were bone dry there were almost invariably warehouses stacked to the eaves with beverages which, although forbidden to local consumers, it was perfectly legal to export. In the provinces of Ontario and Quebec, some of the world's largest distilleries and
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breweries continued to produce at high capacities.
Thus, to anyone interested in assuaging the sudden thirst of a hundred million Americans, Canada was the promised land, a smuggler's paradise — an Andorra with a border four thousand miles long, and an undefended border at that. At each end lay enough open water to float a thousand Majorcas.
The last weepy pre-Volstead drunk had not finished his last pre-Volstead highball before the first relief shipments were on the way. Some went in schooners out of Lunenburg for dark coves in Maine, some from Victoria and Vancouver to lie off Puget Sound. Some went by skiff and fast launch from Windsor to Detroit, some by truck or bicycle or even on foot down lonely prairie trails from towns like Estevan. Saskatchewan, toward towns like Portal, North Dakota. Most Canadians soon became aware of these enterprises, which grew in scope and variety. Their reactions ranged from indifference to amusement. Hardly anyone was outraged except the dries.
The rumrunning and border-slipping broke no Canadian law, as various governments, including the one in Ottawa, CONTINUED OVERLEAF
repeatedly and correctly reminded the public. It took half a dozen years or more before Canada fully comprehended the impossibility of providing both an operating base and the raw material for a multi-billiondollar criminal industry while itself remaining untouched by the crimes involved. Then the knowledge came home with savage impact, almost enough to wreck the country’s most durable political dynasty.
For the time being, however, prohibition was much too good a thing to leave to the Yankees. It was a far fresher topic of discussion than those old standbys, the tariff and the Empire. It even had a slight edge on the weather; a person could actually do something about it. Before the war it had been an issue that might or might not turn up in an election. Now it could not fail to turn up in some form, in any and all elections.
By the early 1920s the patterns of liquor law had begun to sort themselves out, but they were still a remarkable hodgepodge. Quebec and British Columbia were unabashedly wet. Their annual profits on drink exceeded, respectively, five million dollars and three million. There were rumors that a fleet of some twenty light aircraft were ferrying whisky across the Quebec border into New England. Seven bandits killed a Montreal bank-car driver in a quarter-million-dollar holdup and, during the trial that led to the hanging of four of them, it became apparent that shooting up banks was really only their spare-time work; smuggling was their real business.
Manitoba and Alberta were dry, but both were on the verge of changing. Saskatchewan had just gone wet after a harrowing experience. When prohibition was introduced it had been decreed that the province’s sixty liquor export houses would still be able to ship spirits
out of the country, but after February 1, 1921, they would not be allowed to replenish their stock through further imports. Before the cutoff date they all built up enormous stockpiles and went happily on consigning the stuff in bond to destinations outside the province. The government had no objection to this export traffic, but unfortunately large quantities of warehouse whisky kept showing up on the breath of the province's own captive teetotalers. It was then decreed that all the liquor warehouses would have to move to Regina, Moose Jaw, or Saskatoon, where it would be easier for the law to help guard them against seepage. Even this did not work, and in 1923 the province closed down the export houses completely. During this period the prairies had a number of bank robberies, hitherto a rarity there.
Both New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island were dry. New Brunswick had export warehouses and experienced complications not unlike Saskatchewan’s. In one two-day sweep in tiny Prince Edward Island, prohibition agents seized 1,100 gallons of rum and fourteen cases of whisky.
Nova Scotia wás temporarily wet, a circumstance that made rumrunning all the more attractive to its fishing captains, who had an additional source of cargo at the nearby French island of St. Pierre. This led to a special set of problems, which were described thus in the Charlottetown Guardian:
“It (the traffic) is not only immense, but is the cause of evil consequences to the Lunenburg fishing fleet.
"In 1921 there were 113 fishing vessels out from Gloucester. There were only 72 in 1924, and there will not be more than 30 in 1925. Not only will the catch of fish be very much restricted, but the fishermen themselves will have to go elsewhere for employment, because where a vessel engaged in fishing would carry twenty-five
hands, vessels rumrunning need only carry six or seven. The profits in 1924 were so large, however, that the vessel owners, as a rule, succumbed to the temptation of the business.
“For the use of the vessels they receive from $100 to $120 per month, and the captains average about $500 per month. In addition bor'^es are paid for the successful landing of the cargo. The captain and crew are paid only to carry the liquor to Rum Row. They remain beyond the tw'elve-mile limit, as secure against the law as ordinary freighters. Property in the vicinity of the quays at St. Pierre has advanced very much in price; $100,000 was refused recently for one warehouse property which was purchased a few years ago for $2.000.”
Ontario’s law was the weirdest contraption of all. The province was considered to be prohibitionist and, indeed, it was difficult to obtain a drink of Scotch, rye, Irish, gin, rum or any beer w'orthy of the name. However, the powerful grape-growers’ lobby had persuaded the government to stop short of outlawing wine. This could be bought freely in strengths up to 28 percent, a potency generally considered to be more conducive to straightforward guzzling than to gracious living. The government had issued permits allowing their 30,000 holders to make their own wine at home.
U. S. “DRY NAVY” BOARDED BRITISH AND CANADIAN SHIPS
After much agitation beer up to 4.4 proof was allowed later on. Anyone who could get a prescription could buy hard spirits for medicinal use. (Stephen Leacock reported: “... It is necessary to go to a drugstore . . . and lean up against the counter and make a gurgling sigh like apoplexy. One often sees these apoplexy cases lined up four deep.”) South of the Forty-ninth Parallel and its adjoining waters the
harassed U. S. revenue agents were doing what they could to secure their borders against alcohol from abroad. What they could do, unfortunately, was sometimes what they had no right to do. They organized a “Dry Navy" of half a dozen high-speed patrol boats for use on the Atlantic coast and five motor cutters for the Great Lakes. Occasionally the Dry Navy searched or seized Canadian and British ships outside L). S. waters and sought to seal up liquor on passengers ships in U. S. ports. Britain was particularly touchy about any suggestion of interference with its maritime rights and when in the midst of these minor irritations the U. S. government without notice or discussion announced it w'as extending the three-mile limit to twelve miles, the irritation became acute.
In the first full year of the Volstead Act the import of whisky into Canada increased from an annual $5,500,000 worth to $23,000.000. “Rumrunning,” the Financial Post pointed out realistically, “has provided a tidy bit tow'ard Canada’s favorable balance of trade." Saturday Night said haughtily: “A good many people in the United States, including certain Washington officials, are evidently of the opinion that it is Canada's duty to assist that country in enforcing the Volstead Act. One enthusiast writes that if it takes a hundred thousand men to police our borders in order that no smuggling of liquor may take place, it is the duty of Canada to perform that service.” The Americans, Saturday Night went on, had brought the hazards of the Volstead Act on themselves through their own folly.
In March 1923 the U. S. Secretary of State officially asked Canada to refuse clearance papers to vessels with cargoes of liquor destined to ports in the United States unless a U. S. permit authorizing its entry w'as presented first. After three months Mackenzie King's government replied coolly that “the government of
CONTINUED ON PAGE 26
3W RUMRUNNING CORRUPTED CANADA
coniinued from page 23
The bootleggers soon developed a thriving cross-border traffic in stolen cars
Canada had carefully investigated the matter) and had ascertained that the provisions of the law were being properly observed.” There existed “no provisions in the customs laws or regulations which would warrant refusal of clearance to a foreign port simply because of the fact that the entry of such liquor, without special permits, was prohibited at the foreign port
in question.” The government of Canada therefore “regretted their inability to adopt the suggestion put forth by the United States government.”
But it gradually became apparent that, leaving international incidents and local crime aside, there were aspects to the rumrunning problem that Canada had not fully appreciated. Smuggling is a two-way street,
economically and morally. A ship, a small vessel or a truck that can transport a cargo of contraband in one direction may be able to — and will certainly be tempted to — transport a different kind of contraband in the other direction on the return journey. A nation that yawns when its citizens break another nation’s laws invites a loss of respect for its own laws.
Canada, rather disconcertingly, discovered that smuggling was not as great a help to the balance of trade as it had been first supposed. The return traffic was threatening a number of Canadian industries, large and small, with extinction or near-extinction. Saturday Night, w-hich had taken so lofty an attitude toward American complaints two years earlier, summed up the other side of the equation in high alarm:
“Smuggling into Canada has of late years assumed such immense proportions and has increased with such startling rapidity that it has become a national menace. Hon. Jacques Bureau, Minister of Customs, is quoted as saying that at least fifty million dollars of foreign goods are smuggled into Canada every year. . . . No one can really have an adequate idea of the extent of a business which thrives on secrecy. . . . But its extent may be measured by the results; by the Canadian factories which have reduced or suspended operations because they cannot meet this unfair competition; by the workmen whose families are very close to the bread line, because Canadian merchants have preferred the cheap goods, coming by the underground route, to those made by Canadian factories which have honestly paid the duties on their raw materials; and by the prosperity of the smuggling communities which have entrenched themselves here and there along the international boundary line between Canada and the United States.”
Although the larger ships of the rum fleet were not suitable for handling return cargoes, land conditions were ideal, particularly on the lonely frontiers between Maine and New Brunswick, between the southern townships of Quebec and Maine and Vermont and between Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta and Minnesota, North Dakota and Montana. A brisk twoway trade in stolen cars, based on the experience and organization of the border bootleggers, soon developed. Stolen goods of other kinds moved past the darkened lonely customs sheds with little trouble.
Representatives of the textile and allied industries were beginning to complain vociferously against the enormous increase in smuggling. Many Canadian firms were being driven to the verge of bankruptcy. Canadian tobacco manufacturers who. like textile and garment makers, had always depended on the protective tariff to stay in business, were equally concerned. King re-examined his attitude on the whole smuggling question and in mid-1924 a new treaty was signed by both countries; Canada granted U. S. revenuers the right to search suspected rumrunners up to twelve miles from shore. There was to be closer exchange of information on suspected cargoes on both sides and more care in granting clearance papers when there w'as any suspicion of intent to smuggle. Stolen property would be returned to the country of origin. But in fact and in practice it was far too loose an arrangement to cause the bootleggers and runners of contraband more than minor inconveniende.
But neither King nor anyone in his cabinet fully realized or was ready to admit how serious a problem smuggling had really become. The prime minister was prepared, when confronted with samplings of the unpleasant truth, to make sounds of polite concern, preferably in a low voice. He had his hands full maintaining his precarious mastery of parliament, although his hopes were high for the next election. Any suggestion of an underground crime wave, any whisper of scandal or laxity in the government service, would be particularly embarrassing now.
When a delegation of prominent busi-
nessmen came to urge on him the need of tightened laws and tighter enforcement of the existing laws, he received them with grave attention. He was interested to learn that they had formed themselves into a Commercial Protective Association and were prepared to offer the authorities all possible co-operation. The meeting did bestir King to offer the Protective Association the services of one of its most efficient private eyes. This was Walter Duncan, an investigator for the Department of Finance. Duncan was authorized to hire a small staff and he himself was given the power to examine witnesses under oath, to break into premises and safes, and to seize books and records.
Duncan chose as his first target one of the most incredible sitting ducks in the annals of public malfeasance. Whatever could be said of him. Joseph Edgar Alfred Bisaillon, chief preventive officer for the Department of Customs in Montreal, was never a man to hide his light under a bushel. He was already modestly famous as a protagonist in two of the most bizarre and mystifying episodes in the history of the Customs service.
The first was known as the Lortie-St. George case. In 1919 a wagon drawn by a single horse drove up to the Canada Steamship docks in Montreal. The driver dismounted and unloaded two trunks. He
partnership with Louis Morel, a former acquaintance of Bisaillon’s in the Customs department who had resigned from the civil service for a life of crime. But Chicago Benny insisted someone had doublecrossed him and Morel, by hoisting the drugs twenty-four hours too soon; he intimated that his Number One suspect was Bisaillon, the Customs officer.
Now, five years later and several degrees in rank higher, Bisaillon had just emerged in an equally intriguing role from the equally intriguing Barge Tremblay case. In November 1924 — just about the
time Walter Duncan was beginning his investigations on behalf of the Commercial Protective Association — the Quebec City office of the provincial liquor commission was advised to watch for a certain barge sailing up the St. Lawrence.
The barge appeared, labored on past the city without stopping to clear Customs, and disappeared into the night. The liquor commission sent a patrol along the banks in search of the waddling ghost ship and caught up to it the following midnight, moored in a quiet cove near the village of St. Sulpice.
Eight trucks had already begun unloau ing 16,000 gallons of alcohol on which n¿ duty had been paid and whose likeliest point of origin seemed to be the French island of St. Pierre. The detachment from the liquor board seized the barge and arrested the captain and crew and two American passengers who said they owned the cargo.
The boarding party prepared to go on to Montreal for further instructions. Before they could cast adrift, however, a stranger rode in from the night in a Model T Ford. His name was Duval, and he said
gave the baggageman two first-class tickets to Cornwall, Ontario, sixty miles upstream and asked to have the trunks checked. As the baggageman dragged the trunks across the counter, he heard something rattling inside and called a Customs officer. The officer found a key to fit and discovered that the trunks contained $35,000 worth of narcotics. He locked the trunks again and awaited developments. Soon two women arrived to make sure the trunks had been properly dispatched and to pick up the checks. The Customs officer stepped forward and asked them if they had the keys to the trunks. No. they said calmly, they hadn’t; the trunks belonged to an acquaintance of theirs, a Dr. Lortie, In France, who had asked them to have them forwarded to Cornwall as a favor.
By this time a second Customs officer had been called into the consultation — Joseph Bisaillon. Shortly afterward the women were allowed to go. No one searched them "Dr made any attempt to check their story or their identities. When notified of the presence of the drugs, however, the RCMP took a less casual view and after a considerable search found the women and brought them to trial. At the trial, although the evidence was still strong enough to bring down the conviction of both accused, neither Bisaillon nor his fellow Customs officer could identify either one. The judge warned Bisaillon and the other officer of the penalties for perjury, but they stuck to the story that they had never seen the women before.
That night the drugs, which had been released to the safekeeping of the Montreal chief of police, were stolen. One of the persons automatically questioned was Chicago Benny Rose, a gangster who bad come north to exact what share of the tribute he could along the new caravan trail staked out by prohibition. Chicago Benny admitted readily enough that he had been planning to steal the drugs, in
was a Customs officer acting for Chief reventive Officer Bisaillon, who also had neen warned to watch out for the Barge Tremblay,
Bisaillon was one of the first men aboard when the vessel docked at Montreal. He notified the new masters of the ship, the men from the Quebec Liquor Commission, that as officials of a provincial government they were inferior in authority to him, an officer of the Dominion government. He ordered them ashore and they meekly complied, first telling him that the captain and the crew and the two Amerira'" h"'' been placed under arrest. Bisail'iately permitted the two Ameriscape and then impounded the j the C rown.
d him into court again, along barge captain and certain memthe crew'. The charge was confis burden that Bisaillon had made pents to steer the vessel's 16,000 of alcohol to a safe harbor, duty e intervention of the Quebec 'mmission had been a stroke of artly balanced by the fortunate ç owners of the Cargo, vas dismissed for want of evihowever, before Bisaillon d to admit to some remarkping habits. Since the only ic nowwas the affair of the lay. nothing immediate came asure that at least $69,000 of government money had found its way into Bisaillon’s personal bank account — all of it. he insisted, being returned to the receiver-general in an orderly and businesslike way.
Inspector Duncan — w-orking quietly for the : Commercial Protective Association — had no difficulty in gathering further inhumation on Bisaillon. He ran a C ustoms brokerage business of his own in his spare 'íe. He was a well-known landowner in ; famous smuggler’s cove of Rock Isd. one of those picturesque Canadianw England villages where some of the ♦•re actually partly in Canada and jtted States. Bisaillon owntouse on each side of the as common gossip that he father obvious use of them, detective, was reporting to losely with R P. Sparks, • he Commercial Protective /Association - which now claimed among its concerned supporters such august organizations as the Montreal and Toronto Boards of Trade and the Canadian Manufacturers’ Association. Both men had expected the automatic dismissal of Bisaillon by the Customs department, or at least his suspension pending a full inquiry into his -activities. Montreal was the smuggling Vital of C anada, and perhaps of North nerica, and for a man of Bisaillon’s :kground to continue as the district’s ef antismuggling warden seemed as im ident as putting a known rapist in trge of a school for wayward girls. M;»verth ' -vs, neither the genial minister.
.tes Bureau, nor his deputy, R. R Far/, gave the slightest indication that they nad even been reading the papers during the Barge Tremblay hearings Two months later Bisaillon was still their chief preventive officer in Montreal. Sparks visited Bureau's office to inquire discreetly whether any action was contemplated, but he learned nothing. Duncan added a new entry to his own file on Bisaillon: at an trly period of his career the chief pren»ive officer had. in the presence of two ■r Customs officers, offered a fourth Tis officer a standing bribe of $11)0
•y in February 1925. eight months (the original interview with MacKing, Sparks wrote the prime minhis capacity as chairman of the
business group asking that a parliamentary committee be appointed.
On February 21, after an inconclusive interview with Jacques Bureau, Sparks petitioned the prime minister again: “The acquittal of Bisaillon . . . creates a new situation. I think you should be in possession of certain information which we have in reference to this matter, as he is the key to the whole smuggling situation. . . . Might I again repeat what I think I have said to you before, that, from the standpoint of loss of revenue, I think the smuggling business is second only to the loss occasioned by the Canadian National Railways.’’ Sparks wrote again, four days later, returning to the one problem he and his detectives thought could be isolated and corrected in an instant: Joseph Bisaillon.
Not a word of reply was received from the prime minister or his office. King was shielding Bureau, his Customs minister, as stubbornly as Bureau was shielding Bisaillon, his officer.
‘*A typical debauched official”
Later that summer King made tw'o fairly routine decisions. He called a general election for October and he arranged for his Customs minister, Jacques Bureau, to be appointed to the Senate in September. Except for one meeting at Three Rivers, where Bureau was angrily shouted down, smuggling created barely a ripple in the campaign. Neither King nor Arthur Mcighen, the Conservative leader, found much to talk about except the tariff. The Liberals lost 16 seats and ended up with 101. The Conservatives shot up from 49 to 116. The tottering agrarian third party, the Progressives, still had 25, so that with luck, prudence and proper respect for the remnant of the farmers' party. King had a chance to get through another term by holding the support of two minorities.
But the caldron of the Customs Department was still bubbling behind the scenes. Much had happened since Jacques Bureau and King had so pointedly refused to answer the Commercial Protective Association’s repeated requests for a cleanup. As evidence from the private detectives piled
up. Sparks, the association’s chairman, went to the veteran Conservative MP, Harry H. Stevens, and put the whole matter in front of him. Stevens consulted his party leader, Meighen.
The Tories now had a fistful of cards. The new question was how to play them. On a dramatic February midnight Stevens took the floor of the Commons and made the first move. He resurrected the Barge Tremblay and Lortie-St. George cases and he introduced his fellow legislators to Joseph Bisaillon: “The worst of crooks, he is an intimate of ministers, the petted favorite of this government. The recipient of a moderate salary, he rolls in wealth and opulence, a typical debauched and debauching public official.”
Stevens hammered on until four o'clock in the morning, outlining what he emphasized was only the barest skeleton of the skeleton in the closet. To get even a respectable part of the whole story, he insisted, it would be necessary to convene a special parliamentary committee.
The committee was granted by the squirming government and it reported back in June 1926. It came bearing approximately everything Stevens had said it would, and a little more. There was a wealth of verse to support each chapter of his first spate of charges, and now there were a few new chapters too.
The most startling one went back to the rumrunners. Many Canadians still regarded them as a rather romantic breed of men, somewhere between Long John Silver and Robin Hood —gay adventurers braving the guns of the U. S. Coast Guard to maintain freedom of the seas and a friendly neighbor’s right to a harmless drink. But now. it developed, not nearly all the liquor being smuggled out of Canada was being smuggled into the United States. Millions of dollars’ worth was being smuggled back into Canada at a heavy cost to the Canadian taxpayer.
It worked like this. Canadian distillers or wholesalers paid excise tax only on the whisky they sold in Canada. When they sent a shipment to a foreign destination it went out under bond. They posted a forfeit of twice the value of the cargo to
ensure that it reached its foreign destination; this bond was returned on presentation of a receipt from the foreign port of entry.
Most of these receipts were, as everyone knew, forged. A cargo of whisky bonded for and addressed to Mexico or Nassau would be unloaded for Boston off the North Atlantic coast. In due course a receipt would come back from Mexico or Nassau: the distiller made his profit, the shipper made his profit, the Custom inspector — not always, but sometimes — made his profit, and the deserving, parched American got his drink. If anyone suffered in the transaction, no Canadian did.
But as the parliamentary committee’s investigations soon showed, this delightfully cynical way of doing business was also robbing the Canadian treasury blind. In addition to their "legitimate” bootlegging to the United States, distillers and other shippers were bonding Canadian whisky to Mexico, Puerto Rico. Venezuela. Peru and other foreign ports and then unloading it, tax free and duty free, in Canada. Receipts were easy to come by and they were seldom closely scrutinized. The amount of difficulty depended only on how comatose or corruptible the Customs officials happened to be. Under this system of intra-mural smuggling one ship, according to its records, made three return journeys to the Bahamas in a week. Another vessel made a round trip to Peru in two days. In the three years ending in 1925 almost six million gallons of liquor left Halifax and Saint John under bond. A committee member claimed that “not one gallon of it left the shores of the Maritimes, and because it did not, at the rate of $9 a gallon excise, the treasury lost $52,481,340.”
One imaginative bootlegger found an ingenious way of beating the heavy Canadian duty on genuine imported Scotch. The Scotch did, in fact, come from Scotland. In fiction it was bound not for Canada but for Japan. Its route was through the Welland C anal to Port Arthur, then by train to the Vancouver docks. But somewhere between Lachine on the St. Lawrence and Port Arthur on Lake Superior the whisky disappeared. The Customs Department accepted the word of a known bootlegger that it had been actually offloaded at Buffalo and therefore w'as not liable to Canadian duty. The committee estimated the loss to the Canadian treasury in this one episode at between $420,000 and $700.000.
It was disillusioning enough for parliament and the nation to learn that not all rumrunners were patriots in disguise, plucking tail feathers from the Eagle for the common good. An infinitely more sobering and shameful truth became apparent as George Boivin. the new minister, was drawn personally into the inquiry.
Far from approaching the job of cleaning up the Customs Department like a Galahad. Boivin had approached it like a man who has inherited a concession. One of the problems awaiting him was how to dispose of the 16,000 gallons of alcohol that had run aground with Joseph Bisaillon’s plans for the Barge Tremblay. He found this easy enough to solve. Among the new aristocracy of legal bootleggers. W. J. Hushion was one whom Boivin was pleased to call a friend. Hushion, a former member of parliament, was now chiefly engaged as a senior officer and owner of Dominion Distilleries — a leading exporter to the United States and. according to the firm’s books, other foreign countries as far distant as Japan. There was no more logical man to whom to sell the contraband from the Barge Tremblay. Boivin let Hushion have the entire shipment at 36 cents a gallon, tax free. The price was fair and no tax was collectible, for it had been
been able to kindle a flash of response in a country yearning for a more meaningful destiny.
During the next six months Diefenbaker gave Canada the best government it has ever had. Many Ottawa civil servants were as fed up by 1957 with the Liberal regime as the rest of the country. They took pride in the smoothness of the takeover. Along with most Canadians, they thought they saw' in Diefenbaker an activist who. with their help, could pull the nation forward at a difficult time in its history. Diefenbaker himself, the mandate of his people fresh in his memory, dominated the Commons in such a dramatic way that his very presence lent it a rare sense of urgency. The Conservatives swamped the surviving Liberals with the momentum of their legislative drive.
A dozen beneficial measures were whipped through parliament in as many w'ccks and the new prime minister carried his overloaded schedule with a. flair that served to confirm the opinion 01 rnt voters That they had acted wisely in choosing this energetic man to lead them. The people responded to him as Canadians have seldom responded to any political leader. On Sept. 18, 1957. most Canadian newspapers carried a brief news item that it was the prime minister’s sixty-second birthday, but that instead of celebrating at home he would fly to Prince Edward Island to address the local Conservative Association. That night, when Diefenbaker climbed aboard the TCA Viscount for the trip back to Ottawa, his fellow' passengers spontaneously burst into the sing-song: “Happy
birthday to you; Happy birthday to you. Happy birthday, dear John ...” He acknowledged the unexpected tribute with a grin and a victory wave.
But that ’57-’58 parliament of minorities, much like the one of ’62-’63, didn't have long to survive. On Jan. 20, 1958, after Lester Pearson put forward an ill-conceived motion designed to restore the still-arrogant Liberals to office without an election, the prime minister crushed the newly chosen Liberal leader in a brilliantly caustic speech. Twelve days later parliament w'as dissolved and on Feb. 10 Diefenbaker left Ottawa by train to Winnipeg for his first major speaking engagement of the 1958 campaign.
As the cars jolted out of the Union Station he told reporters that now he was prime minister his campaign would be different. There would be no undignified whistle-stop electioneering, just one speech a day discussing national issues. Diefenbaker’s resolve barely survived the night. At Caprcol, north of Sudbury, he spied a huddle of voters outside his car on the station platform. The prime minister threw on his coat and bounded out in the twenty-four-below-zero night to shake their hands.
By eight o'clock the next morning Winnipeg’s auditorium w'as jammed with five thousand happy supporters; eight hundred others filled the adjacent concert hall; hundreds more had to be turned away.
The ovation they gave him provided a good preview of the campaign to come.
Once again, Diefenbaker based his
appeal on a faintly supernatural bond between himself and the nation's destiny, it wasn't so much what he was saying as how he was saying it. The feeling of trust he had stirred in the voters eight months before provided a foundation for his success in turning the campaign into a vast plebiscite — for or against the bountiful, trouble-free future he was promising.
Nearly every speech of his 1958 campaign w'as a variation of his opening address at Winnipeg. “One
Canada, one Canada, where Canadians will have preserved to them the control of their own economic and political destiny,” he vowed that night. “Sir John A. Macdonald gave his life to this party. He opened the west. He saw Canada from east to west. 1 see a new Canada — A CANADA OF THE NORTH!”
After vaguely outlining his intentions to improve the communications, transportation and hydro facilities of the Canadian north. Diefenbaker
abandoned his text, and b, with the rallying cry that h> carry across the nation:' “Tt Vision.” he proclaimed. ”C; realize your opportunities! T1 message 1 give my fellow C Not one of defeatism. Jc for hundreds of thousands dians. A new Vision! A n A new soul for Canada!"
During the next for Diefenbaker journeyed sand miles and made u»„
quiver. They cheered almost every lime he paused for breath. When he stood, bareheaded in the rain, addressing a small outdoor crowd at Penticton, B.C., some of his listeners were seen closing their umbrellas. In Fredericton. N.B., a crush of swooning women held up their children to touch the hem of his coat.
When Ed Morris, the local Conservative candidate, was introducing Diefenbaker to a packed audience at a Halifax theatre, he began by saying: “My friends, what shall we say of this great man?” A voice from the hack rows chimed out: “Dear John . . . Dear John.” Morris bowed his head. “Yes,” he intoned. “We may as well say, dear John ...” Two thousand men and women stood up to roar their approval. (This, incidentally, was the same Ed Morris, Tory MP, who on Feb. 5, 1963, refused to vote with the Diefenbaker government because he had “lost all confidence in the prime minister.”)
In Edmonton, a few days before, Diefenbaker had been mobbed by ten thousand admirers. His car took half an hour to drive the four short blocks from the railroad to the Macdonald Hotel.
rheu^r^ösë puT*his hand in the sl auto's open window and pleaded: “God bless you . . . just let me touch your coat.” In the lobby of the hotel, a blind woman pressed against him, crying: “Oh, Mr. Diefenbaker, it's so wonderful just to hear your voice.” in Vancouver eight thousand wild disciples had mobbed the Forum to hear his speech, jamming traffic in all directions for hours before the rally. “There are too many following John.” an exasperated traffic cop radioed police headquarters.
At times that election seemed to move beyond politics. Diefenbaker transformed it into a secular passion play, with himself as its quasi-divine hero. "The memory of that sweeping tide lingers with all of us who faced it.” Douglas Fisher, NDP MP from Port Arthur, says now. “It was irrational in its surge.”
The final tabulation of ballots on March 31 showed that the Conservatives had achieved a fantastic victory. With the exception of Newfoundland (where he came within one percent) Diefenbaker had been given the majority of the vote in every province.
The Liberals were reduced to their lowest contingent since Confederation. The Social Credit Party, which had held nineteen seats in the 1957 House, was wiped out. The CCF membership in the Commons was reduced from twenty-five to eight MPs. The leaders of both minor parties—M. J. Coldwell and Solon Low — went down to defeat.
The most astonishing result was the Tory sweep of Quebec, which elçcte;1 twice as manyCgi^ç^^^^ Libmng that hadn’t happened since the days of Sir John A. Macdonald. Diefenbaker skyrocketed the popularity of his party in French Canada to sixty-two percent of the vote — just one percentage point behind true-blue Ontario.
When he flew back to Ottawa from Prince Albert after the election, John Diefenbaker was not only the most successful politician in Canadian history, he also had more support in his own country than the leader of any other democratic government in the world.
Having given him all that they have
established and certified that the alcohol was not officially drinkable. It was denatured. i.e. rubbing alcohol, and under the law Hushion would be allowed to resell it only to hospitals and a few other rigidly specified types of consumer.
So far so good. But having sold Hushion the contents of the Barge Tremblay as rubbing alcohol, tax free, the minister now' permitted Hushion to export it to the United States as drinking liquor. (How he was to get it through the Volstead pickets was, of course, not the department’s affair. )
In short, Boivin gave his friend the best of both worlds. What the government sold him as poison it allowed him to resell as non-poison, with the price and tax advantages on his side in both cases. If it was not poison, the government was defrauded of about $200,000. If it w'as poison, only the people who drank it w'ere defrauded.
The story that held parliament’s 'attention longest however, and probably played the greatest single part in bringing down the government, was not one involving huge sums of money, rich conspirators, chases by moonlight or any of the other paraphernalia of high intrigue. It revolved around an insignificant little country bootlegger named Moses Aziz.
Moses Aziz lived in Caraquet. New Brunswick, a small town near the Bay of Chaleur. In the summer of 1925, a raid on his premises disclosed him to be in possession of several hundred dollars’ w'orth of contraband liquor. It was his third offense and he w'as sentenced to a year in jail.
One of the first messages George Boivin found awaiting him when he relieved Jacques Bureau as minister of Customs in September w'as a letter from J. G. Robichaud, the Liberal candidate for Gloucester, asking that Aziz's sentence be stayed. Boivin. a lawyer, wasn't sure why Aziz. — having been convicted — wasn’t in jail already. Nor was he sure how he, the minister of Customs, could overrule a decision of the courts. But, as he explained innocently to the parliamentary committee, he wasn’t certain of Jegal practice in New' Brunswick. He gave his fellow Liberal what comfort he could by promising to talk to him about the case on the latter’s forthcoming trip to Ottawa.
Late in September a much more urgent message came from Robichaud to Boivin. "Will you please consult with the Honorable Mr. Lapointe [the minister of justice] about the proceedings instituted against Mr. A. M. Aziz. Caraquet. 1 attach the greatest importance to this affair, since in the actual circumstances I need the help of all my friends. Mr. Aziz is of the highest help to us during this campaign and we cannot do without his services.”
Any qualms Boivin may have felt about the legal niceties vanished. If the party needed help, who was he to quibble about the law? Lapointe w'as not available for advice, but Boivin wired the local customs officer in New Brunswick: "Am directed to request you to stay execution of warrant of commitment against Moses Aziz pending further investigation. Arrange with magistrate accordingly.”
Robichaud. the home candidate, retained the seat for the Liberals in the fall election, presumably with the help of Aziz. The latter continued in his state of freedom, his one-year jail sentence unserved, unreviewed by any court, unaffected by anything except the private arrangement of two Liberal members of parliament. Five months later Moses Aziz was still free.
Boivin now had two explanations for ms own conduct in the matter. One was for the House of Commons, where he could say what he wished to say and pay as much or as little attention to anyone else
as he chose. The other explanation was for the parliamentary committee, where he was subject to the hazards of cross-examination.
Before the tough-minded committee he admitted again and again, abjectly and without reservation, that he had had no right to interfere with Moses Aziz’s sentence once the courts had pronounced it. In the House itself, where the audience was less critical, Boivin was correspondingly less frank. The hungry Tories, certain they had a major quarry at bay, demanded he come to the confessional again before the nation’s highest tribunal. He refused, and refused again and again — at first petulantly and rather pathetically, then sullenly, then indignantly. Amid blizzards of red herrings and tornadoes of invective from both sides of the House, Boivin stood his untenable ground. He had pleaded guilty once, before the private inquisition. It was too much to ask that he plead guilty again before the public jury. He declined flatly to admit to any wrongdoing. He was not to have another chance to do so, for within six weeks he was dead — his friends said of the strain of trying to repair a world he never made, his enemies said of worry over his own tragic failings, the doctors said of appendicitis.
The scandal at last cost King the support of the Progressives and drove him briefly out of office. But he was able to win re-election almost at once by leading Lord Byng and Conservative leader Arthur Meighen into the complicated trap of the Constitutional Crisis.
Except for a few' modifications and inconveniences the rumrunners continued to do business pretty much as usual until near the end of the thirties. The perennial dispute with the United States flared up more hotly than ever when two U. S. patrol vessels chased a Canadian ship named the I’m Alone for two days and 215 miles, finally caught it in their gunsights and sank it with cannon fire.
In its first wave of outrage during the parliamentary inquiry, a resolution had been passed demanding that no more shipments of booze be allowed to leave the country bearing U. S. addresses, but King did not put it into effect. Indeed, boats carrying Canadian liquor were loading constantly in Windsor in full view of the U. S. Customs station across the Detroit River and proceeding undisturbed to land their cargo on the far side.
The weird arrangement in existence was that when Canadian liquor was on the way to the United States, the Canadian authorities would grant the necessary papers and then telephone the American authorities at the port of destination to warn them the contraband was on its way.
frequently the American officials, who had become just as cynical as and, it must be suspected, even more corrupt than the Canadian officials, merely sat and looked on. A Canadian officer in Bridgeburg, Ontario. reported to the Department of National Revenue that his opposite number across the fifteen-minute run to Buffalo had asked him to stop making phone calls about impending shipments of rum and write him once a week. According to one NIP. there were five thousand cases in which Canadian Customs agents had cleared rumrunners with the boat wrongly named and the captain wrongly named. An unbelievable number of the boats were called Daisy and their skippers Bill Smith.
The Canadian minister of National Revenue, W. D. Euler, had inherited this Gilbert-and-Sullivan situation from George Boivin and Jacques Bureau, and he viewed it with calm and unconcern. In the House he spoke of an adventure of his own:
"1 was offered safe conduct by a liquor exporter and went out on a launch on the Detroit River. 1 could see the United States
Customs office on the other shore and I could see it was not very difficult to detect any boats that left the Canadian shore to go to the American side. While in Windsor I got into conversation with a man engaged in the business of exporting liquor. I asked him, ‘Do you cross in the daytime?’ He answered, ‘Yes, quite often.’ I said. How is it they do not get you?’ He replied with a smile, ‘It just happens that they are not there when we go across.’ ’’
At one time there were actually ninety docks in Windsor mainly serving the liquor trade. Thirty of them were closed up after the Ontario Liquor Control Board charged that at least some of them were “switching back” liquor into Ontario. In a prosecution against one of the Windsor warehouses, a government lawyer estimated that the liquor traffic across the Detroit River was about a million dollars’ worth a month. The U. S. Prohibition Bureau issued a statement saying that four-fifths of the illegal alcohol coming into the United States came through Detroit and in defense of its inability to stop it maintained that, in order to do so, it would need the whole U. S. Army and Navy. The U. S. tried to extradite a bagful of Canadian distillers, wholesalers, even bankers and railway officials. The intention was to charge them with conspiracy to defeat the Volstead Act, but the case was quietly dropped when it became apparent that no
Canadian court was likely to take the extradition request seriously.
The government stuck to its basic position that liquor in most parts of Canada was a legally manufactured product, that the government had no right under the existing law to forbid its export and didn't intend to change the law. since to do so would set an impossible precedent.
One notable sympathizer in this was the explosive little congressman from New York, Fiorello La Guardia. In his view the U. S. proposal that Canada change its own laws to fit the requirements of the Volstead Act was completely indefensible; indeed, he spluttered in the House of Representatives, there had never been “a more outrageous, cheap proposition in the history of the world.” A slightly less passionate defender of Canada’s position was Mackenzie King’s part-time ally, J, S.
Woodsworth, who wondered innocently in the Canadian House of Commons whether Canada’s staunch attitude might not be unconsciously influenced by the huge campaign donations both the Liberal and Conservative parties were getting from the distillers.
In the meantime, although the British consul in New Orleans indignantly demanded, and obtained, the release from U. S. custody of the survivors of the I’m Alone and other protests were made in their behalf in Washington, most of the rumrunners working the high seas regarded the affair as nothing more serious than a bad break in a game in which the odds were all on their side.
The fantastic adventures of the Volstead Act were by no means confined to Windsor and the Atlantic and Gulf coasts. On the long and empty prairie border between Saskatchewan and Alberta on the north and North Dakota and Montana on the south, anyone who was content to smuggle a few bottles merely had to walk through a clump of wolf willow or Saskatoon berries and hand them over. But a person with more ambition could easily whisk them through by the carload. This created its own regional gangland. A frequent visitor to the towm in southern Saskatchewan where this writer grew up was a fairly important bootlegger from Lignite, North Dakota, who had acquired a set of possessions that looked as exotic, at least in that dusty little town in Saskatchewan, as the whole contents of the Arabian Nights. First of all his car, an authentic Duesenberg, top down, open to view, as long, low and glossy as Cleopatra’s barge. It was all nickel and red, with a set of exhausts shining like a pipe organ.
This would have been a staggering enough sight, but the man from North Dakota filled his Duesenberg with blondes. There were usually four or five of them clustered around him like a bouquet of wax gardenias.
At the end of the procession he led into town came two black Buicks full of colored baseball players. This was the time of tournament baseball in the West, a time when almost every town of any size had its oneor two-day tournament for a thousand dollars or more, and when colored men were still not allowed in organized baseball. Two of the greatest men who ever pitched baseball, John Donaldson and Satchel Paige, had no place else to earn a livelihood but on the prairies. The gangster from North Dakota had neither Paige nor Donaldson, but he had a good ball team, easily good enough to play against Hap Felsch and Swede Risberg, the white stars of the Chicago White Sox who had been disqualified from organized baseball for their part in the fixed World Series of 1919. When the cavalcade from North Dakota swept into one of the small towns of southern Saskatchewan, it was far more exciting than the arrival of the circus. Nobody in that vicinity had seen a Duesenberg before, nobody had seen a gangster before, nobody had seen a manufactured blonde before, nobody had seen a colored man before. Suddenly the streets were alive with them all, honking, shouting. giggling, staring back in a not unfriendly . way at the goggle - eyed farm boys.
Viewed from a quarter of a century’s distance, Canada's part in Andrew Volstead's noble experiment was thoroughly shabby and disreputable. It is a mistake, however, to assume that we missed out altogether on its excitement, perils and profits, if
NEXT: THE GREAT BEAUHARNOIS POWER SCANDAL OF THE NINETEEN-THIRTIES
Ralph Allen’s book. Ordeal by Fire, will be published this fall by Doubleday Canada Ltd.