Saturday, June 18, 2011

Tim Buck, Too

Morris Wolfe
Also read:
Tim Buck, the Party, and the People, 1932-1939

Tim Buck, Communist Party of Canada
Each year I show the students in my Canadian film class Michel Brault’s remarkable 1974 film, Les ordres, a film all too few Canadians have seen. Les ordres dramatizes what it was like to be one of the 450 political prisoners jailed as a result of Pierre Trudeau’s invocation of the War Measures Act in October 1970. And each year, the students are incredulous. How can it be, they ask, that such a thing could happen in Canada? How could it have happened and they not know about it?

Of course, it’s not just the War Measures Act. Canadians, it sometimes seems, have the shortest memories of any people on earth. It allows us to feel superior to the Americans; we know about the awful things they did under McCarthyism. But how many of us know that sixty years ago this month, in November 1931, years before Joseph McCarthy appeared on the scene, Tim Buck, the former leader of the Communist Party of Canada, and seven of his colleagues, were jailed, not because of anything they’d done — only because of what they believed?

They were charged under a section of the Criminal Code (Section 98), which had been enacted during the First World War; it declared unlawful any association advocating the use of force to change society. As a result of the Winnipeg General Strike in 1919, Section 98 had been broadened to allow for the arrest of anyone suspected of seditious conspiracy. That, as F. R. Scott pointed out in the Canadian Forum, could mean almost anything. Seven of the eight Communists were sentenced to five years in Kingston penitentiary; the eighth got two years and was then deported.

Read more HERE.

Matthew Popovich, Tom McEwen, Tom Hill, John Boychuk, Mike Grolinsky (charges later dropped), Sam Carr, Tom Cacic, and Tim Buck. Absent: Malcolm Bruce. "Communists Charged Under Section 98, 1931," Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, University of Toronto, Kenny Collection, Ms Coll 179, Box 636/#155.

Eight Men Speak

Eight Men Speak is a Canadian play written in 1933 by a committee of Oscar Ryan, E. Cecil-Smith, Frank Love and Mildred Goldberg. Although the play made only one performance in its initial run, the attempts by the authorities to suppress it backfired into a political embarrassment for the Canadian government and Prime Minister R. B. Bennett.

The agit-prop play told the story of Tim Buck and his arrest as a Communist under Section 98 of the Criminal Code of Canada that made simple association with an organization advocating violent overthrow of the government a crime. Furthermore, it details the apparent assassination attempt on Buck during a prison riot when shots were fired into his cell despite the fact he was not participating in the riot in any way.

The play is most noted by the reaction of the local authorities who reacted to the play's one performance at Toronto's Standard Theatre on December 4, 1933. The police ordered the play closed and threatened to revoke the theatre's licence if the play was performed again. A theatre in Winnipeg had its licence revoked to pre-empt the play being performed there.

When the Progressive Arts Club had a meeting to protest this censorship, a former minister, A. E. Smith, described the play and its allegations of the attempted assassination of the Communist leader. As a result, Smith was indicted for sedition, but the resulting trial allowed Buck to take the stand and relate the events of the incident in open court. Smith was acquitted, and Buck and his comrades were soon released afterward.

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