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Maurice Spector

The Canadian Party Trial

The Government Outlaws the Communist Movement

(November 1931)

From The Militant, Vol. IV No. 32 (Whole No. 91), 21 November 1931, pp. 1 & 4.
This article is also included in the Canadian Socialist History Project archive.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The first state trial of its kind in the experience of the Dominion has passed into history. On Friday November 13, eight leading members of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Canada were convicted at the Fall Assizes, under section 98 of the Criminal Code on three counts: of belonging to an unlawful association, of being officers of such an association, and of being parties to a seditious conspiracy. Seven were sentenced to five years imprisonment each on the first two counts and two more years on the third count, the sentences to run concurrently. These are Tim Buck, secretary of the party, T. Ewan, secretary of the Workers Unity League, Malcolm Bruce, editor of The Worker, John Boychuk, M. Popovitch, Sam Carr. Thomas Cacic was sentenced to two years. All those of foreign birth, though citizens, will be subject to an order for deportation under section 9 of the Naturalization Act which provides for the revocation of papers of anyone “who has shown himself by act or speech to be disaffected or disloyal to His Majesty”. An order has been further issued for the confiscation of all party property.

The Offensive Against the Workers

The prosecution has been the high-water mark of the political reaction in Canada since the economic crisis set in. The army of the unemployed has risen to unprecedented proportions. The organized workers are confronted with attacks on their standards of living. The wage cut offensive has been launched against railroad workers, mine workers, steel workers and others. To the demands of the workers for unemployment insurance or adequate relief the Bennet Government has turned a deaf ear. Against the Soviet Union, it declared a trade embargo. To crush the resistance of the masses, to terrorize them against manifestations of discontent, the possessing classes through their police power have practically abrogated the civil liberties and other democratic rights. This offensive has been waged with particular bitterness and ruthlessness against the Communist Party as the single political organization of the workers which dared to expose the bankruptcy of the capitalist class and to offer leadership against saddling the workers and poor farmers with the burdens of the crisis. Finally the Attorney-General of Ontario instigated a series of raids last August 11, which resulted in the arrest of the party leaders under section 98 of the Criminal Code.

Prosecution Mobilizes Its Heavy Artillery

The section in question was enacted in 1919 by the Conservative Government in office at the time, and determined to suppress the Winnipeg Strike, which was a product of the post war crisis. The section reads:

“Any association, organization, society or corporation whose professed or one of whose professed purposes is to bring about any governmental, industrial or economic change within Canada by use of force, violence, terrorism or physical injury to person or property, or by threats of such injury or which teaches, advocates, advises or defends, the use of force, violence, terrorism or physical injury to person or property, or threats of such injury, in order to accomplish such change, or for any other purpose, or which shall by any means prosecute or pursue such purpose or professed purpose, or shall so teach, advocate, advise or defend, shall be an unlawful association”.

In outlining his case, the special Crown prosecutor charged that the work of the Communist Party was “a deliberate, continuous, subtle conspiracy directed and controlled by Moscow to overturn by force, by violence, by bloodshed, all the existing institutions of church and state in Canada”. To this end he proposed to show that the Communist Party was formed in 1921 as an underground illegal organization known as the “Z” party, while it carried on its public activity under the name of the “A” or Workers’ Party. During this time, he alleged, the Canadian party had been a section of the Communist International and was subject to the control of the E.C.C.I.

The Crown Spy a “Sensation”

The Crown entered on an elaborate description of the internal structure of the party, from the nucleus at the bottom to the convention at the top, the division of labor on the Central Committee, the functions of the Political Burean, the role of the fractious. The Workers Unity League and the Farmers Unity League, stated the prosecution, were auxiliaries of the party. The Ukrainian, Finnish, and Hungarian language organizations, were similarly alleged to be controlled by party fractions. Following the technical ritual of identifying the accused as members of the Communist Party, the Crown sprang its “sensation”, which was no sensation to anyone familiar with the course of such trials. They produced Sergeant Leopold of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, their undercover man, who had functioned under the name of Eselwein as the government spy in the party from its inception in 1921 until his exposure and expulsion in 1928.

Leopold-Eselwein deposed that prior to joining the party he had been a member of the O.B.U. He had become secretary of the Regina branch of the party. The Z or underground organization had been formed under the mandate of the Pan-American Bureau of the Comintern which was staffed by Charles Scott, Louis Fraina and Sen Katayama. The Canadian party, he alleged, had received $3,000 to initiate the activity. The organizer of the party on a tour through the West, Jack MacDonald, has informed him that the purpose of the organization was the overthrow of the existing institutions by the advocacy of force and violence. The Z party had been liquidated following the reports of the International delegates to the Fourth Congress, Maurice Spector and Jack MacDonald.

(These brief factual data of the Canadian Communist trial marks a certain culmination of a series of increased reactionary onslaughts. An estimate and review by comrade Spector, of the issues involved and of the conduct of the party on trial will follow in our next issue – Ed.)

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