The War Measures Act

People of Ukrainian background imprisoned without cause by the Canadian state at an internment camp in Banff, Alberta during World War I.

The War Measures Act is a federal law passed by Parliament on August 22, 1914, after the outbreak of the First World War. The law grants sweeping emergency powers to the federal Cabinet, allowing it to govern by decree if it perceives the threat of « war, invasion or insurrection, real or apprehended. » It was used to suspend the civil liberties of people in Canada who were considered « enemy aliens » leading to mass arrest and detention without charge or trial. 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 War Measures Act was used again during the Second World War.

In 1937, Quebec also passed a law protecting the province against communist propaganda, better known as the « Padlock Law. » It aimed to stop communist activities in the province and its nickname comes from the fact that the authorities could order a premises to be locked to prevent access.

In the text of the « Padlock Law » one can read:

« It is illegal for anyone who owns or occupies a home in the province to use it or allow anyone to use it to spread communism or Bolshevism by any means. »

The law was declared unconstitutional in 1957 by the Supreme Court of Canada.

The only time the War Measures Act was enacted in peacetime was in October 1970 when Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau used it to conduct searches and arrests during the October Crisis. It has since been replaced by the Emergency Measures Act, which was passed on July 21, 1988.

(Sources : TML, Canadian Encyclopedia, Justice Canada)