Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Truth and Denial and WWI Conscription

Young socialite and future social reformer Constance Hamilton of Toronto.

In WWI, the women  of Canada, or their representatives, came out for Conscription long BEFORE Premier Borden and his Union Party cronies, or so it seems.

November, 1916. “Re: Conscription and expression of sympathy: That the LCW is dissatisfied with the present undemocratic method of recruiting and believe that Canada should without further delay fulfill her pledge to send 500,000 men for the Defence of the Empire and petition the government to take definite steps to extend the operation of the Military Act for Home Defence to overseas, with just and reasonable exceptions.”

 Carrie Derrick of the Montreal Council of Women, who wrote up the resolution and sent it on to the National Council (where it was approved by 11 locals, and turned down by 7) refused to admit it.

This "Montreal Resolution" was  described in the Press across Canada as a Conscription Resolution.

Still, Derick  would say, just  a year later, that the Montreal Resolution wasn't about Conscription (although the word Conscription was written into the MLCW minutes and even underlined). How could the resolution be about conscription when conscription wasn't yet a party plank? she asked.

Good question.  Derick was very good with words, a truly 'modern' politician.

Back in January, 1916, Premier Borden of Canada had returned from England and called for 500,000 new Canadian recruits. This is a huge number considering that there were only 8 million people total in Canada.

His goal, to use moral persuasion to get men to enlist.

The National Council of Women  soon passed a resolution to use moral persuasion to get women to 'let their men go.' It is written in their New Century Magazine.

 In the period, Borden often sent emissaries to tell the National Council ladies that the Women of Canada simply were not doing enough for the war effort, despite all their bandage-rolling and fund-raising.

"Too many Canadian women were of the joy-riding spirit,' these government men said.

Then, at a November 1916 Board meeting of the Montreal Local Council of Women, something provoked Miss Derick (the Past-President) to propose that resolution in favor of Conscription and have it sent to the National Council for country-wide approval.

Only, 8 months later, in late July, 1917, did Borden start talking in the Press about conscripting men into the forces. (From what I can see online.)

A few days after that, on the 29th of July, 1917, Mrs. Constance Hamilton, Toronto-based head of the Women's Section of the Win the War Committee, held a special emergency meeting of the National Equal Suffrage Union (her circa 1914 suffrage organization that had been 'on hold' since 1915) and passed a rousing resolution, printed up in the newspapers, against holding an election but strongly in favor of Conscription, and in favour of denying 'foreigners' and 'slackers'  the vote in any upcoming federal election, should there have to be one.

Hamilton published this statement juxtasposed  with another rather colourful resolution sent into the meeting by rogue elements (not President Derick) of the Montreal Suffrage Association described as "an organization that represented women across the province"  also boistrously  in favour of conscription and Borden's Union Government, but with no mention of slackers.

"We heartily support the policy of the Borden Government for a Union Government to enforce conscription and to ensure vigorous prosecution of the war but we regret a General Election during the war. Is Canada going to fail? Never! If we break faith with those who die 'They will not sleep though poppies grow in Flanders Field.' Canada's honor is at stake, she must not fail to carry on to break faith with our brave fighting men and glorious dead."

In September, Borden, who in June had hinted about giving all Canadian women the federal vote, created the War Time Elections Act,awarding the vote only to women with men at the Front.

Constance Hamilton was elated: after all, this limited suffrage measure was basically her idea. (Read Service and Disservice). 

Carrie Derick, who also was a VP of Hamilton's NEFU, was incensed, as she had been fighting hard to make sure all Quebec women got the federal vote in any future election.

The Conscription Election was held in  December 1917, pitting Laurier's Liberals against a Union Government made up of former Liberals and Conservatives. There were riots in Quebec, as well.

The Union side won. Conscription passed.

In October, before the election, Carrie Derick tried to get the Montreal Local Council of Women to denounce the War Time Elections Act, speaking for a full hour at the Board meeting in question, but to no avail.

She did get the Board of the Montreal Suffrage Association, where she was President, to pass a resolution condemning the War Time Elections Act, with a few members dissenting.

Borden wrote her MSA back a letter saying "You don't appreciate the position I am in . Would you want women who have only been in Canada a few months to vote?

It was never about Quebec women apparently. Yea. Right.