The British Columbia Community Regulation Act

by Koozma J. Tarasoff

The following article concerns the notorious anti-Doukhobor British Columbia Community Regulation Act (British Columbia Statutes, 1914, Chap. II, pp. 65-68), a notorious anti-Doukhobor Act which violates the Canadian Charter of  Rights and Freedoms. This discriminatory legislation is still on the books.

The British Columbia Community Regulation Act defines Community members as anyone “living under communal or tribal conditions” and holds each member responsible for the registration of births, marriages and deaths in the community, for regular school attendance of all community children between the ages of seven and fourteen, and for compliance with the Health Act. Conviction for an offense under this Act allows for the seizure of goods and chattels of the Community for the offenses of its members. Proof of membership is arbitrary and blatantly discriminatory:

“It shall be sufficient proof that a person is a member of a community if it be shown on the oath of one witness that such person has been found in, upon, or about lands in the Province which are occupied by two or more persons under tribal or communal conditions of family life and residence in this Province.” (British Columbia, Community Regulation Act, 19l4: 65).

In March 4, 1914, the (then) Attorney General William Bowser introduced the Act to deal with unruly Community and zealot Doukhobors in British Columbia (see Tarasoff, K.J., Plakun Trava: The Doukhobors, 1982: pp. 123-129). Later, in December 1922, the authorities fined eight parents of Community Doukhobors for failure to send their children to school regularly. When the fines were not paid, Provincial Police Inspector W.R. Dunwoody issued distress warrants using the said Act. The incorporation of the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood in 1917 now allowed the seizure of Community property, whereas in 19l5 it had not been technically community property. A quantity of property was seized, but before it could be sold, the Community paid the amount due and made arrangements for students to return to classes.

In the early 1920s, a number of Doukhobor schools in the interior of British Columbia were destroyed by arson. The last school was burnt in February 1925, following the committal to jail of two parents for failure to send their children to school. In reaction, a boycott occurred and more parents refused to send their children to school. The Grand Forks magistrate levied fines totaling $4,500 on 35 parents whose children failed to appear in school. Inspector Dunwoody led a force on horseback of 10 constables and 100 citizens who forced their way into Community warehouses at Grand Forks and seized lumber, supplies and office equipment. The goods were sold for $3,360 but Community Doukhobors claimed the loss to be $25,000. The action seemed to be effective. The Community paid the remaining fines and children began returning to classes. And by the summer of 1925 Doukhobor carpenters were busy rebuilding the schools that had been destroyed. A temporary truce had been reached.

For many years I have wondered what has happened to that notorious Act which today goes against the Charter of Canada. This past week, Dr. John McLaren, a distinquished Law professor at the University of Victoria responded to my request. He wrote as follows:

“I was surprised to hear that the Community Regulation Act, 1914 might still be in force, but my inquiries and those of our Reference Librarian suggest that that is the case. The last printed version of the Act in the BC statutes is in the Revised Statutes of 1960. Thereafter, there were no recorded changes to it through to 1979 when it disappears from the Revised Statutes of that year. However, it was not repealed either by specific legislation for that purpose or by the Statute Revision Act which is passed when the statutes undergo formal revision and directs what happens to statutes previously in force. Any statute mentioned in the previous revision or passed since (e.g. since 1960) is repealed where the new revision (e.g. 1979) contains an act covering the same subject matter. The problem with the CR Act is that it is not mentioned in the 1979 Revised Statutes. Presumably then it remains in force, as not repealed. There is no mention of the Act in the most recent Revised Statutes of 1996. Moreover, it does not appear in the index of statutes in force in the annual volumes of statutes produced each year (not since the 1979 volume).

I am puzzled that the Act is still in force it would have escaped the attention of those in the Attorney General¹s department responsible for making provincial legislation jibe with the Charter. If I am right and it is still technically in force (perhaps forgotten) then perhaps we need to let them know that they have a secret cuckoo in their nest and suggest that they formally repeal it.”

Indeed, it is time now to formally write the B.C. Attorney General with a request that the Community Regulation Act be repealed as being not only anti-Doukhobor, but also not in tune with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. This can best be done through the Doukhobor Unity Committee. Let’s act now!

To contact the B.C. Attorney General with your concerns about the Community Regulation Act, please write to: Attorney General Geoff Plant, Box 9044, Station Provincial Government, Victoria, British Columbia, V8V 1X4 or email the Attorney General.