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ISOLATION FOR CANADA? P. E. CORBETT T HE year 1936 has brought final proof that the Great Powers are not yet willing on the one hand to make the sacrifices, on the other to take the risks, which effective organization for the preservation of peace involves. Clearly, the Covenant of the League of Nations has in all its most essential aspects been scrapped. We now know that " the League (unless it be revivified in sudden realization, scarcely to be expected, that it offers the only means of averting calamity) will not prevent the wars which threaten to break out at any momen t in Europe and Asia. . These developments have occasioned in Canada more thinking upon foreign policy than ever before, and the most vocal result of new thought is the demand that we should keep clear of the impending hostilities which seem likely to involve Great Britain. The loudness and frequency of this demand do not prove it to be the voice of a majority of Canadians. How the country would stand on the issue of going in or keeping out, supposing it were competently informed as to the implications of both alternatives , there is no means of discovering; and the confident predictions in favour of one or the other, which we sometimes hear in private conversations or even in public speeches, reflect little more than the sentiment of the speaker. But, all question of majority or minority aside, one thing seems quite clear, namely, that a good many of our English-speaking compatriots have added themselves to the avowedly isolationist French-Canadian bloc. I t may be that we shall be given the opportunity, wrule the precarious peace still endures, of determining for ourselves , and defining to the world, what our national attitude 120 ISOLATION FOR CANADA will be if the worst happens. The old debate as to whether , and how far, we should contribute to Empire defence appears likely to be renewed in the near future; and that may well be the precipitant that will clarify the present IlJ.urky solution of Canadian opinion. On the other hand, the war may be upon us before we have had any such chance of weighing our loyalties. In either case, there is urgent need for preliminary discussion. The first phase of any programme of isolation must be neutrality in British wars. Is this possible, and, if so, how is it to be achieved? Most authorities would answer that neutrality is not legally possible under the present constitution of the Commonwealth. They would maintain, as does General Smuts in South Africa against General Hertzog and his Nationalist followers, that when Great Britain is at war, the Dominions automatically become belligerents. Law can, of course, be amended, and in any case constitutions are always disregarded when political exigencies become really acute. Nevertheless, the existing constitutional position cannot be dismissed as an academic consideration , for the simple reason that, if war were to break out to-morrow, Great Britain's enemy would be legally justified in refusing to recognize any declaration of neutrality which this or another Dominion might make. And if it happened to serve his interest, he would treat Canada 's commerce all over the world as enemy trade. In other words, unless and until the present relationship with the mother country is changed, neutrality would not be a matter for exclusively Canadian decision. That is the first point which has usually been overlooked by the isolationists . The C.C.F. deserves some credit for facing the difficulty squarely, when, in its Convention of 1936, it passed a resolution demanding immediate legislation to 121 THE UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO QUARTERLY "make it clear to the world that Canada is free to be neutral in any war...." It is admi tted that the Dominions are under no obligation of active participation in British wars. We are free to make up our minds in every case whether or not we shall send men, money, or supplies. But between passive belligerency, as it has come to be called, and complete neutrality, there is a great gulf. In a life-and-death struggle between Great Powers,the neutral's lot is not a happy one...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 120-131
Launched on MUSE
2015-07-01
Open Access
No
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