Canadian Legal History logoThe Province of Saskatchewan may have been the first to issue a human rights code in Canada.

But staining their history is the story of Moose Jaw's, Mr. Quong Wing.

Mr. Wing was a Canadian citizen. By today's standards, legal distinctions ought to end there.

Circa 1912, Saskatchewan's goldilocks, it appeared, had everything to fear from the big bad Chinaman.

Thus, as of 1912, Saskatchewan had this racist provision of An Act to Prevent the Employment of Female Labour in Certain Capacities:

"No person shall employ in any capacity any white woman or girl, or permit any white woman or girl to reside or lodge in or to work in or, save as a bona fide customer in a public apartment thereof only, to frequent any restaurant, laundry or other place of business or amusement owned, kept or managed by any Chinaman."

Louis Henry DaviesIn 1912, Saskatchewan was not alone with these types of obnoxious laws on the books but that mattered little to Mr. Wing when he was convicted of employing not one, but two white women in his Chinaman restaurant.

His conviction made it to Canada's Supreme Court and was upheld on February 14, 1914, in a split decision.

Justice Fitzpatrick referred to Mr. Wing as "the Chinaman" as did Justice Louis Henry Davies from PEI (pictured) who opined that the welfare of white women outweighed the rights of Chinamen:

"The right to employ white women in any capacity or in any class of business is a civil right, and legislation upon that subject is clearly within the powers of the provincial legislatures.

"The right to guarantee and ensure their protection from a moral standpoint is, in my opinion, within such provincial powers and, if the legislation is bona fide for that purpose, it will be upheld even though it may operate prejudicially to one class or race of people."

Justice Idington, the lone dissenter, logically concluded that since the provincial legislation affected Mr. Wong's Canadian citizenship rights, the Saskatchewan law was ultra vires (citizenship is matter of federal - not provincial - jurisdiction).

REFERENCES:

  • An Act to prevent the Employment of Female Labour in certain capacities, Statutes of Saskatchewan 1912, Chapter 17, 1.
  • Duhaime, Lloyd, Charter of Rights and Freedoms 1981
  • Quong Wing v R, 49 SCR 440 (Canada, 1914)
  • Sharpe, R. and Swinton, K., The Charter of Rights and Freedoms (Toronto: Irain Law, 1998), page 12.