IT WAS THE EXPLICIT INTENTION of the framers of the Canadian constitution, circa 1867, that divorce be difficult and subject to ratification of Parliament.

Each and every divorce was to be the object of a separate and distinct bill, which had to be read three times in the House of Commons and ratified in the Senate.

In addition, the particular circumstances of each divorce were investigated by a parliamentary committee.

A divorce court was out of the question in the early years of Canadian Confederation.

Canada's first minister of justice, the Right Hon. Sir John A. Macdonald once commented that:

"The establishment of a divorce court would mean cheap and easy divorces, which would lead to a great laxity in the marriage relation. I hope it may be long before we have anything of the kind in Canada."

Society, it seemed, agreed with the First Minister.

In Private Capital, author Sandra Gwyn notes that it was not until 1894 that the Governor General invited the wife of the Right Hon. George Foster to Rideau Hall, and she was never invited to any functions hosted by Prime Minister Macdonald's wife. Mrs. Foster had been divorced from a previous husband.

Not that a divorce court was a requirement during the first years of the Canadian confederation.

Between 1840 and 1867, there were only four applications for divorce made to the Parliament of the Province of Canada, and all on grounds of adultery.

One of the four divorce bills was even refused Royal Assent by the Queen.

But gradually, as the population grew and religious authority waned, the number of applications began to grow.

By the turn of the century, several provinces had instituted provincial mechanisms to grant divorce so that Parliamentary intervention was only necessary for residents of Ontario, Quebec, Manitoba and the North-West (now Saskatchewan and Alberta). Parliament was much stricter; approving a mere 58 applications between 1868 and 1897 while almost four times that number of petitions were approved by provincial authorities in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and British Columbia.

Once, in 1928, James Woodsworth had objected to divorce bills appearing on the order paper of the House of Commons. The applications had reached alarming numbers; three hundred during the 2nd Session of the 16th Parliament. Woodsworth threatened to go into the details of the bills which, of course, would require the lady member (Agnes Macphail) and the Hansard reporters to leave. Woodsworth was incensed with the expense of the proceedings and the hardships this placed on the poorer applicants.

In 1955, with private divorce bills numbering well into the hundreds, the responsibility for divorce bills was given to the chairman of the private bills committee, in hope that this would expedite the process.

By 1960, the number had grown to over 600 annually. It was widely acknowledged that divorce had become a game wherein two consenting adults "bought" a private investigator's report, signed the statements to the effect that there had been adultery, found a "friendly" senator or member of the House to sponsor the petition, and waited 18 months for the bill to flush through the parliamentary process.

W. Arnold PetersAt $2,500, 1960 dollars, divorce, in Canada, had become the privilege of the rich (see, for example, An Act for the Relief of Margaret Hockey, 1924).

The provinces were responsive and filled the legislative vacuum and by the sixties, only Quebec and Newfoundland were without divorce courts. For their residents who needed a divorce, according to the primitive circa-Confederation procedures, a private bill had to be prepared by legal experts.

Accepting only petitions on grounds of adultery, the Senate would generate the bills and the House would pass them en bloc, regardless of the number or the parties, and with little or no debate in either of the chambers. Even at the committee level, where the evidence was subject to detailed scrutiny, there was very little investigation. Some would hire private investigators to "investigate" and produce additional statements.

On March 4, 1960, private members' hour began and the House converted into committee of the whole.

The chairman of the private bills committee, Robert McCleave requested that all 77 private divorce bills on the Order Paper be considered and passed all at once, as was the custom.

But CCF member W. Arnold Peters (pictured, right) began to ask a few questions.

David Walker jumped up and told Peters that the proper place for detailed examination of a divorce bill was at committee.

"Is this an example of the power of this party," sneered Walker, " that it makes the House shut off discussion on a question of great national importance so that the hon. member can conduct a minute, detailed inquiry into the subject of fornication?"

But the Chairman had little choice but to allow the questions.

Peters continued to grill McCleave until 6 p.m., when the Commons reverted to sitting as the House.

A week later, the House again reverted to committee and addressed the remaining 73 divorce bills that Peters had stalled.

As private members' bill hour began, on March 11, the Chairman, faithful to parliamentary practice, assumed that the bills would be approved en masse. 

ARNOLD PETERS (Timiskaming): In this particular case, the man obviously has allowed the woman to do the petitioning, and the husband has done the honourable thing in making it possible for her to obtain this divorce on the only grounds that the Senate committee will allow. The settlement of $5,000 would indicate to me, Mr. Chairman, that there had been some discussion about the termination of this particular marriage.

ROBERT MCCLEAVE: Again I must raise a point of order, simply that the hon. member for Timiskaming is dragging this debate down that well-known CCF garden path and I do object.When anybody comes to the foot of the throne as it were and asks for relief they should be accorded the utmost respect and their problem solved if possible but I do not think anybody should come to the foot of the throne and then have a large foot planted on their backside from the corner of the house from which all these questions have been raised this afternoon.

Procedural wrangling over collusion and debate jurisdictions occupied the chairman, McCleave, Howard, Peters and several other intervenors for the entire private members' hour.

Just before 6 p.m., Janet Kerr's divorce was granted. Aggravated, McCleave moved to place the divorce bills at the end of the Order paper. Howard agreed.

Three days later, private members' hour rolled along again. Increasingly, the CCF had found in the divorce debate an issue close to their social policy platform - the post-divorce financial protection of women and children. Peter's cause had been picked up by his CCF colleague Frank Howard. Together, if the promotion of their newfound cause meant bringing up intimate details of any alleged adultery, then that would be the price. As a precaution, the pages were excused from the House.

CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES OF THE WHOLE - Jacques Flynn (Quebec South): The house in committee on bill No. SD-20, for the relief of Jacqueline Mazurette.
MR. PETERS: Mr. Chairman, as to the actual adultery charged, there is the following in the evidence of the investigator:
Q. What happened on September 16?
A. On September 16, I knew that the respondent, Mr. Mazurette, was living with a woman other than his wife as a common law marriage, at St. Christophe street. My associate and myself went into their apartment on September 16 in the evening, knocked on the door; it was answered by Mr. Mazurette. Explained to him who we were, and what we were there for. He was most cooperative, was most secretive. He took us into the apartment, and there was the co-respondent, Marie Leclerc. It was a two and a half apartment.
Q. What kind of area would you say this is in Montreal?
A. I would consider it to be a very poor area.
Q. Did you go right into the apartment?
A. Oh, yes. He admitted us through. She was sitting on the edge of the bed, with a white slip underneath a pinkish bathrobe. I imagine that was the colour in its original state.
Q. Describe to the committee what the respondent looks like.
A. Well, I remember one outstanding thing, the way his lips are pursed, as if he had no teeth, but he did have his teeth.
Mr. Chairman, I wonder whether the investigators or whatever they call themselves are half-grade morons or even lower in the scale of mentality because the answers given by these investigators would indicate, in my opinion, they did not have all their marbles.

This couple claim to be living together as common law man and wife.

On the other hand, we have the young lady trying to raise two children while working as a secretary or clerk in an insurance company, yet she appears to have enough money to hire a lawyer, hire detectives to embark upon an investigation, and apply for divorce through parliament which is going to cost somewhere in the neighbourhood of $2,500.

I think it financially impossible for the lady to raise these children and, out of $40 or $50 a week, be able to save enough to pay for this divorce.

Mrs. Mazurette became Ms Mazurette on that day but not until the details of the adultery were dragged out onto the pages of Hansard.

So did Shirley Bertram, Sally Rohr, Barbara Shapiro and Olga Edwards but only after the degrading spectacle of their divorce files were scrutinized in public and on the record.

John Bertram was seen entering the residence of a Miss Lorna Foreman.

The private investigators testified that they pushed their way into her apartment and "we could clearly see the respondent attempting to dress himself."

Martin Rohr was seen under surveillance when he entered the dwelling of a Miss Marlene Fleming. Again, the investigators barged in and witnessed the husband "wearing the lower part of pyjamas. There was one double bed that we could see had been occupied by two persons."

The House then moved on to examine the activities of Joe Shapiro on the night of November 3, 1959.

He and Collete Vigeant checked into unit 11 of the West End Motel, 6700 Upper Lachine Road in Montreal. The testimony of the investigators was read in the House by Howard, the member for Skeena. "She was lying on the far side of the bed. She had the straps of a slip on. We could see that the near side of the bed had been previously occupied. He had come to the door wearing his shoes and grey pants only."

The charade continued on the next day, March 15.

Georgette Korman, bill No. S-9. Howard again read from the transcript. Knocking on the door of apartment 2, 132 Fairmount Avenue West in Montreal, two investigators discovered Mr. Korman and la belle Rosina di Rago sharing a double bed. Divorced granted.

And then Helen Bernard. Mr. Bernard, on April 25, 1959, got into his car, a 1958 Chevrolet sedan, and drove to an apartment building at 1230 Fort Street. Shortly before 11, the investigators went into the building and rang the bell of apartment C. A woman wearing only a bathrobe came to the door and opened the door slightly. The detectives said they had a telegram for Miss Grevatt, which was her name. She put her hand out to take the envelope. As that happened, the two investigators pushed the door and were in the apartment. The woman started to yell for them to get out. They pushed past her and into a bedroom where they found...Herman Bernard! Divorce granted.

For five months, the House of Commons was treated to the CCF divorce blockade, and divorces inched their way through the House, one-by-one, all their miserable detail brought onto the floor of Parliament; pink dressing gowns, bare legs, nude men and "b.v.d.'s".

It was only on August 8, just two days before the prorogation of the 3rd Session of the 24th Parliament that they allowed the remaining bills to be rushed through.

Eight years later, in 1968, a Divorce Act was enacted by Parliament providing appropriate and fair judicial relief for all Canadians.