Propaganda Spread and the Rise of Fascist Groups in Canada During the Great Depression
Imagine living during one of the worst economic depression in history, the Great Depression. For ten years, many found themselves out of work with little job opportunities, had little or no money for necessities such as food and clothing, and are forced to travel in search for a better life. The public wanted a powerful government to bring them out of the current desperate situation and give them hope and unite the nation, and Benito Mussolini offered a solution – Fascism. Fascism is a form of government which represents a one-party dictatorship.
It aims to prepare a country for military conflicts and economic difficulties by putting the nation and often the race above the individual. Fascism quickly gained popularity in Canada, especially Quebec, in the 1920s. The Great Depression, as well as the anti-immigration sentiment, made fertile grounds for Fascism to grow. However, this also resulted in many groups – especially the Jewish – to be heavily affected during the rise of the popularity of Fascism within Canada. By the start of WWII, governmental policies heavily suppressed and soon led to the fall of Fascism within Canada.
As mentioned in the first paragraph, the two main factors which assisted Fascism to gain popularity within Canada were the economic devastations during the Great Depression and the anti-Asian and anti-European immigrant sentiments among the European Canadians. One of the most famous Fascist parties within Canada during the 1930s was the Parti National Social Chrétien (also later known as the Canadian National Socialist Unity Party or National Unity Party). Found by Adrien Arcand in February 1934, the goal of the PNSC is to create a pan-Canadian nationalist political movement within Canada during a period of English-French Canadian tension while following Christian principles. However, this party also identified with anti-semitism and commonly fought with Asian-immigrants and Canadian minorities since the party considered these groups as threats to the Canadian economy and jobs market.
Another reason which contributed greatly to the rise of Arcand’s party and strengthened the relationships between the different Fascist groups is the fear of Communism amongst Canadians. By the start of WWII, the common view associated with Communism was the fact that they are planning to overthrow the Democracy and freedom of rights established within Canada. As a result of this fear, many joined Fascist groups (which are anti-Communist) to combat Communism. Overall, both the grounds laid by the Great Depression and the fear of Communism within Canada allowed the PNSC and many other Fascist groups to become relatively successful by the mid-1930s with members mainly concentrated within the Quebec, British Columbia, and Alberta regions.
During the rise of the Fascist groups in Canada, the most affected groups are the immigrants and refugees from both Asia and Europe. Not only did the Fascism groups target these immigrants and refugees under the name that these immigrants are taking white-Canadian jobs, but the Canadian government during the period also did not support these immigrant groups to gain popularity within the Quebec, Alberta and British Columbia regions. These two significant influences created many ethnic stereotypes targeted towards immigrants coming from southeastern Europe and also Asian. It depicted immigrants as poor, illiterate, and politically corrupt deficient, associating southeastern Europeans with drinking, violence and crimes and Chinese immigrants with drugs and gambling. Amongst the immigrants coming to Canada, the Jews were also especially targeted by Fascism groups due to the heavy influence from Nazi Germany. This is clearly shown through the number of Jewish immigrants which moved to Canada during the period of the rise of Fascism. Though immigration rates held steady during the 1920s, it dropped significantly during the Great Depression and the rise of Fascism.
From 1933 to 1945, the Canadian government only admitted approximately 5000 Jewish immigrants and also set out policies to prohibit and oppose immigrants coming into Canada to gain popular support in the British Columbia, Alberta, and Quebec regions. One famous incident which proves the cruelty due to the influence of both the Fascist groups and also the government is the St. Louis tragedy. In the spring of 1939, the passenger liner St. Louis carried over 900 Jews trying to escape Nazi persecution and left Hamburg, Germany. However, after the crew was not allowed to disembark at their destination – Cuba – they appealed for help to Canada. Though the Liberal prime minister William L. Mackenzie King was sympathetic to these passengers, he was also convinced that allowing these Jewish refugees into Canada would threaten national unity and his party’s political support in areas with many Fascist groups such as Quebec and therefore did not allow the entrance of these immigrants. The St. Louis was forced to sail back to Europe and this resulted in over half of the passengers being killed by the Nazis after returning. Both the policies set out by the Canadian government and the St. Louis tragedy clearly shows the influence the Fascist groups had on Canadian politics and also the fate of immigrants from both Asia and parts of Europe.
Even though many Fascist parties gained much public legitimacy and were supported by the government during the late 1930s due to their political standpoints, Canadian support for Fascism died down soon after the outbreak of WWII. As Canadian forces faced the Axis powers, part of the war effort Canada took is to suppress the Fascist movements within its borders. Police confiscated almost all anti-Semitic propaganda and arrested suspected Fascists; efforts were made to disband Fascist organizations. Censorship was put on Fascist propaganda and the government promoted anti-Fascist propaganda. As one of Canada’s biggest Fascist political parties, the Parti National Social Chrétien’s headquarters were raided and Arcand and other members of the PNSC were interned for the duration of WWII. Besides the government, many churches also warned the faithful against Nazism and Fascism, resulting in even less popularity for many disbanded and underground Fascist groups. By the end of WWII and following the demise of Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini, support for Fascism within Canada slowly diminished and never made a return in popularity.
The idea of Fascism developed and became embedded in Canadian society during the 1920s as a result of the Great Depression and the Canadian fear of Communism. However, WWII heavily influenced the development of Fascism in Canada, with the government setting out policies to banish Fascism while public support decreased. By the end of the war, little is left of the Fascist groups before the war, governmental policies also made the rebuilding of a Fascist party impossible. Even though Fascism within Canada never reached as much popularity as it did in Europe, its presence should not be disregarded as it made an impact on Canadian policies and political standpoints from the 1920s to the 1940s, especially affecting up to hundreds of thousands of immigrants.
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