Labour Studies Index

Updated: 2022-05-16

Canada's Foreign Enlistment Act and the Spanish Civil War

Document type Article
Author Wentzell, Tyler
Journal Labour / Le Travail
Volume 80
Date 2017 Fall
ISSN 1911-4842
Pages 213-246


Canada was officially neutral in the Spanish Civil War (1936–1939); yet nearly 1700 Canadians fought for the Spanish Republic. The Communist Party of Canada (cpc) recruited the bulk of the volunteers. While many in the Canadian left supported the Republican cause, others were alarmed by the involvement of communists in the Republican government and the cpc's role in the recruiting. This tension seemed particularly pronounced between English and French Canada. Québec Premier Maurice Duplessis called upon the federal government to bring the recruiting to an end and to eradicate communism in general. Prime Minister Mackenzie King and his Québec lieutenant and Minister of Justice, Ernest Lapointe, introduced a Canadian Foreign Enlistment Act in response. The statute targeted the cpc in its capacity as a recruiting apparatus (versus targeting the volunteers), and had the added benefit of "Canadianizing" and improving on the existing British statute. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police conducted investigations and warrants for arrest were issued, but the war in Spain was over before the arrests were made. Ultimately, no one was prosecuted under the Foreign Enlistment Act and its record in preventing recruiting is dubious.