AN ABUSE OF THE LAW IN NEW BRUNSWICK EVOKES VIGOROUS ACTION
The incident we are about to relate proves that our Crediters in New Brunswick, like those of the province of Quebec, are resourceful in their actions to vindicate the rights of the individual against the despotism of the financial system and in protecting the private citizen against the provocations and insolence of petty officials.
It happens that New Brunswick farmers enjoy the privilege of a cut in the gasoline tax when the gasoline is to be used for work on the farm. When the farmer buys gasoline for this purpose, the dealer colors it with a special powder in order to distinguish it from gasoline subject to the usual tax.
But this gasoline must not be used except for work on the farm premises. If the police finds it in a car or a truck on the road, the owner is liable to a fine or imprisonment.
The farmer can fill the tank of his truck with this tinted gasoline in order to transport his crops, fertilizer, manure, etc., from one part of his farm to another. However, should the farmer wish to visit his next-door neighbor, or inspect some property of his at a distance from the farm, or should he wish to go to the railway station to pick up a consignment, he is obliged to empty his tank and refill it with ordinary gasoline, paying the full tax.
It is easy to understand the extreme annoyance this causes the farmer, and to appreciate how strong the temptation is to skip this absurd ritual, especially for a trip that involves a mere hop-skip-and-jump. And how the farmers inveigh against this fantastic nonsense! They know that the police are on the alert to prove their prowess by catching farmers in violation of this regulation. And it's very easy for the agents of the law to shut their eyes when it's a question of their friends, while being absolutely merciless towards others — even when the infraction involves driving only a few hundred feet on the highway.
The farmers of New Brunswick execrate these stipulations of the law. They demand the right to travel on the roads and highways without having to empty their fuel tanks except, perhaps, in cases where their trucks are being used to carry out contractual work not pertaining to the farm.
They raise their voices against the highhanded methods of many of the police agents. The law was enacted to help the farmers, not to be used as a weapon of persecution against them.
Many of them have vowed, as a sign of protest, to refuse the fine if they should be caught infringing this obnoxious clause of the law, and to go to jail rather than pay. In short, resort to passive resistance.
The first to have recourse to this passive resistance was Mr. Aurèle St-Amand, a Crediter of Aroostook.
At the time, Mr. St. Amand was busy unloading potatoes from his truck into his roothouse. The potatoes had been dug out of his own field — straight farm work. In order to back the truck up to the roothouse door he was obliged to edge the vehicle out on to the public road. That was the moment chosen by the policeman, Alphée Ringuette and the inspector, E. Kukursky, to jump on Mr. St. Amand and seize a sampling of gasoline from his truck. The gasoline was red, of course. "Ha! tax-exempt gasoline, eh! You're breaking the law!" And a charge was immediately brought against him.
He was obliged to appear before Claude Lévesque, the magistrate at Grand-Sault. There he was sentenced to a fine of $27.50 or fifteen days in prison. This was in June, 1955. Aurèle St-Amand declared that he would not pay the fine.
He wrote to Fredericton, the capital of New Brunswick, to lay his case before the government. This body refused to intervene and the sentence of the magistrate stood as passed.
The case was on the tongue of everyone in that part of the country. Many said that Aurèle St-Amand had paid the fine because he was still at liberty. St-Amand let it be known that he had not paid.
The authorities delayed execution of the sentence, convinced that St-Amand would finally pay the fine. He, for his part, was firmly resolved not to give in even though he might have ten times the amount of the fine in his pocket. It was a matter of principle with him, the principle of passive resistance to a perversion of the law.
Finally, on Tuesday, January 3, Aurèle St- Amand was seized by the Perth police and taken to the station at Andover, center of administration in Victoria county. There St-Amand was urged to pay the fine, but in vain. It was then decided to shut him up for fifteen days in the Woodstock jail.
Mrs. Saint-Amand, with five children all under eight, and a sixth on its way, telephoned the magistrate to plead for clemency. The latter's reply: "Find your own way to feed the family; as for who'll look after the animals and the farm, that's no concern of mine."
The folks of Aroostook, Grand Falls, Drummond and St-André got together to devise some means of freeing their fellow citizen from prison. The simplest way would have been to pay the fine for him, and many of his friends offered to do so. But St-Amand was adamant; that was the last thing he wanted. He insisted on continuing his protest against this abuse of the law.
On January 5, six cars, flying the banners of Social Credit and filled with the familiar white berets, accompanied Mrs. St-Amand to visit her husband and to encourage him in his stand. (Woodstock is some seventy miles from Grand Falls.)
When they were leaving after their visit, the warden, amazed at the size of the group, expressed his wonder that among so many friends it was not possible to raise the amount of the fine and pay their friend's way out of jail. The answer came proudly back: "We don't encourage the collectors of fines!".
Aurèle spent the 6th of January, Epiphany, in prison. He was surprised to see other farmers being brought in for committing the same crime as he.
On January 7th, one of our full time organizers, Antonio Mignault, who knew nothing of the affair, arrived in Edmundston. He telephoned Aurèle's home to invite him to a meeting of the Crediters of the district. Mrs. St-Amand replied that her husband had been in jail for four days.
Mr. Mignault took note of all the details of the case and at once set to work to effect the immediate release of the prisoner. Accompanied by a delegation made up of Armand Grondin, Louis Gagnon, Edmond Guimont and Archie Soucy, he paid a visit to the district member of parliament, Lucien Fortin. The other member from the county of Madawaska, Edgar Fournier, minister of the Hydro, was absent on a trip to Montreal. However, at Mr. Fortin's they learned that, because of damage to the power transmission lines by a storm of freezing rain, Mr. Fournier had been recalled to Fredericton to cope with the emergency.
At 7:20, the evening of the same day, Mr. Mignault placed a telephone call with Mr. Fournier, the minister, who had arrived in Fredericton. He requested Mr. Fournier's immediate intervention to free St-Amand. Mignault explained the situation of Mrs. St-Amand, whose husband had already passed the Epiphany in jail. He was not going to spend his Sunday there, they decided. It was, by this time, Saturday night.
The minister replied that what they were asking was not easy to do. Still he did understand, very well, the situation. Mr. Mignault insisted: "A minister should be able to carry it off... I'll call you back in an hour, sir, if I haven't had word from you by that time."
But less than an hour later, it was the minister who called Antonio Mignault to tell him that St-Amand was a free man.
You can imagine the delight of the Crediters as well as that of the farmers of the district. As for Aurèle St-Amand, he reckoned the five days in prison as time well spent if it contributed to the proper administration of the law and discouraged its use as a weapon to tyrannize human beings.
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It requires a case like this to jar people awake and stiffen their backs against the arbitrariness of minor functionaries; to put a curb on the agents of the police and the judiciary so that they will consult the spirit of the law rather than the barren letter of it, and finally to ensure that these men will not find in the law a means of harassing and robbing people who give more than their due share of toil to earning their daily bread — and often the bread of others as well.
In one single parish, that of Drummond, in the short space of the two months of November and December, thirty farmers were forced to pay this infamous fine!
The Crediters of this district are having the farmers sign a petition demanding the amendment of this law of the colored gasoline.
This paper congratulates Aurèle St-Amand. It congratulates all the Crediters who have seen action in this courageous fight. It congratulates and commends the minister, the Honorable Edgar Fournier, for his understanding of, and sympathy with the individual in society and for his effective intervention in this affair.
The prisoner's surprise...
Aurele St-Amand writes:
"I had passed my fifth day in the Woodstock jail and was reconciled to the prospect of a fifth night there. As you can see, I had no idea of the machinery that had been set in motion since the arrival of Mr. Mignault at my house at seven-thirty the evening of January 7th. But many things must have happened in the short space of an hour because at half past eigth I was told that I would not pass that night in jail. This was at eight-thirty, more than two hours after the jail office was closed! I understood nothing of the arrangements that were being made. But the prison doors were opened... I could leave. I was free at last. And already a group of Social Crediters was on the way to meet me.
"I learned then of the events that had taken place: the telephone call by Mignault to the minister, Edgar Fournier; the immediate intervention of the minister; the call by the minister, the Hon. Edgar Fournier, to the representative of the Woodstock riding telling him to set me at liberty immediately.
... and the subsequent events
"This provincial representative from our riding is Mr. Stewart Brooks. We have sinced invited him to our Social Credit Center at Aroostook where our weekly meeting takes place. He accepted and the Crediters were able to lay before him the complaints of the farmers, especially the annoying matter of the litteral interpretation of the "tax-exempt" law (on gasoline). The representative proved to be very understanding and promised to look into the matter.
"Shortly after, on January 31, it was the Hon. Edgar Fournier who was received by the Crediters at their Center in St-Andre of Madawaska, (his riding). He also listened to the farmers' grievances as laid before him by the Crediters. He stated he wanted to be kept informed of all their difficulties.
We shall continue to keep in touch with our representatives in this fashion. It is one of the many great benefits coming from our Social Credit movement, that we have taught the people how to get together with their representatives, and have taught the representatives how to listen to the people in between elections."