Arvo (or Aaro) Vaara, editor-in-chief of the Sudbury-based Finnish-language newspaper Vapaus, was arrested and deported for, reportedly, not being sympathetic enough to the failing health of King George V
In December 1928, Canadian newspapers ran front-page stories about the failing health of King George V. Then and now, many Canadians followed the Royals as closely as if they were members of their own. own family.
The king was seriously ill with a lung disease that would lead to his death eight years later.
But Sudbury’s Finnish-language newspaper Vapaus showed no sympathy.
An article in the December 4, 1928 edition, translated from Finnish, said in part: “Will the king die, it is the same for us.” The social order will also be oppressive for the poor, regardless of the king. Capital really rules in modern society.
“The royalty being only a legitimate decoration, while greedy financiers revolt with the wealth obtained thanks to the blood and the sweat of the workers.
“So will the king die? If he does, we hope that the kingship will die with him and a workers’ republic will take its place. A change of kings will not improve our conditions no matter who owns it. The scepter Only the rise to power of the workers themselves will save us from the curse of capitalism.
The same edition of Vapaus included a sarcastic remark that the Prince of Wales had to cut short his hunting trip to Africa – where he had “gained experience to rule his future subjects” – to return to his father’s bedside. .
Less than two weeks later, Vapaus editor-in-chief Arvo Vaara (sometimes written “Aaro”) was arrested by Sudbury police and charged with seditious libel under section 133 of the Criminal Code.
The Oxford Dictionary defines sedition “as conduct or speech inciting people to rebel against the authority of a state or a monarch”.
Vaara was born in 1891 in a part of Western Finland which was then controlled by Russia. He came to Canada in 1908 with the intention of earning enough money to buy a farm in his native country. Instead, he became a naturalized British citizen and an influential member of the Communist Party of Canada, which was founded in 1921. He started working at Vapaus around 1924.
Vapaus (Freedom), first published in 1917, was a Communist newspaper. By 1928 it was publishing six times a week with a circulation of about 4,000 copies across Canada. Its offices were located in a building on Elm Street now occupied by Bay Used Books.
The “Red Finn” newspaper was sympathetic to the causes of the working class. Perhaps even more disturbing to his critics, it supported the right of workers to organize, was written in a foreign language, and viewed as unchristian and anti-British.
(The “white Finns” of Sudbury were conservative, fiercely anti-Communist, often attended church, and focused on social and cultural activities. Finns made up about seven percent of the city’s population in 1931.)
How did the police find out about the Vapaus articles? Reverend TD Jones, a United Church pastor, was suspicious of the newspaper and asked a Finnish pastor to translate for him.
Jones provided a copy to the Sudbury Star. The translated article was titled: “Vapaus Launches a Tirade Against Royalty.” Obviously treason translated article.
World War I hero Crown Attorney RR McKessock told The Star: “Any remark intended to downplay or ridicule royalty can be interpreted as betrayal.
The Finnish Organization of Canada has hired Toronto labor lawyer Arthur Roebuck to defend Vaara. Roebuck would become Attorney General of Ontario in 1934 and later a Liberal Senator.
The prosecution assigned the newspaper’s commercial director to produce the subscription list. He refused in an attempt to protect readers from visits by RCMP or immigration officers. After being threatened with contempt, he deleted 500 of the names and executed himself.
During the preliminary trial, Roebuck asked the court to dismiss the charges. There was no evidence that Vaara wrote the unsigned articles, and while the remarks may have been rude, they were not seditious, he said.
McKessock argued that while the editor did not write the articles, he was responsible for their publication.
As for sedition, McKessock argued before the judge – who was his brother, for that matter – that Vapaus had “disturbed the tranquility of the state or aroused hatred or contempt for the person of the king.”
On February 19, 1929, Vaara was tried in the Sudbury courthouse before a judge and jury of the Supreme Court of Ontario. His lawyer pleaded not guilty.
The Crown called Reverend Jones and two Finnish workers to testify. The defense did not call any witnesses.
Instead, Roebuck made a passionate appeal to the jury. He said there had been no attack on the king; the offending article was simply a statement of the truth that the company was run by capitalists.
The jury, composed entirely of native-born men and citizens, took three hours to convict Vaara of the charges.
Judge William Henry Wright sentenced Vaara to six months in prison. He was ordered to pay a fine of $ 1,000 or spend two more years behind bars.
“There is a line to be drawn between honest criticism and agitation against His Majesty the King,” the judge told Vaara.
“Your crime is of an unusual nature. You came to this country to become a citizen and not to criticize its customs. Your act was particularly cruel… and you didn’t deserve the slightest consideration. “
Roebuck made an appeal which was heard at Osgoode Hall in Toronto.
In dismissing the appeal, Chief Justice Francis Robert Latchford suggested that Vaaro could be considered by the government if he showed contrition and a desire to be a good Canadian citizen. (Globe and Mail, March 7, 1929)
The Communist Party of Canada (CCP) was classified as an illegal organization and was banned from 1931 to 1936, and again during World War II.
On April 20, 1931, Sudbury council passed a resolution calling on the federal government to expel anyone with Communist sympathies.
An estimated 30,000 immigrants were deported during the Depression for illness, vagrancy or criminal activity as well as for their political views and union activism. (Canadian Council for Refugees)
After serving his sentence, Vaara returned to work at Vapaus. But he was considered a dangerous political agitator and the authorities were watching him.
Vaara and Martin Pohjansalo, a translator who worked for the newspaper, were arrested by the OPP after a raid on the newspaper’s office following a May 1 riot in 1932.
The riot occurred when “suspected Communists numbering around 500 were attacked by citizens after refusing to wear the Union Jack alongside the red flag leading a parade as ordered by police . ” **
Vaara and Pohjansalo were “rushed out of Sudbury” by the RCMP, possibly to prevent another riot, transported to Halifax, and then deported to Finland. There was a deportation hearing but no trial.
Vaara is believed to have been living in the Soviet Union in March 1933.
Vapaus, who continued to publish in Sudbury until the mid-1970s, would later report that Vaara died an old man of natural causes.
But historian Dennis Molinaro suggests, “Vaara is more likely to have been executed along with thousands of others, possibly because their socialism and nationalism were not acceptable” to USSR dictator Joseph Stalin. ***
Vapaus merged with a literary magazine and moved its offices to Toronto in 1974. It was renamed “Viikosanomat”, but later continued under the name Vapaus until 1990. Digitized copies of Vapaus are available at Simon Fraser University Library website.
After surviving blackout periods, the Communist Party of Canada (CPC) became an official federal party in the 1990s. It has no representation in Parliament, but fielded candidates in nearly 30 constituencies in the elections. federal 2021.
The current party leader is Elizabeth Rowley. Rowley ran for the CPC in the Sudbury riding in 2015. She received 102 votes.
Vicki Gilhula is a freelance writer from Sudbury. Yesterday and Now is made possible through our Community Leaders Program.
* In some historical accounts, Arvo Vaara’s first name is spelled Aaro.
** Police remove two people from Sudbury after arrest, The Globe and Mail, May 5, 1932
*** Citizens of the Right World, Deportation and Homo Sacer, 1932-1934 by Dennis Molinaro, Canadian Association for Ethnic Studies, September 2015
The trial of Aaro Vaara by Lita-Rose Betcherman, CanadasHistory.ca, September 5, 2016
The Little Band: Clashes between the Communists and the Political and Legal Establishment in Canada, 1928-1932, by Lita-Rose Betcherman, Deneau Collection, Ottawa, 1982
Where they come from, deportations from Canada 1900-1935 by Barbara Roberts, University of Ottawa Press, 1988