Category Archives: Activists Killed by Cops

Killing to Protect Property: Police and Vigilantes in the Reesor Siding Strike Massacre of 1963 (Activists Killed by Cops Feature)

Killing to Protect Property: Police and Vigilantes in the Reesor Siding Strike Massacre of 1963 (Activists Killed by Cops Series)

Policing in Canada has at its roots the protection of property and profit. The police at all levels have readily resorted to violence, including lethal force, to protect the interests of private property holders and businesses. They have also worked to provide a context in which property holders and business owners have been able to inflict often lethal violence against working people and the poor, especially against labor organizers and union members, with impunity and often in the sheltering presence of the police themselves.

Too often if police violence against activists in the Canadian context is considered at all it is viewed as a relic, something confined to the early histories of colonial or industrial strife, remnants of say the less enlightened 1910s or 1930s, eras marked by robber barons and resource giants. Yet labor struggles in all periods of Canadian history have shown the willingness of police to deploy extreme violence against unionists and to support such violence against unionist by others.

The strike at Reesor Siding in 1963 stands as one of the signal and bloodiest labor struggles in Canadian history even if it and the town it is named for have been unduly forgotten. It would culminate in a vicious attack on striking workers by vigilantes accompanied by, and facilitated by, local police, with the shooting of 11 union members, three of whom were killed in the assault.

The 1963 strike involved fifteen hundred members of the Lumber and Sawmill Workers Union (LSWU), Local 2995 of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America who worked at the Spruce Falls Power and Paper Company. Issues of concern included a proposed wage freeze and an attempt by the company to extend the woodworkers work week to seven days a week over the next two months in order to meet a company quota.

Among the other suppliers of pulp wood to the mill were independent settler farmers who supplied about one-quarter of the company’s annual input. These settler farmers, who sold wood to supplement their incomes, were asked to stop their sales of pulp wood to the company to put additional pressure on the mill and strengthen the workers’ position.

Throughout the strike, the union organizers attempted to demonstrate to the farmers that the strike against a common antagonist Spruce Falls would benefit both farmers and workers. The union even offered to feed and give firewood to any farmers who were affected by the strike (Kapuskasing Times 2013).

Settler farmers, forgoing solidarity for narrow self-interest refused to halt operations to support the strikers and improve their bargaining position. A strike at the New York Times, a main purchaser of the mill’s pulp further reduced the striking woodcutters’ leverage. In retaliation for the scabbing operations of the settler farmers, striking workers sabotaged the settlers’ stacked lumber piles, destroying some lumber and making it unusable against their own efforts.

The growing tensions in the community came to a head on February 10, 1963. At midnight of that day a shipment of 600 cords (2200 m³) of lumber was scheduled to be loaded onto waiting railcars for transport to the company. Twenty settler farmers were present to defend the lumber and they were openly ready and prepared to use any levels of violence deemed necessary to do so. Around 20 officers of the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) were also present at the loading station in order to protect the lumber and presumably the angry settler farmers as well. The settler farmers and OPP officers formed what has been called a “battalion” against the strikers (Darrah 2015). A grouping of an estimated 400 workers had determined to impede the shipment but they were, as has generally been the case in labor disputes in Canada, unarmed.

The police put up a simple chain line to keep the striking workers away from the shipment. As workers moved past the chain and continued toward the pulp wood several of the farmers, who police knew to be armed, stepped out from their hiding place at a hut by the tracks and began shooting before the union members indiscriminately with no response from the police whose actions, in fact, allowed the ambush to occur. Eleven union members were shot. Brothers Irenée and Joseph Fortier along with Fernand Drouin were killed. Eight others were wounded: Harry Bernard, Ovila Bernard, Joseph Boily, Alex Hachey, Albert Martel, Joseph Mercier, Léo Ouimette, and Daniel Tremblay.

It has long been understood that the OPP officers were aware that the farmers were armed the night of the assault. It was also well known within the community, and would certainly have been known to police that the farmers had been worked up to a murderous pitch against the striking workers. The mayor of nearby Kapuskasing, Norman Grant, was quoted in the Globe and Mail, Canada’s national newspaper, saying, “These settlers are getting so desperate they are going to go into the bush with guns and shoot anyone who tries to interfere with their cutting.”[1] None other than Donald MacDonald, leader of the Ontario New Democratic Party (NDP), would later report that affidavits after the massacre showed that the police knew that the farmers had brought firearms with them that night, but did not take any precautions to ensure the weapons were not used against the workers. Indeed it was the OPP who notified the farmers that the workers were coming, allowing them to prepare their ambush (Kapuskasing Times 2013).

The response of the provincial government was to send an additional 200 OPP officers to the area, the same force that had been complicit in the massacre. The Ontario Ministry of Labour intervened to settle the dispute, with the workers having to return to work under the conditions of their old contract only a week after the killings. Joseph Laforce, President of Local 2995 and the executive board of LSWU had accepted the agreement only under threat by the Government of Ontario that it was poised to legislate the workers back to work if they refused this solution (Kapuskasing Times 2013). The strike had gone on for only 33 days.

Incredibly, 254 union members were charged with rioting, there had been no riot by workers, and held temporarily in the former Monteith POW Camp (which is now the site of a penitentiary) (Kapuskasing Times 2013). They were released on bail posted by the union but in subsequent trials 138 union members were found guilty of illegal assembly and the union was made to pay $27,600 in fines.

All twenty settler farmers present at the siding the night of the shootings were charged. In total an arsenal of five .22 caliber rifles, three 12 gauge shotguns, two .30-30 caliber rifles, two Lee–Enfield rifles, a .30-06 caliber rifle, and a .38 caliber Smith and Wesson revolver were confiscated.

The case against the farmers was heard in October 1963 in the nearby town of Cochrane, before Supreme Court of Ontario Chief Justice McRuer. Astonishingly, but showing the real face of class justice in the Canadian context, following a preliminary hearing, the seven-man jury dismissed the charges of non-capital murder after three days of deliberations. Paul-Emile Coulombe, Léonce Tremblay, and Héribert Murray were charged with firearms violations in relation to the ambush, which resulted in fines of a mere $150 to each of them, a pittance in comparison to the fines levied against the union and given he atrocity of the actions the men had been involved in.

Some suggest at the Reesor Siding Massacre and the murders of the three workers contributed to provincial arbitration and an improvement of working conditions for bush workers across Northern Ontario (Darrah 2015). It apparently did much to build solidarity among workers in the region.

A monument to the murdered workers was placed on the site as well as a provincial historical marker. Over the years anti-unionists have made threats on the memorial. Several folk songs have been written about the massacre including one by Stompin Tom Connors. Ironically, in the years after the massacre any children of farmers left the farms to go work in the bush for Spruce Falls.

It is often said and believed, by criminologists as by members of the general public, that the police are neutral arbitrators who serve and protect without taking sides in social conflicts, particularly those involving the private realm of industry. Yet throughout Canadian history we see the fundamental, and consistent, class character of policing as mechanism of capital accumulation, profit, and property relations (and relations of ownership and control of production). The Reesor Siding Massacre shows yet another example, this time of complicity in mass murder and direct relations with those responsible for killing (even alerting them of their victims’ impending arrival and unwillingness to disarm the assailants ahead of time).

The Reesor Siding Massacre also offers an important if forgotten aspect of the history of settlerism I the Canadian context. It is one that bears further research.

Further Reading

Darrah, Dan. 2015. This Labour Day Let’s Remember Five Forgotten Stories of Struggle.

Kapuskasing Times 2013. “Fifty Years Later: The Ressor Siding Incident.” Kapuskasing Times.

Murdered by RCMP: The Estevan Massacre of Striking Miners (Activists Killed by Cops Feature)

Murdered by RCMP: The Estevan Massacre of Striking Miners

Police at all levels have been deployed to exert often extreme violence against working people during organizing efforts, unionization drives, and/or strikes. In these situations the veneer of police neutrality easily slips away and the police are revealed as little more than an armed union busting or strike breaking force of municipal, provincial, and federal governments. They are readily available to do the bidding of capital in securing business interests and disciplining the working classes to obey states and capital going forward. This character of policing has been fully on display throughout the history of the Canadian state. That examples of police, especially the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (and its predecessors), injuring workers during strikes in Canada are numerous is quite telling. Even more so is the fact that police have used lethal force killing workers during several strikes in Canadian state history.

The Estevan Massacre was one such case of the RCMP killing workers for simply organizing to improve their conditions of work and life. On September 29, 1931, in the town of Estevan, Saskatchewan, RCMP attacked a parade of striking workers from the Bienfait coalfields, their family members, and supporters. The police killed three miners, shooting them down in cold blood. The police mobilization against the parade came at the behest of mine operators and local business and political elites. The Estevan Masscare and its aftermath saw RCMP officers unleash what historians have called a reign of “police terror” against mine workers, their families, and their communities (Endicott 2002).

Here the direct connection between capital and the police is unequivocal and undeniable. During the 1931 strike against coal bosses in Bienfait, Saskatchewan by the Mine Workers’ Union of Canada (MWUC) the RCMP showed their full allegiance to capitalist interests and deployed lethal force against a peaceful parade of miners and supporters. In the days and weeks after the three young miners were shot and killed by RCMP, the police force proceeded to hunt down wounded marchers and union leaders who were arrested and treated like criminals rather than victims of an egregious assault and extreme state violence.

The Bienfait miners were merely seeking the basic necessity, and right, of forming a union of their choosing. Their 30 day strike to gain union recognition would ultimately fail—in large part because of the deployment of RCMP police violence on behalf of mine company interests and mine owners against the miners. In this, the RCMP once again revealed, most forcefully, and lethally, their unflinching commitment, service, and sense of duty to corporate interests and outcomes and against the needs of exploited and abused civilian communities.

In one of the rare cases of political honesty in the history of the Canadian state, the inscription on the headstone of the three dead miners reads, simply and poignantly, “Murdered by RCMP.”

What the RCMP Killed to Uphold

Conditions in the mines of Saskatchewan in the 1930s were unhealthy and dangerous. So too were the conditions of living in the company-run mining towns of the province. In 1931 more than 600 men and boys worked in the underground mines of the Souris coalfields in southeastern Saskatchewan (Dishaw 2006).

Working conditions in the mines were, not surprisingly, awful and threatened miners lives and well being. Work days underground were long and arduous. Miners worked ten hour days in tight coal seams in which the men could not even stand upright. The mines had inadequate ventilation and smoke from blasting lingered as an underground fog. So-called “black damp,” or high concentrations of carbon dioxide exited in many mines and caused workers to become quite ill on a regular basis. The Crescent Mine and Eastern Collieries were notorious for water collection upwards of one to two feet in work areas. At Western Dominion Collieries damaged or rotted timbers were routinely overlooked by management and not replaced resulting in frequent roof cave-ins (Dishaw 2006). In smoke and dust filled environments workers shoveled coal for paltry amounts of around 25 cents per ton.

For all of this miserable and dangerous work under brutal conditions, miners were paid 25 cents for each ton of coal that they dug, loaded on coal cars by hand, and pushed to the main shaft. The experienced miner working all out over the ten-hour shift would earn $1.60. At the same time dockage for rocks, clay, and small-sized coal reduced the take-home pay. In addition, miners were required to do extra work, including laying track, timbering, pumping water, and clearing up roof falls. This work was unpaid. Incredibly, despite the fact that wages in Saskatchewan were 50 percent below those paid in Alberta and British Columbia, the Bienfait mining bosses imposed massive wages cuts in 1931 (Dishaw 2006).

If working conditions were awful, there was little comfort or refuge to be had under the condition of life that existed in the mining towns. Company houses and bunkhouses were no more than tar paper shacks without insulation for the hard Saskatchewan seasons. Most mines lacked shower facilities. There was no indoor plumbing and the shelters were infested with cockroaches, bedbugs, and lice (Dishaw 2006). Workers had to buy their essential from company stores which siphoned back their wages in exorbitant prices which put miners in debt to the bosses.

Workers, in the absence of union organization, were fired at will by pit bosses, blacklisted by owners, and denied work for noting more than appearing to express concerns for their health and safety (Endicott 2002, 4). As was the case in other industries across Canada, workers and community members from recent migrant backgrounds were deported on flimsy grounds at the whim of bosses and managers (with police readily serving as deportation officers on behalf of capital). The reasons for arrest and/or deportation could be, and were, for as little as distributing literature or attending meetings. In many cases all it took for the government to deport someone was being labeled communist by an anonymous accuser (Endicott 2002, 4). Typically, as had been the case for decades in Canada, excuses for deportation were often explicitly anti-communist in nature. That is, they were directly geared toward the protection of capitalism in general and the interests of specific capitalists in specific struggles.

The Murders

In an attempt to build public support for the strike and the unions, the strike committee decided to hold a parade from the coalfields to Estevan on Tuesday, September 27, 1931. The day was to end with a public meeting at Estevan’s town hall. The parade was initiated as part of the broader campaign to pressure coal operators to simply begin negotiations on improved working conditions. The march would pick up people at collieries along the way and was set to arrive in Estevan around 3:00 PM (Endicott 2002, 90). This should not have been a controversial plan or event.

As history tells us of course the parade would never reach its destination and would end in what has been called a massacre and police murder of three miners. More than 20 people would also be wounded by the RCMP.

This was what a member of the Saskatchewan Legislative Assembly for Estevan would call, 60 years later, “senseless murder in the name of law and order” (quoted in Endicott 2002, 87). The police were anxious to show their fealty to the mine operators, and capitalist property relations in the country, and in their haste to show their good service to the mine bosses carried out a public atrocity (not the first or last the RCMP would inflict on the working class in Canada).

None other than RCMP Commissioner, General J.H. MacBrien sent a telegram to Ottawa providing a dishonest and overblown falsification of the events of Estevan. In his fictitious and slanderous account, 500 miners carrying red flags and armed with clubs rioted against an overpowered and desperate RCMP force. As the strikers destroyed property and opened fire on officers (with their clubs?), injuring eight, the police had no option but to return fire with unfortunate, but unavoidable consequences according to the Commissioner’s tale.

To ensure that capitalist order was restored, though, RCMP Commissioner MacBrien dispatched a special rail car to Estevan with 40 more officers armed with rifles and machine guns. Clearly there was no compunction about deploying military force to protect capital from unions. So much for the neutral arbitrator state that does not take sides which animates too much of public and criminological discourse.

Civilian observers, including a staff reporter from the Regina Leader Post, Chris Higgenbotham, reporting from the scene, gave a dramatically different account from that of the propagandist Commissioner of the RCMP. Observers suggested the parade was straightforward and peaceful. Miners and their families started out walking in what appeared little more than an Easter parade. There was reportedly much laughing and chatting. Children left school to stand on the street and wave.

The parade was a real show of broad support for the miners. It included 63 cars and trucks (Endicott 2002, 89). This, of course, posed a threat to the mine companies and their efforts to break the organizing efforts.

No police were posted at the outskirts of Estevan to warn the parade members not to proceed further. In town, RCMP officers had formed a line in front of the new courthouse and the war memorial (Endicott 2002, 92). Mine operator C.C. Morfit had expressed a wish for gunfire and had pressed the RCMP to act with force against the striking workers. At the courthouse in Estevan, police had blocked the way. As the procession approached the police blockade police took at them with riding crops and batons (Endicott 2002, 89). Police, as was pre-planned, brought a fire truck to the street and, attaching the hose to a hydrant, began spraying the paraders. In response to this a miner, Nick Nargan, tried to chop the fire hose with an axe from a nearby house. It was then, while threatening nothing more than a fire hose (but property to be sure) that Estevan Police Chief McCuthceon shot the worker in the heart with his police pistol, killing him.

As the police violence escalated, marchers returned the challenge, some picking up rocks and iron from the dump nearby. The 24 Mounties opened fire indiscriminately on the crowd almost immediately. More police tellingly stationed at the Truax-Traer mine to protect capital arrived in Estevan and added fire from their rifles killing young worker Julian Gryshko and injuring dozens of others. Marchers retreated in the face of heavy fire and, that quickly, it was over.

It was at this point, in the immediate aftermath of the RCMP shooting of marchers, that some of the most despicable actions of the town elites were carried out against the community. Injured miners were carried by their fellow workers to Dr. Creighton’s hospital. There they were cursed at and told that they would not be admitted to the hospital unless they paid a week’s deposit in advance. The lesson of a private health care system within a class society. Desperate, strike committee member Jim McLean got a car together and took the two most severely injured miners to Weyburn General Hospital which was 50 miles away. The delay in provision of medical services proved fatal in consequence. Peter Markunas, 28, shot in the abdomen, died of his wound two days later following an emergency operation. The other miner, Steve Baryluk, a 53 year old father of nine children survived but required a long recovery before returning to work. Incredibly, the RCMP tried to track down and arrest McLean during his frantic attempt to save the two injured men.

The primary intention of the miners and their supporters was simply to hold a meeting to discuss and publicize their recently formulated list of demands. They had already booked the Estevan town hall for the purpose of this meeting. To bring greater public attention and support to their concerns they decided to hold a colorful parade with banners expressing their numerous grievances publicly.

The union organized a six day mourning period for the young murdered miners in open defiance of the coal bosses’ order to immediately reopen the mines. The men’s coffins were placed in the Labour Temple Red Hall for public viewing. At least 1500 people took part in the funeral procession. Banners held aloft offered such assessments as: “They fought for bread; they got bullets instead” and “Murdered by the bosses’ hired police thugs” (Endicott 2002, 96–97). Clearly the miners understood, or were at least more honest about, what had happened better than the police, local officials, and mainstream media. Gryshko and Markunas left behind young wives.

Political Context of the Canadian State

The police actions at Estevan in support of capital were emblematic of political policing in Canadian history. At the same time they occurred in a period, during the Great Depression, in which police were particularly virulent in their efforts to uphold the interests of economic and political powerholders. This was a decade, in the 1930s, in which hundreds of workers were severely brutalized by police and many were killed by police in Canada simply for asserting the basic needs and rights of workers for sustenance and lives with dignity.

The ruling government of R.B. Bennett was a notorious one, its hostility to working people reaching legendary proportions. Indeed, the Bennett government is now regarded as one of the worst governments in the dubious and shameful history of Canadian governments. Bennett infamously diagnosed the cause of social dissatisfaction and unrest not as depression, unemployment, poverty, and economic desperation but rather to foreign agitators and “Reds.” In a notorious address he proclaimed that the appropriate response to protest was “an iron heel” (see Endicott 2002, 35). Only a few years after the Estevan masscare, in 1935 in Regina, the police forces would again assault workers with lethal force, using military weaponry to put down a public meeting about conditions of unemployed workers, including a mass movement of relief camp workers who sought an audience with Bennett at which to raise their grievances against the federal government. The so-called Regina Riot, a police riot that saw numerous civilians injured and arrested and left one worker killed by police. More than a riot, the police attack on unemployed workers and supporters in Regina saw military maneuvers deployed against the unemployed who were surrounded in the local arena by mobile machine gun units, with food and water withheld, in an attempt to starve them into submission.

In Saskatchewan in the early 1930s there was an all out state program of surveillance and counterintelligence used against the Bienfait mine workers. The government deployed spies and infiltrators to break union organizing and to assist capital in the struggle against unions in various industries. Police spies and informants surveilled several meetings of mine workers prior to the Estevan parade and their reports misrepresented the mood and intentions of the workers and their families.

The police were, perhaps unintentionally, misled by informers to believe that the workers were going to shut down the strip mine and they, as uninterested, neutral arbitrators who would never interfere in the workings of the market, deployed a large force of officers to ensure that capital would not be negatively impacted by exploited workers. The miners, in fact, never actually intended, or even contemplated, a move on the mine (Endicott 2002, 90).

The RCMP supported and perpetuated a myth of communist agitators and riot planners to obscure the fact that the events of “Black Tuesday” were due solely to the vicious actions of police and their obedience to capitalist interests in the area. And this is a fact the national state force actively sought to cover up and keep from becoming a focus of attention and criticism by playing a fear card of moral panic over communism. Indeed, the RCMP placed the contents of their entire file on the strike under the label “Sam Scarlett, communist agitator” (Endicott 2002, 7).

Even some local RCMP recognized the red scare as an anti-union ploy under the guise of anti-communist considerations. As Detective Sergeant J.G. Metcalfe of Estevan RCMP stated in 1931:

“It appears to me that the moment a man submits himself to be appointed on a Committee or some position in a Union, and he has nerve enough to approach the Owners on behalf of the workers, he is immediately branded a Red. I have not yet interviewed the Owner or Manager of a mine in regard to the red element, that has not given me the names of all of the men on the Pit Committee and the names of some official of the Union.” (quoted in Endicott 2002, 95)

The red scare propaganda was also played up in the corporate press. Proclaimed the Mercury on October 1, 1931: “Red propaganda is busy…Unless it is hit, and hit hard, right now, there will be troublous times” (quoted in Endicott 2002, 95). Never mind that the police had already hit the workers hard. And never mind the troublous times already experienced by mine workers and their families.

The miners were outraged at the red scare tactics. As Bienfait miner Alex Konopaki said decades after the massacre: “We were blacklisted. Why? They called us Bolsheviks, we backed up the labour class. We belonged to labour organizations” (quoted in Rohatyn 1979).

The makeup of the local government also played a role. As was the case in resource towns in Canada town councils were dominated by local business people and representatives of capital. They typically acted to ensure conditions favorable to business owners and against the interests of workers. Such was the case in the killing of Ginger Goodwin as well as the case of the killings of workers during the Winnipeg General Strike

Mayor Bannatyne and the town council of Estevan, composed entirely of business people and professionals (in private and public sectors), was determined not to let the miners state their concerns openly in Estevan (Endicott 2002, 90). They even convened an emergency meeting of the town council for 10:30 AM the morning of Tuesday, September 29. The council prepared and passed a motion against the miners. It proclaimed that “no public demonstration or parade be allowed in any public place in the Town of Estevan by strikers or operators and that the chief of police and Inspector Moorehead be placed in charge to prevent any such public demonstration or parade” (quoted in Endicott 2002, 90). The motion against the workers was prepared by councilors James Parkinson (a mine operator) and W.D. Niblett (a mine foreman). In most situations this would be recognized unambiguously as a clear conflict of interest, if not shameful self-promotion using public resources and offices, yet in this case the council clearly had no shame. Another resolution passed by the council held “that the Town Hall shall not be rented to either operators or strikers for the purpose of holding any public meetings and that all parties be so notified” (quoted in Endicott 2002, 90). Notification to the mine companies should not have posed much of a problem given that they had representation on the council that passed the resolutions against the mine workers (while the miners, of course, had none). Following the emergency meeting, the chief of police, McCutcheon, requested help from RCMP Inspector Moorehead to “prohibit such parade or meeting in the Town Hall; and the carrying of banners” (quoted in Endicott 2002, 91). Incredibly the mayor ordered Reverend Gordon Tolton of Stirling Baptist Church to remove signs supporting the miners from the lawn of his church (Endicott 2002, 91).

The fake, and quite cynical, “impartiality” of the motions shows clearly the bold faced hypocrisy of the state. The motions also included prohibitions against strikers and operators even though operators never had any intention of doing any of the prohibited acts—and the target was solely the miners. This is quite like the situation regarding current legislation against panhandling or sleeping in parks that is legislated against rich and poor alike. But, of course the rich are not likely to panhandle or be homeless and will never be targeted by the legislation in question while the poor and homeless may be subjected to it every day.

Significantly the message sent by telegram from the council to the union did not even mention that police would be present to enforce the last minute resolution. As well, the union intended to drive through town (rather than hold a foot parade) on the provincial highway and the town council did not have jurisdiction over the provincial highway. They had no reason to believe police would intervene to act on a town council edict on a road over which the council had no jurisdiction. In an incredibly cynical attempt to change history, after the massacre the town clerk sent a telegram with the missing information about the orders to police added in.

In the current period police agencies make much hay, and money, out of fear based promotion of so-called anti-terror policies, practices, and surveillance equipment. In the days, weeks, and months following the Estevan massacre the police carried out a campaign of what can only be called terrorism against the local working class, particularly in the mining center of Bienfait.

The day following the massacre 90 Mounties, fully armed and led by inspectors Moorehead and Rivett-Carnac swarmed the small village of 500 people and engaged in overt acts of intimidation (Endicott 2002, 95). Stunningly, machine guns were placed out in strategic places around town, including at the Saskatchewan Wheat Pool Elevator, on the porch of the King Edward Hotel, and across from the Ukrainian Labour Temple. This is an image not regularly presented or reflected upon in Canadian history books or ideological pieces about the peaceful and democratic character of Canadian government.

Armed police officers broke into and searched homes in the village and mining camps seeking out injured miners and making arrests. The rooming house where visiting organizers and supporters had stayed was searched. Armed patrols were run throughout the area on an ongoing basis day and night. This could only be properly described as an atmosphere of state terror (Endicott 2002, 96).

Aftermath: Continuing Police Terror

A Royal Commission opened in Estevan on October 5, 1931. The miners saw it as an opportunity to air their concerns to a public audience (Endicott 2002, 99). In their view they would go on to expose the greed and lawlessness of the owners, local officials, and RCMP. The commissioner was District Court Judge E.R. Wylie and legal counsel for the commission was W.J. Perkins the local agent of the attorney general and a member of the Estevan Conservative Association (a pro-owner, pro-capitalist organization). The enactment of the commission would result in no let up in police attacks on miners, their families, and supporters. Clearly the commission sent no single to the police that their activities might be inappropriate.

During the commission period RCMP Inspector Moorhead, on direction from village overseer A.H. Graham and mine manager H.M. Freeman, sent mine constables to raid the boarding house where they turned seven men out of their beds in the middle of the night, arrested them, and charged them with vagrancy. The suspected unionists were held in jail for four days without bail before being released. The morning after the boarding house arrests the police arrested WUL organizer James Bryson at the union hall.

Two days after the night raid Inspector Moorhead led 40 armed officers to Bienfait to intimidate and harass strikers who were considering a tentative agreement to end the strike. He went so far as to enter the union hall and offer a veiled threat of violence to the workers there. Moorhead later amassed a large force of officers at the mine entrance on the day that work was to restart. Miners reported that the feeling was like a slave camp (Endicott 2002, 101). And the slave patrols were, much as they were in the southern US, government forces acting for capital—in this case the cherished RCMP.

These were unambiguously illegal, and entirely business driven, actions by the police. Their sole purpose was to harass and intimidate miners and unionists, and disrupt organizing on behalf of capital. Again the stories of state neutrality and police service as community safety are shown to be completely false. Moorhead and his officers manipulated and abused law to serve the private financial interests of mine owners.

RCMP Inspector Moorhead was a rather despicable character who put fully on display the racism and anti-working class bias that were bedrocks of RCMP culture and perspective throughout their history to that point. Moorhead was particularly hostile to so-called foreign born miners. He claimed that the Bienfait organizers “consisted largely of Foreigners as very few English-speaking people took part” (quoted in Endicott 2002, 101). He even called for “discriminate deportation of the radical foreign element” (quoted in Endicott 2002, 101). In his view, “until this method is put into effect there is sure to be continual trouble, possibly of a more serious nature” (quoted in Endicott 2002, 101). Tellingly, trouble for Endicott did not include the life threatening working conditions, child labor, low pay, and miserable living environments that the miners and their families were forced to endure in the mines and company work camps. Trouble, in his view did not include the arbitrary and abusive actions of management over workers.


One effect of the RCMP attack less remarked upon has been the silencing of militant voices and perspectives on organizing in the coalfields and a rewriting of the history of working class struggles both in the local area and in the Canadian state context more broadly.

The important and courageous part played by the Workers’ Unity League and Mine Workers’ Union of Canada in defending workers’ interests for job security, better working conditions, health and safety, and improved pay has been disparaged or distorted in the interests of asserting narratives less critical of the police and bosses.

The age at which boys could work in the mines was not raised until after 1944. The RCMP attack on and murder of the Estevan Three helped delay this change for 13 years. This derailment of this particular union demand provided an exploitation bonus for employers but was, of course, disastrous for young workers.

The RCMP in service of the mine companies killed three young miners and wounded many others. They then used their force and privilege to track down and arrest other miners and supporters, particularly going after supposed leaders of the unionization drives.

Police, as they have throughout Canadian history, played important, indeed pivotal, repressive roles in an all out assault on working people defending their lives against capital. At Estevan the assault on miners and their organizing efforts was on behalf of ownership. At the same time it expressed Conservative government interests, perspectives, and priorities to ensure accumulation and profitability within the Canadian context but also to discipline and restrain workers within a period of depression and unrest. The violence of the state was accompanied culturally through over racism and xenophobia and patriotic jingoism and militarism within a context of Red scare fear mongering. All of which are characteristic bulwarks of RCMP history.


Dishaw, Garnet. 2006. “Estevan Coal Strike.” Encyclopedia of Saskatchewan. Regina: University of Regina

Endicott, Stephen L. 2002. Bienfait: The Saskatchewan Miners’ Struggle of ’31. Toronto: University of Toronto Press

Rohatyn, Michelle. 1979. Taped Interviews with Miners.

Murdering Justice: The Police Killing of Ginger Goodwin, Labor Organizer (Activists Killed by Cops Feature)

Murdering Justice: The Police Killing of Ginger Goodwin, Labor Organizer

The various police agencies in Canada have long histories of routinely inflicting often lethal violence on activists, community and labor organizers, protesters, and dissenters, despite popular perceptions, and state propaganda, suggesting otherwise. Police violence and the killing of activists have been particularly pronounced in the case of labor organizers and active union members.

One of the most infamous instances of lethal police force against a labor organizer is the killing of Albert “Ginger” Goodwin, a prominent union organizer and socialist, by a disgraced constable of the Military Police of the Dominion Police, Dan Campbell.

Born in Treeton, England in 1887, “Red” Goodwin was a migrant coal miner who came to settle in the area around the Cumberland mines on Vancouver Island where he arrived looking for work late in 1910. Immediately angered by working conditions, health and safety threats, and the abuse of workers by bosses in the mines Goodwin quickly set about on a number of organizing projects in the area. Goodwin was instrumental in union organizing in the industry and also played crucial parts in several militant strikes. Goodwin was also a war resister who took to the woods around Cumberland to avoid conscription in a war that he opposed as the murdering of workers on behalf of imperialism. It was in those woods that he was killed by police. On July 27, 1918 Goodwin was gunned down by Constable Campbell, executed for refusing to fight a bosses’ war.

Red Goodwin: For Workers and Against War

After the Vancouver Island strike of 1912 to 1914, in which Goodwin played a key part, he was blacklisted and had to move on. Moving to Trail, BC in 1916, Goodwin worked as a smelter with the Consolidated Mining and Smelting Company of Canada Limited (CM and S). As a member of the Socialist Party of Canada, Goodwin ran in the provincial election of 1916. That same year he was elected secretary of the Trail Mine and Smelter’s Union. He would later be elected vice-president of the BC Federation of Labour. In 1917 he was elected president of the Trail Trades and Labor Council and president of the local International Union of Mine, Mill, and Smelter Workers.

From the start of World War I, Goodwin, as was the case for many socialists and anarchists, openly opposed the war on pacifist grounds and because the was was understood as an imperial endeavor built on the dead bodies of the working classes who were forced to fight each other on behalf of capital and its national states. Goodwin had actually tried to assist returned soldiers, as harmed members of the working class. Goodwin initially complied with law and registered for the draft. He was rejected for conscription on the basis of a medical examination that declared him unfit for military duty on the basis of black lung, common for miners, and bad teeth, common for the poor. The medical board classified him Class D, unfit for military service. Not long after his medical exam, in 1917, Goodwin became centrally involved in a strike at the Trail smelter over nothing more radical than an eight hour day (it is too often forgotten that workers in Canada did not enjoy an eight hour day, usually working much longer, and would fight the Winnipeg General Strike in 1919 over this very issue, leading to mass arrests and the police killings of several workers). Incredibly, during the course of the strike Goodwin received notification that his conscription status had now changed and he was now declared fit for duty. Business people made up much of local draft boards across Canada. At the time of his reclassification from Class D to Class A it was almost certain that Goodwin suffered from an advanced form of tuberculosis (Steeves 1960, 38).

To avoid being forced to fight and possibly kill other workers in a bosses war, Goodwin along with several other war and conscription resisters moved to the woods around Cumberland. They were literally hunted like animals by hunting posses of various agencies of police in British Columbia, the Provincial Police of British Columbia and the Dominion Police. The police unambiguously played a strictly political role serving working people up to the military and directing specific violence against workers who had been involved in community and labor organizing and/or who had challenged business owners and processes of exploitation of labor.

Deadly Forces: The Police Agencies

Officers of the federal Dominion Police were used to track down and capture those who opposed war and conscription during the period of World War I. So too were constables of the British Columbia Provincial Police. This was part of the taken for granted role of police as agents of empire, and obedience to the state (rather than as defenders of justice, law, and order). Objectors to war and conscription were arrested under the Military Service Act.

The Dominion Police was a relatively small and federal force established in 1868 to operate as the secret service, to enforce federal statutes, and to guard government buildings. In 1920 it was merged with the North West Mounted Police (NWMP) to form the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). The Military Police component of the Dominion Police was deployed to seek out and round up men who opposed the war and avoided the draft.

Given that many, indeed most, of those who opposed war were socialists, communists, anarchists, social reformers, critics of states or corporate interests, this policing of war resisters reinforced the police role as fundamentally political forces, defending capitalist and state authorities and priorities. It also gave ample opportunity to rid the world of various “Reds,” which was precisely what capital and liberal democratic governments desired and sought.

The Military Police had been organized in British Columbia by BC conscription registrar Robert Lemmie, a lawyer in Nelson and Vancouver. In order to stir resentments and ensure vengeful prosecution of duties, Lemmie built his force mostly of handpicked returning soldiers.

The cop who killed Ginger Goodwin was a businessperson who owned and operated the Colwood Hotel near Victoria between 1906 and 1919. Special Constable Dan Campbell said two days before he killed Goodwin: “Mac, we are here to get these men, dead or alive.”

The police description of Goodwin, in addition to saying he had a “furtive glance,” noted that he was “socialistic” and strangely implied he might be Jewish (Stonebanks 2004).

The Hunt Posse

The Provincial Police constable based in Cumberland was Robert Rushford (30). The police posse hunting draft avoiders at Cumberland were led by William John Devitt (49) a career police officer. Devitt was the Vancouver based Inspector and second in command to the Chief Inspector of the 45 person Military Police arm of the Dominion Police in British Columbia, one Captain Frederick R. Glover (Stonebanks 2004, 90). At the time of the Goodwin killing Devitt had had a 31 year police career. He joined the NWMP in 1887 serving a five year term which saw him involved in several breaches of discipline. Despite conduct that was officially recorded as “indifferent” Devitt was brought back for a second, three year term. Between 1896 and 1910, Devitt operated with the BC Provincial Police, serving in Nakusp, Nelson, Rossland, and Trail. Devitt became the first police chief of Trail, British Columbia.

Devitt had been in charge of a hunting party searching for resisters at least as early as, ironically, May Day, the historic holiday of the workers of all lands. That party included Constable Alfred Stafford of the Military Police.

The cop who killed Ginger Goodwin, Dan Campbell, joined the hunt for resisters in July 1918. Prior to killing Goodwin, Dan Campbell had met disgrace as a constable in the British Columbia Provincial Police. At the time of the hunt for Goodwin, Campbell was a special constable.

The hunting party also included a third police officer, Lance Corporal George Henry Roe (48), a former customs officer overseeing coal loaded for export, and two trappers, Thomas Downie Anderson (58) and George Alfred Janes (44). As if the hunting symbolism was not direct enough.

Police hunted the resisters day and night. Reports of the time suggest the resisters led a very precarious existence suffering from bites from mosquitoes and poisonous deer flies and from exposure (Stonebanks 2004, 97). One resister, identified as Andrew Aitken, returned to Cumberland suffering what was called a form of dementia. Goodwin himself suffered pneumonia but received medicine from supporters and recovered (Stonebanks 2004, 97). Many locals supported the resisters and there were networks of sympathetic workers and townspeople who brought supplies, especially foodstuffs, to hiding resisters. While friends and supporters did help out food was on the whole quite limited. Resisters had to forage and hunt for themselves.

Over May 14 and 15, Rushford and Constable Alfred Stafford of the Dominion Police conducted all night searches for resisters. On April 27 the pair had arrested Earon Jones for failing to register for the draft.

The posse set out from Comox Lake on its human hunting trip on Saturday, July 27, 1918. Goodwin was hiding with other resisters and mine workers Frederick Taylor, Arthur Boothman, and James Randall.

The Killing

On July 27, 1918, the Dominion Police set out for the fateful hunting expedition that would claim Ginger Goodwin. Sometime around 4:30 PM Devitt and Roe heard a shot ring out and working their way through dense bush came to the spot where Goodwin lay dead. He had been shot by Dan Campbell who used his own .30-.30 caliber 1893 Marlin lever action rifle. A bullet pierced Goodwin’s neck severing his spinal cord. Death was instant (Stonebanks 2004, 102).

Goodwin was found by Devitt and Roe thirteen feet away from Campbell. Goodwin was holding a .22 caliber rifle. Bloodstains were found on the trail six feet, three inches away from Goodwin’s body.

Initially the police planned to bury Goodwin’s body on the spot where it lay without any autopsy or coroner’s report. Two undertakers, Thomas Banks of Cumberland and John Sutton of Courtnay, were asked to bury Goodwin in the woods but refused. Unions intervened and declared their intention to get the body out. Undertaker Thomas Banks and a rescue team of miners brought Goodwin’s body out of the woods.

In a curious decision neither of Cumberland’s two doctors, who may have been sympathetic to the local miners, George McNaughton and E.R. Hicks, was asked to perform the postmortem. Instead authorities turned to Dr. Harrison Mullard from Courtnay, several miles away.

The Inquest

An Inquest was held in Cumberland on the morning of July 31. Constable Dan Campbell maintained that he had killed Goodwin in self defense but seems not to have been asked to provide specific details of the interaction.

Dr. Millard suggested based on the condition of the wound that the gun had been fired from not farther than ten feet and not closer than two feet. Goodwin has a “large gaping wound” on the left side of his neck and a “nasty” wound on his left wrist (Stonebanks 2004, 105).

Devitt replied that based on the wrists and neck wounds he believed Goodwin was shot from the side and had been standing with his left side facing the shooter. This would suggest that he was not pointing a gun at Campbell and should have raised questions about Campbell’s claim of self defense. While Devitt had initially referred to Goodwin’s gun as a high powered automatic it was actually a small .22 used by farmers for dealing with pests or hunting small game.

Roe testified that in finding Goodwin he held the gun tightly in his right hand but not his left. A firing position would have had the gun gripped in both hands. Roe reported that the .22 had ten bullets but only two were recovered. For some reason, despite being told by Devitt to make the gun safe, the two billets were put back in the gun by Roe.

There were real discrepancies between in the self defense claim and the forensic evidence which did not fully support it. The fact that Goodwin had two separate and distinct puncture wounds in his neck was not fully explained. Was he shot only once? As well there were discrepancies in explanations for the wound in Goodwin’s wrist. There was no gunpowder found on the wound and it was suggested that the wound was not caused by a bullet. Later it was suggested that a bullet had first hit Goodwin’s wrist before entering his neck. There was also an unexplained puncture on Goodwin’s lip.

Many believed (many reviewing the case still do) that Goodwin was shot in the back from someone crouching in bushes below him (Steeves 1960, 39). This would, in fact, correspond with the angle of the bullet path from back to neck (an exit rather than an entry wound). It would also explain the wrist wound as the upward rising bullet would have met the upraised hands held out front (in a gesture of surrender and compliance).

The inquest returned a neutral verdict. Campbell was arrested by the Provincial Police and charged with manslaughter. He was released on $10,000 bail.

Incredibly the jurors were all local business people or local government representatives. They were: Frank Dalby, jury foreman, a storekeeper at Canadian Collieries (Dunsmuir) Ltd.; Charles Parnham, underground supervisor at Number Four mine and city alderman; R,R, Ridout, payroll clerk at Canadian Collieries; Neil McFadyen, stable boss at Canadian Collieries and school trustee; John Fraser, proprietor of a cigar store and barber shop; and J.W, Cooke, postmaster. In a mining town, not a single juror was a working miner (Stonebanks 2004, 107).

Aftermath of the Inquest

Many considered the killing of Goodwin to be murder based on the path of the bullet. As numerous miners at the time noted the path of the bullet through the left side of Goodwin’s neck and into his right shoulder showed that he could not have been sighting his rifle at Campbell, who would have been at his side and perhaps even out of sight, but would have been turned away from him. This glaring discrepancy in Campbell’s defense claim caused rising anger among miners and others who challenged the Campbell version of the killing.

The Metal Trades Council and the Vancouver Trades and Labour Council called a 24 hour general strike for August 2 in Vancouver, the first general strike in Canada, a year before the Winnipeg General Strike. The 24 hour strike was long known as the Ginger Goodwin General Strike.

Work stopped in Cumberland for the funeral, a testament to the high regard in which Goodwin was held but also an expression of outrage over what was considered a murder plain and simple (Stonebanks 2004, 109). The funeral procession measured over one kilometer in length. The Cumberland chief of police requested that the federal police be removed from town for the funeral saying that he could not be responsible for the consequences if they stayed given the seething anger of the miners (Steeves 1960, 39).

Police and the Political Climate

The social climate that the police played into says much about their social role. This was a context in which violence against union members was openly advocated and pursued. With no police intervention against those, particularly in business associations and veteran’s groups who called for or carried out anti-union violence.

In 1918 the Canadian government passed legislation making it illegal to publicly express or publish statements unfavorable to the motives or purposes of the war (Stonebanks 2004, 122). Anything that might “unsettle or inflame public opinion” was prohibited by law (Stonebanks 2004, 122). This did not prohibit actions that inflamed public opinion against war resisters, even where violence against resisters was involved.

Thirteen organizations, including the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) and various socialist parties were declared illegal on the basis of revolutionary literature (Stonebanks 2004, 123). These were groups that were most active in their opposition to the state and to capitalism as well as opposing imperialism, militarism, and war. No illegalization was leveled at the many conservative groups that actually inflicted violence on poor and working class people and organizations in what were essentially terroristic acts.

The Great War Veterans Association (GWVA) threatened violence against striking workers. Sergeant A.E. Lees, secretary of the GWVA in British Columbia said: “Whether he was shot in the front or the back, he got his just and due deserts” (quoted in Stonebanks 2004, 111). The BC Veteran’s Weekly called the general strike “murderous disloyalty.” The Vancouver Sun called the strike “deliberate treason.”

On August 2, three hundred veterans stormed the Vancouver Labour Temple, broke down the door, shattered windows, and trashed the office scattering papers and records around the room. Labour Council secretary Victor Midgely was assaulted. The following day veteran’s attended the Longshoreman’s Hall and demanded that several union leaders leave the province.

This sentiment was advanced in various establishment outlets including the mainstream newspapers. The Trail newspaper the News called Goodwin’s killing a “natural consequence” and suggested he should have paid the price in the war anyway, oddly suggesting that he “could have made a name for himself” (quoted in Stonebanks 2004, 112).

All in all the establishment papers found Goodwin to be an offense to patriotism who deserved to be executed without trial apparently. And Dan Campbell made this sentiment a reality.

In that sense the police did the bidding of the ruling class. They served the function of recruiters for war and also provided an ideological function that condemned and morally regulated resisters posing war resistance as criminal enterprise. In this we see the longstanding role of police and legislation in constructing various forms of opposition to capitalist barbarism (war, exploitation, dispossession, etc.) as crime (as in laws around vagrancy, theft, strikes, squatting, war resistance, etc.).

The hunts for resisters continued on Vancouver Island after Goodwin’s killing. Several unionists were arrested for aiding and abetting resisters, particularly for taking them food. The officers involved in the Goodwin killing took part in later hunts for resisters.

The Preliminary Investigation

On August 7, the Preliminary Investigation into charges against Constable Campbell convened at the Victoria Courthouse. Notably several witnesses for the defense would enhance their testimony to support a self defense argument (despite there being no witnesses to the killing itself, or perhaps because of it).

The Crown, prosecuting the case, held that Campbell was operating on a “dead or alive” basis. Six new witnesses testified to hearing Campbell say, on three distinct occasions overall, that he would “get” the resisters “dead or alive.” One testified that Campbell used the word “shot” in his discussion of getting the resisters (quoted in Stonebanks 2004, 113). Further, there was no evidence that Campbell spoke to Goodwin before shooting him. This suggested that Goodwin may not have known Campbell was even present and/or was not given any opportunity to surrender. No one heard any warning given. Indeed, no one heard Campbell say anything before the shot was fired. Was Goodwin simply executed on the spot as Campbell had suggested he would do to six witnesses? This question lingers to the present day.

The existence of two wounds on the left of Goodwin’s neck was never pursued in questioning. There were also issues about the wrist wound. There was no gunpowder on the wrist and Dr. Millard changed his view about the source of the wrist wounds.

The Court relied on Devitt’s opinion about the place of Goodwin’s hands and the state of his fingers to determine whether he could have been able to fire his gun. They also relied simply on his opinion about the possibility of a bullet ricocheting from Goodwin’s wrist to his neck. Roe, who supposedly took the rifle from the dead Goodwin’s hand could not say what position his index, trigger, finger was in.

Campbell even later suggested that Goodwin had only covered him with his rifle and that Campbell had been able to raise his after Goodwin saw him and had him covered. Suggesting no intention of shooting by Goodwin (Stonebanks 2004, 115). Reports of the interaction between Campbell and Goodwin changed further. From Goodwin first having Campbell covered, Campbell later suggested that he had Goodwin put his arms up, which he then did, complying with the order. Campbell then suggests Goodwin suddenly clutched the rifle as if to shoot before Campbell shot him. But both scenarios cannot be true at the same time. Either Goodwin had Campbell covered and Campbell quickly raised his weapon afterward and got a shot off or Campbell had Goodwin covered with his arms in the air and fired later when Goodwin brought his arms down. It cannot be both. Yet Campbell was never interrogated on this, indeed he never took the stand for cross examination as far as is known, and the incompatible discrepancies were never pursued.

Campbell’s weapon might also have been questioned. he killed Goodwin with a .30-.30 rifle but, as Devitt testified, the regulation arm for Dominion Police was a .45 or .55 caliber pistol. Where was Campbell’s pistol and why was he permitted to carry a non-regulation weapon into the field?

Devitt testified that he did not know Goodwin beforehand but he surely must have known of him while serving as police chief in Rossland. Incredibly, despite this, Devitt added to his testimony, with no actual evidence ever provided, that he had “certain telegrams” suggesting Goodwin would shoot anyone who tried to draft him (Stonebanks 2004, 117). Yet Ben Horbury, a Cumberland miner, said he was actually present when Goodwin told his father that if ever cornered by police he would not shoot (Stonebanks 2004, 117). Albert Stephenson, Chief of the Provincial Police, who knew Goodwin while a constable at Cumberland during the Big Strike that Goodwin was involved in, testified that Goodwin was in no way offensive or aggressive.

There were numerous inconsistencies and improprieties in the hearing. Witnesses Devitt and Roe were able to listen to each other’s testimony, for example.

Incredibly, the hearing concluded that Goodwin had assaulted Campbell and thus Campbell was justified in killing Goodwin in self defense. Yet there was, and is, certainly no evidence ever produced of any such assault.

Still, the hearing court actually returned a decision to commit Campbell to trial for manslaughter. The evidence could not be disregarded.

The Grand Jury

At the time of this case the trial would occur only after the case had been presented to a Grand Jury and only if the Grand Jury decided it should proceed. Before Campbell would stand trial a Grand Jury was formed to determine whether there was sufficient prima facie evidence to warrant a trial.

Before the trial began the venue was moved from Nanaimo, a coal miner town to Victoria, the provincial capital and an imperial center, on the basis of affidavits from several prominent business people and government officials. They were: John S. Bannerman, customs collector in Cumberland; Thomas Graham, general superintendant at Canadian Collieries (Dunsmuir) Ltd. in Cumberland; Charles Graham, district superintendant of Canadian Collieries in Cumberland; Donald Robert MacDonald, traffic manager for Canadian Collieries in Cumberland; Frank J. Dalby, storekeeper for Canadian Collieries in Cumberland and foreman of the Goodwin Inquest jury; Thomas Duer McLean, a jeweler in Cumberland; Neil McFayden, stable foreman for Canadian Collieries in Cumberland, school trustee, and juror in the Goodwin Inquest; Charles Edward Hildreth, manager of the BC Veterans Weekly, the official paper of the GWVA of BC, which was on record as saying resisters were traitors who deserved to die; and Anson Jones Burnside, now unknown. The Deputy Attorney-General of BC, A.M. Johnson, did not oppose the relocation of the hearing.

Had the Grand Jury stayed in Nanaimo, the scheduled jurors would have included four mine workers—there ended up being none on the Victoria jury. In this case the Grand Jury again consisted overwhelmingly of business people, local elites. The Grand Jury in Victoria consisted of six merchants, three accountants, a shipping agent, a real estate agent, a financial agent, and a retired man. There were no blue collar workers and no union members. And the political context in Victoria was more conservative than in working class Nanaimo.

On September 25, as the Grand Jury was being prepared, the Victoria League of Patriots called for “forceful methods” against those “who can endanger the winter coal supply of Canada by striking at the beginning of winter” (Stonebanks 2004, 122). This was in keeping with other such public calls for violence from conservative war mongering groups.

A Victoria Reverand suggested that “enemy aliens” in the coal mines should be forced to work for twenty-five cents a day at the point of a bayonet under guard of returned soldiers (Stonebanks 2004, 123). The Victoria Daily Colonist ran a letter from a soldier killed in action that read: “These non-soldiers are not only slackers but are keeping some returned soldiers out of a job who have certainly earned it over here. But don’t worry. God help them when the boys get back. They will wish they instead of their former comrades faced the Hun” (quoted in Stonebanks 2004, 123). Such was the sentiment promoted by local elites and conservative and establishment organizations in Victoria.

Decision to proceed to trial or not was based in a simple majority, rather than consensus as in a criminal trial jury. Thus, as few as seven people could decide the fate of the case.

With no explanation given the Grand Jury returned a verdict of “No Bill” and Campbell was free.

Men of Honor and Standing

The men of the police who formed the posse all had questionable backgrounds in service. What were not in question were their direct connections with, and as members of, local elites.

Campbell was a former Provincial Police constable with a past best described as checkered. As a less than proficient businessman he was also desperate for money. His stepfather John Donald Campbell had been Provincial Police Constable in Esquimalt, BC from 1877 to 1897 and as such was responsible for an area from Victoria to Port Renfrew. When he retired Dan succeeded him as constable, a family affair in policing (one might ask about patronage and vetting perhaps).

As police officer he attempted to claim a company reward for the BC Electric Railway Company for apprehending the person supposedly responsible for putting a piece of iron across transmission lines. But the award was never intended for police in the conduct of their business, for obvious reasons (of avoiding the appearance of police as mercenaries or bounty hunters).

On August 29, 1905 Officer Campbell shook down two women who lived in the red light district for $30 after stopping them in their horse and buggy. According to a complaint filed by the women with the Provincial Police, Campbell took them to a hotel and held them hostage demanding $30 for their release. This amount was equal to half of his monthly salary (Stonebanks 2004, 98–99). Following an inquiry which was referred to provincial Premier Richard McBride, Campbell was dismissed on September 28, 1905, for “conduct unbecoming a policeman, conduct injurious to the public service or public welfare, and accepting money without approval” (Stonebanks 2004, 99). Notably, Campbell had lied about the event saying the money was “a gift” (in a familiar police ploy).

Campbell had further trouble with the law while running the Colwood Hotel. In 1912 he was convicted in magistrate’s court for selling liquor in quantities above Liquor Act requirements. He appealed the case twice, to the BC Supreme Court and BC Court of Appeal, losing both times. His appeals were called “a clumsy and unsuccessful attempt to evade the statute” by Justice Archer Martin (Stonebanks 2004, 99).

Devitt’s history is an interesting one and shows the close links between the police and business interests which have always been close and which are present in the form of the other hunting party officers. In Trail, Devitt was not only police chief but also city clerk, assessor, and collector. He was one of four businesspeople who dominated the community. Known as the “Big Four” of Trail, they included other businessmen James Byers, MLA James Schofield, and, interestingly, Noble Binns (who was on the Local Tribunal that declined Ginger Goodwin’s application for conscription exemption in 1917) (Stonebanks 2004, 93). Binns and Schofield served as mayor and Schofield went on to serve as MLA for twenty-five years.

Moving to Nelson, Devitt became the Chief Constable for Kootenay Police District of the BC Provincial Police in charge of 23 officers between July 1907 and May 1909 when he was appointed village constable in Nakusp. There he also served as mining recorder.

Devitt resigned from the Provincial Police in Nakusp in 1910 and there was a dispute over his expenses which the Superintendant in Victoria described as “ridiculous claims.” Such was the integrity of the police given the role of hunting down “undesirables” like war resisters.

Returning to real estate and land development in Nelson, Devitt joined the municipal police force becoming chief in 1914, the year he was hired to be chief of the municipal forces in Rossland. Devitt was unceremoniously fired from the Rossland chief’s position in 1917 over some ongoing disputes with the police commission. There seems to have been some concern that Devitt was soft on gambling and pimps and his replacement was charged with addressing that situation. It remains to history to speculate whether Devitt was receiving kickbacks from either or both endeavors. Devitt then moved to the coast where he did detective work before joining the Military Police of the Dominion Police in March 1918.

The rest of his story is perhaps even more telling. After the war Devitt went to work as a police spy surveilling unions and union members. He became a constable of the Royal North West Mounted Police (later the RCMP).

Notably, trapper Anderson had crossed picket lines to work during the Big Strike of 1912 to 1914 and as a result bore the nickname “Scabby.” An upstanding character of great integrity and committed to the betterment of the working class. It was scab Anderson who tipped off the Military Police about locations of possible deserters hiding in the backcountry outside Cumberland. Anderson regularly worked, and we can assume profited nicely, assisting the Dominion Police in their hunts for resisters.

Intent to Kill?

At least six people reported conversations with Campbell while he was a constable hunting resisters and prior to his killing of Goodwin in which he said clearly that he would get resisters “dead or alive.” Campbell seemed to interlocutors visibly upset that other constables had not shot resisters when they had the chance and that this hesitance allowed the men to get away. An outcome that Campbell seemed to find abhorrent.

In a chance meeting in July 1918 on the shore of Comox Lake near Cumberland with family man Camille Decoeur, Campbell reportedly told Decoeur, “If I ever get that close they will never get away” and continued, “They will never get away, I will get them” (quoted in Stonebanks 2004, 100). Campbell seemed upset that “the first bunch of policemen” got within 30 feet of one resister before he eventually got away.

Several miners reported similar chilling conversations with Campbell on July 7 of 1918 also near Comox Lake. Raisi Giovanni recalled Campbell saying: “And he talk of something else, and after he tell me that Bob Rushford see one of the boys up the lake on one of the boats, and he did not want to shoot him, but if he [Campbell] had been in his place he would have shot” (quoted in Stonebanks 2004, 100). Giovanni continued: “We stayed there for eight or 10 minutes and he said, ‘This time we are going to get them, dead or alive’” (quoted in Stonebanks 2004, 100).

Alexandros Merillo recalled an earlier encounter with Campbell: “He say there was one boat across the lake and John [sic Robert] Rushford would not shoot because he was one of his friends. Campbell said if he was in his place he would get him” (quoted in Stonebanks 2004, 100). And Merillo reported that Campbell continued, “dead or alive” (quoted in Stonebanks 2004, 100). Another man, Carlos Cavallero heard Campbell say as well: “That Rushford saw one of these boys in a boat on the lake and he would not shoot him because he was his friend, and he (Campbell) said, ‘If it was me I would get him’” (quoted in Stonebanks 2004, 100). Cavallero also added hearing: “We are going to get him, dead or alive” (quoted in Stonebanks 2004, 100). Similarly Peter Ioris repeated: “He said that Rushford saw a man there at the top of the lake and he did not want to shoot him on account of his family and if he [Campbell] had been in his place he would have got him for sure” (quoted in Stonebanks 2004, 100). And again, as Ioris reported: “Yes, he (Campbell) said that he would get him dead or alive” (quoted in Stonebanks 2004, 100).

Peter McNiven, a miner and secretary in the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) and member of the Socialist Party of Canada had a conversation with Campbell on July 25, 1918. He reported what Campbell said to him: “We were talking about military evaders in general and he made the statement to me that if he saw any of these men he would get them and he said, ‘Mac, we are here to get these men dead or alive.’ That was the end of the conversation” (quoted in Stonebanks 2004, 101).

Devitt claimed at the first inquest that his instructions had been to arrest the men under the Military Services Act. He also suggested that this was relayed to the men in the posse. There was, in his view, no instruction to bring the men in dead or alive.

All of this suggests that Campbell had something of an obsession with war resisters. One could even suggest he held an irrational hatred toward them. He certainly was willing to express openly the view that opposing war was reason enough to kill someone. Incredibly, none of these conversations were brought into the initial Inquest of July 31, 1918.

No one but for those directly involved, Dan Campbell and Ginger Goodwin, can ever know what actually happened in those woods in the summer of 1918 beyond the clear fact that Constable Campbell shot and killed union organizer and war resister Goodwin.

Yet virtually everyone who has studied the case agrees that justice was not served—not even in limited criminal justice terms. Neither has justice been seen to have been done.

The Grand Jury process, abolished in Canada in 1932, entirely subverted “due process” by denying the public trial of the manslaughter charge which the Provincial Police and two justices of the peace had determined should proceed, as a prima facie case was established. Even more, the Grand Jury hearing took place in private and left no record of proceedings (Stonebanks 2004, 126).

As few as seven people with no legal education, experience, background, or insight, but strong business connections and interests, decided, on what basis we still do not know, that there should be no trial. Secrecy and the lack of written record meant that perjury was unbothered during a Grand Jury hearing.

A trial might have drawn out of Campbell details about what actually happened. In a self defense argument he would certainly have had to take the stand. And his testimony would have been subject to cross-examination.

Campbell was to have appeared before a military tribunal for inquiry into the shooting but there are no records this ever happened. Neither is there any record of his having been reprimanded for carrying a non- weapon in the field while carrying out duties of the force.

Indeed most of the official records relating to the police killing of Ginger Goodwin have been destroyed or gone missing. Most documents relating to the hunting of war resisters have been wiped out across the board.

Chillingly, Louvan Brownlow, daughter of the Provincial Police Constable in Cumberland, Robert Rushford, said in an interview that her father always maintained privately that Goodwin was unarmed when he was killed. She recalled him saying: “The poor little bastard. He wasn’t armed” (quoted in Stonebanks 2004, 130).

Historian Mark Leier puts the killing of Ginger Goodwin, labor organizer and war resister, by a Canadian cop in proper context. In Leier’s words:

“In sending police after Goodwin, politicians were operating normally. Immorally, of course, but in their usual fashion, following their usual rules and orders. The real criminality is that they were simply doing their day-to-day, regular jobs, maintaining a capitalist order and ensuring the smooth operation of an exploitative system.” (2013, 86)

At some point a government telegram was sent ordering Goodwin’s reexamination which led to a reclassification to A or fight to fight at the front. Notably this occurred during the 1917 strike Goodwin was leading at CM and S in Trail, which was a major supplier of war materials (Stonebanks 2004, 128). There is evidence that CM and S ran Goodwin out of Trail during the strike. They most likely did not want him back under any circumstances.


Leier, Mark. 2013. Rebel Life: The Life and Times of Robert Gosden, Revolutionary, Mystic, Labour Spy. Vancouver: New Star Books

Steeves, Dorothy G. 1960. The Compassionate Rebel: Ernest Winch and the Growth of Socialism in Western Canada. Vancouver: J.J. Douglas

Stonebanks, Roger. 2004. Fighting for Dignity: The Ginger Goodwin Story. St. John’s, NL: Canadian Committee on Labour History