Tyler Wentzell is a doctoral candidate at the University of Toronto Faculty of Law, a military historian and a serving infantry officer at the Canadian Forces College and the 48th Highlanders of Canada. His current research focuses on the Canadian military’s role in internal security duties. He is the author of Not for King or Country: Edward Cecil-Smith, the Communist Party of Canada, and the Spanish Civil War (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2020).
Apart from Montreal and Quebec City, Cape Breton has seen more armed military interventions than any other location in Canada. Between 1876 and 1925, Canadian soldiers deployed to the island’s steel mills and coal mines on no fewer than eight occasions. Some of these strikebreaking interventions were relatively minor, employing small numbers of local part-time militiamen for a few days, while other incidents drew upon every standing unit east of Winnipeg for months at a time.
Building on the previous work of David Frank, Don MacGillivray, and Desmond Morton, this research project examines the legal implications of these incidents, including the 1903 amendments to the Militia Act requiring the use of Permanent Force troops instead of local volunteer militia regiments and other steps to remove local authorities’ ability to requisition military forces. In 1923, following Nova Scotia’s refusal to reimburse the federal government for the cost of the deployment, the federal government dramatically amended the Militia Act, withheld payments to the province and only brought the dispute to a resolution following an examination by the Supreme Court of Canada in 1930. This paper argues that the Cape Breton experience forced a fundamental rethinking of the role of the Canadian military in domestic affairs and led to the establishment of the legal system that persists to the present day.