In Search of a Crime

AuthorC. Ian Kyer
In Search of a Crime
I   understanding of the bond market and the f‌inancial
services industry contributed to the Smith/Jarvis convictions,
it was politics that led to the trial. The charges against Smith,
Jarvis, and others and the trial that followed had their origins in the
political campaign of 1923. In the early summer, four parties fought
the election, but two are crucial to an understanding of the trial. The
Drury-led United Farmers of Ontario (UFO) had been the govern-
ment in power for the last four years, but the Conservatives had been
in oce for the fourteen years before that. Howard Ferguson and
his Conservatives were anxious to return to power and sought to
convince the electorate that the members of the Drury government,
rather than being the morally superior “uplifters” they claimed to be,1
were actually incompetent and corrupt.
When Drury’s minority government fell and an election was
called, Ferguson escalated his attacks. He would later share his elec-
tion strategy with a colleague: “The public has no intelligence. No
election was ever won by logic or arguments. Educated, intelligent
people . . . are in a hopeless minority. . . . The mob rules. The prob-
lem is to capture the attention of the mob.”2 He captured that atten-
tion by stressing that the Drury government, instead of being the
saviour of the Ontario farmers and the bringer of a clean and honest
The OnTariO BOnd Scandal Of 1924 re-examined
government, had been a hopeless failure with a record of poor deci-
sions, incompetent management, and corrupt practices.3 One UFO
practice that the Conservatives pointed to was the way that the Treas-
ury Department had changed how the government books were kept.
The suggestion was that the UFO government had made the change
to falsify its f‌inancial record and hide its incompetence and corrup-
tion. Conservative candidate W.F. Nickle said, “[I]f this Utopian party,
elected on the principles of political purity, had commenced so early
to falsify the books in so outrageous a manner, there was perhaps
more to be learned.”4 Peter Smith defended his record, saying that
Nickle was one of those brought out by the Conservatives to prove
that “black is white.5 He added, “I am willing, and I challenge my
critics to submit my accounts to any responsible f‌irm of auditors in
Toronto, and if they say I’ve falsif‌ied my accounts in any way, I’m
willing to go to jail.”6
Despite Smith’s assertions, Ferguson’s strategy worked well, and
when the votes were counted, Ferguson and the Conservatives had
won a decisive victory. They won an additional f‌ifty seats, bringing
their total to seventy-f‌ive. Drury and the UFO lost many seats, leav-
ing them with only twenty-one members in the Legislative Assembly.
Drury himself lost his seat.
Shortly after winning the election, Ferguson set out to prove his
allegations of incompetence and corruption. He again turned to his
f‌ixer, Billy Price, who promptly took steps to investigate the f‌inancial
record of the Drury government. That investigation would culminate
in a series of dubious trials, of which the Smith/Jarvis trial would be
the most contentious.
Supporting the view that his actions were at least in part motiv-
ated by revenge, Ferguson’s government also took aim at Justice
Latchford, who had served on the Timber Commission. The Drury
government had created a second division of the Court of Appeal,
and Latchford had been made chief justice of that division. Not long
after assuming oce, Ferguson’s government sought to undo this.
They put forward an amendment to the Judicature Act7 that would
have allowed the provincial government to decide which federally
appointed judges would serve as trial and appellate judges and who
In Search of a Crime
would serve as chief justice. It would also have done away with the
Second Division of the Court of Appeal and thus deprived Latchford
of his position as chief justice of that division. Despite severe criti-
cism from former attorney general Raney that the amendment was
payback for Latchford’s role on the Timber Commission8 and notice
from the federal government that they considered the legislation
unconstitutional, the Act was passed.9 It was referred to the Ontario
Court of Appeal to determine its constitutionality. Norman Tilley, KC,
and James McGregor Young, KC, were appointed by the Ferguson gov-
ernment to argue in favour of its constitutionality, and Newton W.
Rowell, KC, and Hartley Dewart, KC, were appointed by the court to
present the opposite view. The majority of the appellate court found
the Act to be unconstitutional.10 Although the province had jurisdic-
tion over the administration of justice, the appointment of judges
was a federal responsibility. In seeking to decide where the federally
appointed judges should sit and who would be chief justice, the court
found that the province was inappropriately assuming part of that
federal power of appointment. The province appealed to the Privy
Council, but that body adopted the reasoning of the Ontario court and
found the Act to be beyond the powers of the provincial government
and of no ef‌fect.11
Meanwhile, Aemilius Jarvis was making news of a very dif‌ferent
sort. He was carrying out an ambitious yachting venture. Yachts and
yacht racing had long been his passion. As the Toronto Star said, “any
picture of Aemilius Jarvis without a yachting cap was unusual.12 His
oce at his brokerage f‌irm also evidenced this passion:
[It is] lined all around with full and half models [of ships]. . . . Where
there were no models there are photographs of yachts yachts
by the wind, yachts running free, yachts at anchor, yachts in stays.
Where there were no photographs there were blueprints and where
there were no blueprints there were oil paintings.13
Jarvis had demonstrated both a strong interest in and an aptitude
for sailing early in his life.14 As an adult, he had become Canada’s fore-
most yachtsman and a noted yacht designer. He had won more than
300 freshwater races, including the inaugural Canada’s Cup challenge

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