The Labrador Boundary

Privy Council Documents

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29 Oct., 1926.

Mr. Macmillan.

Viscount Finlay.

Mr. Macmillan.

Viscount Finlay.

Mr. Macmillan.

Viscount Finlay.

29 Oct., 1926.

Viscount Finlay.

Mr. Macmillan.

29 Oct., 1926.

Mr. Macmillan.

Lord Warrington.

29 Oct., 1926.

Lord Warrington.

Mr. Macmillan.

Lord Warrington.

Mr. Macmillan.

p. 393


Mr. MACMILLAN : My Lords, I was directing attention to the sentence on page 154, upon which both sides have concentrated so much criticism. I utilise it as affording a key to the minds of those who were engaged in framing these material documents. On the question of interpreting a document it is, of course, quite true to say that if the language is unambiguous the purpose or motive, either of them, is quite immaterial because you cannot go beyond the accepted meaning of the language itself ; the language contains the effective will of the person who has used it, and if there is no ambiguity, then purpose is irrelevant. But the whole problem that we are confronted with here is a problem where the critical word is ambiguous, and it is in these circumstances that I humbly maintain that the ascertainment of the purpose is of the greatest value in enabling you to ascertain with what intention this word of vague and general meaning was used in this particular context, and that the word should not be extended beyond what is necessary to effectuate that purpose.
Now, my Lords, the word here used as it was used in the Commission, is “ coast ” or “ coasts.” Among documents in these volumes much learning has been reprinted from dictionaries and other sources on the subject, but I do not think your Lordships would welcome very much investigation of it, because after all the word “coast ” is known to your Lordships, as it is known to all who use the English language, and I think I put it with reasonable accuracy when I say that in the ordinary acceptation of the term it does mean a maritime edge or margin. When one uses the word “ coast ” in the general case it relates to a margin of ground or territory bordering upon the sea. It is not used of rivers, nor is it used of lakes ; it is used of the sea. But etymologically, of course, it has its origin in a word which means an edge or
3 G 2

p. 394

side merely. You see it in that use in French, of course, also, and you have examples which have been recorded in this book from the Bible and elsewhere, the best sources of English, where it used even of countries that are entirely inland. I am not contesting that in the least.

Lord WARRINGTON : You talk about the West Coast Route, but you do not mean that it runs along the sea shore.

Mr. MACMILLAN : And the East Coast Route also. That is one of the very examples that occurred to myself when I was thinking of it; on the other hand, when I say that I am going to the coast your Lordship would be surprised to find me at Derby.

Lord WARRINGTON: That is another thing.

Mr. MACMILLAN : Exactly, it is another thing, and it is, of course, just the question. We are dealing with a word whose meaning varies with the circumstances in which it is used.

Viscount FINLAY : The current use of the word is limited. There is a sort of archaism about speaking of the coasts of an inland place. Undoubtedly in the instances to which you are referring in the authorised version it is used as having no relating whatever either to sea or land.

Mr. MACMILLAN : Yes, my Lord, it is ; there are examples of that ; but when it is used here, applied to a place which is bordering upon the sea, and you are talking of the coast of Labrador, in this context your Lordship may extend or narrow that according to what you think right.

Viscount FINLAY : Yes, at the same time you want to have settled order and administration of justice in an area very considerably for the prosperity of the fishers. You must have such control and administration of justice as will give security to those who are engaged there ; and that cannot be confined merely to the edge. There may be a question how far back you could carry your setting up a jurisdiction.

Mr. MACMILLAN : Yes, there, of course, I am entirely in your Lordships' hands, but I suggest that to carry it back to the height of land is to carry it to a region infinitely remote from the necessity of a jurisdiction intended to control fishermen.

Viscount FINLAY : If that were the only object. But suppose the sentence had been a little broken up ; it is put all in one sentence here on page 154, but suppose it had been divided into two sentences and it was said in one sentence that the fishery had very much extended and that it was necessary to provide some settled governments in those parts and then it went on to say, in the language of the latter part of

p. 395

this paragraph, just about line 20 : “ under the care and inspection of our Governor of Newfoundland.”

Mr. MACMILLAN : Yes, my Lord, but then the difficulty is this, that we are just told in one of the preceding documents that it is not the intention to establish any settled government there.

Viscount FINLAY : The whole thing had to be put under some establishment of administration of justice.

Mr. MACMILLAN : I read from page 909 of Volume III : “ But as no such regular civil Government is either necessary or indeed can be established, where no perpetual Residence or planting is intended ; It will there be sufficient to provide for the free Trade of all your Majesty's Subjects under such Regulations, and such Administration of Justice as is best suited to that end. Such We apprehend to be the case of Newfoundland, where a temporary fishery is the only Object, and this We suppose has been the reason, which induced your Majesty to annex the Coast of Labrador to that Government.” So that the idea of any settled government of this territory is disclaimed in terms.

The LORD CHANCELLOR : That applies to Newfoundland also ?

Mr. MACMILLAN : Certainly, it does, my Lord.

Viscount FINL AY : That is rather startling. That must mean that it does not want anything so elaborate.

Mr. MACMILLAN : Your Lordship will see in the sequel that granting of any territory in Newfoundland was forbidden absolutely, and that the one effort of the British Government was at all hazards to prevent it becoming a Colony ; the one thing to be preserved was as if it were a ship afloat at sea and no one was to settle there ; it was never to become a Colony. I will read the passage later when I come to describe Newfoundland, but it is most significant to see that there was to be no settled government at all ; there was to be an officer on a ship. But, my Lords, why should we endeavour to extend this language to the height of land ? If any object were to be served by it, I could understand it ; but as it seems to me, when you satisfy completely the purpose which everybody had in mind at the time, when you satisfy the language as used by themselves, when you satisfy the object they themselves expressed, what is the necessity or what is the desirability for according a vastly greater area then was ever in the contemplation of the parties themselves and which would be absolutely useless for the purposes indicated ? I suggest that the natural approach to the problem is by the avenue by which I have humbly ventured to suggest it should be approached, and approaching it from that avenue, the whole thing forms a consistent whole and you get a complete view of the proposed administration.

p. 396

Now, my Lords, on the language which is repeated there, I say that prima facie the language is in my favour, that prima facie “ coast ” means the margin of the sea, and that prima facie, therefore, we are dealing with a margin. I give my friend, with both hands, the admission that you can find plenty of illustrations of the use of the word “ coast ” as implying some depth, and considerable depth, not by any manner of means always depth in to the height of land, but often behind the height of land, and often short of the height of land. I am sure the Côte d'Azur does not extend to the height of land, in the Mediterranean. There are innumerable examples in the use of the word “ coast,” and it may have a context of depth according to the circumstances in which it is used, but the whole problem here is, in this context what depth, if any, is to be attached to the coast, having regard to these purposes which are expressed ?
Your Lordships will notice that the description is entirely by points on the sea shore ; and that is rather striking. Unlike the descriptions which precede it and the descriptions which are given of Quebec and the other Governments, here the only fixed termini are points admittedly on the coast. The entrance to Hudson's Straits is a point on the coast ; the other terminus is the River St. John. And your Lordships will notice that it is rather interesting that in the Commission as distinguished from the Proclamation the point is described with this definition added : “ to the River St. John's which discharges itself into the sea nearly opposite the west end of the Island of Anticosti including that island.” Those words “ which discharges itself,” you do not find in the paragraph on page 154 ; it is simply “ from the River St. John's ” ; but in the Commission the use of this language “ which discharges itself into the sea nearly opposite the west end of the Island of Anticosti,” indicates, I suggest, that the point is the point on the coast where the river discharges itself just opposite Anticosti. And you have the striking contrast when the boundaries of Quebec are described, that you are to carry the boundary up to the head of the River St. John's and then by a certain line. So that you have that contrast between the head of the River St. John's and a strip which is defined simply by two termini, one at one point of the coast and one at another. Then you have the numerous islands on the coast at several points, all giving a maritime flavour to this description of what was confided to the Governor of Newfoundland.

Lord WARRINGTON: The boundary of Quebec was to go to the River St. John's ?

Mr. MACMILLAN : To the head of the River St. John's.

Lord WARRINGTON : Then a line between the head of the River St. John's and the sea; would form the boundary between what lies to the east of it and the new Province of Canada.

Mr. MACMILLAN : Certainly, my Lord.

p. 397

Lord WARRINGTON : Does not that indicate what was included in the coast, from the River St. John's. When you look at the boundary of Canada, does it not mean that on the other side of that boundary was the land that was allotted to Newfoundland ?

Mr. MACMILLAN : With great respect, I should think not.

Lord WARRINGTON : Then what happened to it ? I confess it looks to me rather as if the people who were claiming that boundary from Canada thought that the River St. John's formed the boundary between what they were laying down and an adjoining country.

Mr. MACMILLAN : That would not suit my learned friends at all. Perhaps that is not a complete answer to your Lordship, but it would not suit their case at all, because then the boundary of the Coast of Labrador for their purpose would be eastward of the head of the River St. John's.

Lord WARRINGTON : The head of the River St. Johns as it is known now.

Mr. MACMILLAN : As known then, it must be. Your Lordship means that you would look at both sides of the River St. John's : Look on this side and you are in Quebec, and then your Lordship says, Now look on the other side and then you are in NewfoundlandLabrador. That would not suit my friends' book at all, because that would give them a coastal strip, no doubt much broader ; it would give them a strip as far as the River St. John's along the coast, but it would not carry them up here at all.

The LORD CHANCELLOR : It would include more.

Mr. MACMILLAN : It would include what was behind Quebec in Labrador, this strip of land that is away up north of the line between Hamilton Inlet and the Hudson's Bay boundary.
There is a great deal of territory, an enormous territory, there that, would not have been covered on that hypothesis, my Lord.

Lord WARRINGTON : I am not quite sure about that, because the Hudson Bay Company would have come in ; on the whole of that upper part belonging to Labrador, you would have Hudson Bay coming in.

Mr. MACMILLAN : I think I could explain it by the map, but I am afraid I cannot tell you, because the River St. John is the boundary of Quebec, and all that lies to the East of that is Quebec.

Lord WARRINGTON : It formed part of the boundary of Quebec, of course, but the boundary of Quebec is taken round.


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