CBC Digital Archives

The Roncarelli Affair and Maurice Duplessis

Maurice Duplessis's death was a rare historical marker, forever discussed in terms of before and after. Before his death, the province basked in the postwar boom but strikers were punished, communists were hounded and the province's resources were sold to American big business. After his death, the province rallied its way into modernity with the not so Quiet Revolution. But over the past fifty years, historians and Quebecers have been constantly re-evaluating Duplessis and have drawn no certain conclusions.

media clip
In 1946, Premier Maurice Duplessis ordered the arrest of a group of Jehovah's Witnesses who had distributed leaflets boldly criticizing the powerful Roman Catholic Church. Duplessis reasoned that the religious sect's rhetoric was clearly a threat to public order. Frank Roncarelli, owner of the Montreal restaurant Quaff, supplied tens of thousands of dollars in bail for his fellow Jehovah's Witnesses. He was similarly made to suffer. Quaff's liquor licence was invalidated, throwing the restaurant into ruin, as heard in this Front Page Challenge interview with Roncarelli.

Roncarelli fought back and sued the premier. The case explored the intricacies of civil liberties and was heard before the courts for twelve and a half years. Finally, in January 1959, the Supreme Court ruled in favour of Roncarelli. Premier Duplessis was ordered to pay $46,132 personally. "Would your case be the only one where a person had sued the premier of a province," a Front Page Challenge panellist asks Roncarelli in this interview. "That's right -- dictator I prefer," Roncarelli corrects before adding, "and won." 
• During the trial, Premier Duplessis indicated that Roncarelli had not violated any liquor regulations. The revocation of the licence was directly attributed to Roncarelli's posting of bail for the Jehovah's Witnesses. Roncarelli shut down Quaff after his liquor licence was revoked.

• The Supreme Court of Canada found that Duplessis had punished Roncarelli arbitrarily, and ruled in his favour. Following his victory, Roncarelli moved to the United States and worked for a highway construction company. Roncarelli died on Sept. 26, 1981 in Groton, Conn.

• Jehovah's Witnesses are a Christian group whose faith revolves around the Second Coming of Christ. There are more than 100,000 Jehovah's Witnesses in Canada and approximately six million worldwide.
Medium: Television
Program: Front Page Challenge
Broadcast Date: May 25, 1965
Guest(s): Frank Roncarelli
Host: Fred Davis
Panellist: Pierre Berton, Betty Kennedy, Gordon Sinclair, Doris Clark
Duration: 5:30

Last updated: November 10, 2014

Page consulted on November 10, 2014

All Clips from this Topic

Related Content

Quebec City: 400 Years of History

The Algonquin called it Québec, or "where the river narrows." On a rocky point high above the ...

Robert Bourassa: Political Survivor

Robert Bourassa made history in 1970 by becoming the youngest premier of Quebec, only to suffe...

The Ice Storm of 1998

Canadians had never before endured a natural disaster like the ice storm of 1998. A difficult ...

Hockey Flight in Canada: extra clips

Canada is a hockey nation, but has had a heck of a time preventing its hockey franchises from ...

René Lévesque's Separatist Fight

In the 1960s, René Lévesque made the prospect of a separate Quebec a reality. A shrewd politic...

Getting the Games: Canada's Olympic Bids, ext...

It might be the most ruthless of all Olympic competitions: the race for the right to host the ...