The Secretary of State to President Harding

My Dear Mr. President: At the instance of the Canadian Government, the Under Secretary of State, Mr. William Phillips, on [Page 473] June 14 last proceeded to New York City where he had a conference with Mr. Alexander Johnston, Canadian Deputy Minister of Marine, in regard to the Convention with Canada covering the halibut fisheries. The following is a brief summary of the message conveyed by Mr. Johnston to Mr. Phillips.

Mr. Johnston explained that the Senate reservation to the Convention between the United States and Great Britain, signed March 2, 1923, for the protection of the halibut fisheries, had placed the Canadian Government in an extremely embarrassing position. Believing that the protection of the Canadian industry in the Pacific was purely an American and Canadian interest, the Canadian Government had negotiated and signed the treaty without the usual approach to the Foreign Office. It is true that the Canadian Minister of Marine, who signed the Convention with the Secretary of State, was duly authorized to do so by the British Government, but the signature of the British Ambassador had not been placed on the Convention. The Canadian Government had insisted that this Convention had no concern with Great Britain or the Empire. The fishing experts on both sides of the border had worked up the terms of the Convention, which as a matter of fact had been drafted in Washington and was an American document with only one or two insignificant and verbal changes offered by the Canadians.

Mr. Johnston pointed out the impossibility of Australia, New Zealand or the British Isles ever becoming competitors in the halibut fishing industry: distance and the resulting costs rendered this impractical. In fact, he thought even the possibility of Japanese competition to be extremely remote.

However that may be, the omission of the British Ambassador’s signature from the document had caused a great deal of unfriendly debate in London, and many of the leading British newspapers had condemned Canada for taking the course that it did in dealing directly with the Secretary of State.

The Canadian Government, therefore, was deeply concerned when it found that the treaty had been ratified by the Senate on the understanding that it applied not only to Canada and the United States, but to the whole British Empire. The Senate had indeed by this reservation championed the British cause at the expense of Canada by their insistence that Canada must secure the consent of the British Empire to this Convention. The reservation had placed the Canadian Government in the embarrassing position of being obliged to go down on “bended knees not only to the British Government, but to all of the British self-governing dominions to secure their consent before Canada could be in a position to carry out legislation of purely [Page 474] domestic character.” As it was impossible for the Canadian Government to do this, the Convention and reservation could not be ratified by the Canadian Parliament and the treaty must, therefore, be considered as dead.

While it was felt that a treaty would have been preferable, the Canadian Government now proposed as a solution of the difficulty the passage of acts by both Governments embodying the terms contained in the signed Convention. Mr. Johnston added that the Canadian Government was willing to present a bill, a copy of which is attached herewith,5 to Parliament and to have it passed before its adjournment on June 30, provided some intimation can be given that the United States Government, on its part, will introduce similar legislation as soon as Congress meets in December.

Upon being asked by Mr. Phillips whether, if the President should decide to resubmit the Convention to the Senate for ratification without the reservation and assurance could be given to the Canadian Government to this effect, the Canadian Government would ratify the present Convention without the Senate reservation, Mr. Johnston replied that, while he could not commit the Prime Minister, he thought that his Government would be willing to ratify the Convention on this understanding. Mr. Johnston promised, however, to make inquiries on his return to Ottawa and advise us accordingly.

It would seem, therefore, that two alternatives are now open.

To resubmit the treaty to the Senate, omitting the Senate reservation.
To agree now, (and to so advise the Canadians) to recommend legislation similar to “the act for the protection of the Northern Pacific Halibut Fishery”, which the Canadian Government is prepared to have passed before June 30.

I am [etc.]

Charles E. Hughes
  1. Not printed.