Montreal and Verdun Battle Over Sales Tax

From the Ottawa Evening Citizen:

Montreal and Verdun Battle Over Sales Tax Deduction

Mayor Houde Enters Actions To Enforce Impost By City

Fight Carried To Courts When Mayor Ferland of Verdun Refuses To Collect The Tax and Says He Will Go To Jail Before Paying a Fine.

A prolonged legal battle between mayors of the island of Montreal’s two leading cities — Montreal and Verdun — was promised as a result of the Montreal sales tax.

Warning by Mayor Herve Ferland, of Verdun, that he would refuse to collect the tax, which is applicable to all retail sales in all cities on the island, the various municipalities receiving a share of the proceeds, resulted in indication from Mayor Camillien Houde of Montreal, sponsor of the law, that he would take the fight to the courts.

Mayor Houde asked counsel for the city whether he could take quo warranto proceedings to unseat Mayor Ferland. If such proceedings must be taken by a Verdun citizen, he asked, would he be able to have Mayor Ferland disqualified by appealing to the attorney-general of the province or the minister of municipal affairs?

Enters Two Suits.

In any case the Verdun executive will probably be forced to appear in recorder’s court in connection with his action. the Montreal executive committee approved two suits, one alleging he had refused to pay sales tax and the other that he had made such refusal public.

Mayor Ferland was firm in his stand despite the opposition of Mayor Houde, however. “I do not care what Mayor Houde does,” he said. “I am going on with the fight.” Asked what he would do if ordered to pay a fine or go to jail for violating the bylaw, he said: “I will go to jail. I will not pay a fine.”

The trouble started night when the Verdun mayor called a meeting of residents and announced the bylaw was unconstitutional and he would stop collecting the tax and advised all citizens to refuse to pay it.

A large placard in the window of his corset store proclaimed his stand. “Sales Tax Not Collected Here,” the sign read.

Later on, the tax inspectors came to Ferland’s store, and Ferland refused to let them inspect his records (“He threw them out, tearing to tatters their orders signed by Montreal’s financial comptroller.”). Suits were filed against Ferland and about thirty other tax refusing merchants (and threatened against their customers as well) while at least 164 merchants signed a “no-sales-tax” pledge. Tax inspectors swept through Verdun, seizing “Sales Tax Not Collected Here” signs. There was some talk of Montreal annexing Verdun as a way of forcing the issue (the cities did eventually merge, but not until ).

Ferland was unsuccessful in his initial court challenge, and paid fines under protest after the court threatened to seize and sell his business to satisfy the $122 in fines and court costs. The Superior Court rejected his argument that the tax was unconstitutional.

Years later, Ferland was removed from his post as an alderman by a judicial ruling that as “an undischarged bankrupt” he was disqualified to hold the post, and was fined $1 for each of the 269 votes he cast while holding the post. This he refused to pay, and he served nine days in jail.