Following the collapse of the New York stock market in October 1929, the world was thrown into a decade of what would become known as the Great Depression. As a result of widespread unemployment and desperate economic and material conditions, and unprecedented number of people turned to relief. Despite allocating much of their budget to financial assistance, the government of Canada was unable to cope with the request and strict regulations were developed regarding who was eligible. When relief was not available, many families were left with nowhere to turn. This is perhaps best exemplified in the case of the Bates family.
Rose and Edward Bates lived in Saskatchewan and operated a failing butcher shop. They chose to move to British Columbia and attempted to run a business there but were again unsuccessful. As such, they applied for relief in Vancouver but were told they were not eligible, having just moved there. They managed to return to Saskatchewan but were again told they could not get relief because they had left the province. It was wintertime in 1933. Destitute and desperate, they rented a car and planned to kill both themselves and their eight-year-old son Jackie by way of carbon monoxide poisoning. Tragically, only their son was killed. They had not been able to purchase enough gas, and ran out before they succumbed.
In the spring of 1934 the couple was charged with murder. However, the Saskatchewan jury in charge of the case refused to convict them, saying the fault was not theirs. Popular sentiment agreed that the Depression and Prime Minister Bennett’s economic policy were responsible.
Bill Waiser has written a book on the subject, Who Killed Jackie Bates?, which reveals that other factors may have been involved. For example, it appears that Edward and Rose had a troublesome and unhappy marriage. While the text has met with mixed reviews (for example, see here), it shows that the issue was one of complexity.
Although the issue is by no means black and white, it can be seen as the tragic ramification of circumstances beyond the family’s control or alternatively as a failure of the court to convict a pair of guilty murderers. Perhaps it is both. Perhaps the blame lies somewhere else entirely. The choice, of course, is yours.
Sincerely, Abigail Quinnley