Prohibition’s Failure in Canada

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Prohibition's Failure in Canada

Alcohol Prohibition in Canada has considerably changed the lifestyle, habits, and views of the society. The researchers view this phenomenon from the position of law, sociology, psychology, and economics. However, there is a need for the implementation of the holistic approach in the evaluation of the effects of Prohibition. This paper aims at exploring the reasons for Prohibition’s failure, which appears to be rooted in cultural features of the Canadians. Furthermore, the essay discusses the obvious negative influence of Prohibition on social and economic spheres as well as on Canadians’ conservative mores.

The followers of the Prohibition movement, inspired by the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, have misunderstood the initial intentions of the Union’s founders. The goal of the women from this Union was to prove the connection between physical and moral health and purity. Females from Temperance did not aim at prohibiting alcohol forever. Instead, they wanted to push important social reforms to improve the society’s well-being and considered a human weakness concerning alcohol consumption the root of the problem. Consequently, the Temperance Union did a great job to educate the youth on how to control their behaviors, including alcohol abuse. Via school lessons, books, and posters, activists proved that inadequate consumption of spirits led to negative social phenomena, such as domestic violence, robbery, poverty, and prostitution. The participants of the Union realized that it was impossible to make people sober through the laws. Therefore, they wanted to teach people to control their thirst for alcohol instead of removing ‘the demon rum’ completely.

However, the public’s misunderstanding of this position resulted in adverse effects. For instance, people who could not control alcohol use kept on consuming alcohol illegally in underground bars. The purpose of the evangelical feminism as a policy of the Temperance Union was to create a favorable climate, where women and other minorities would not suffer from men’s alcohol addiction (Cook, 1995, p. 176). For the Temperance Union, it was essential to achieve self-control that could result in the improvement of the quality of life. Nevertheless, people who passed through the propaganda of this Union appeared to be unable to control themselves. Thus, initially well-considered multi-dimensional program regarding control over alcohol consumption failed.

The Prohibition movement should be viewed as a result of religious shifts. The representatives of the Temperance movement were making reforms in order to create a liberal world that embodied the evangelical principles of community life. People, who backed the values of the evangelical church, in turn, supported the Prohibition. However, one of the reasons for Prohibition’s failure rested on the society’s attitude towards the Protestantism. For example, Cook (1995) stated that the Woman Cristian Temperance Union was accepted in Ontario because the society shared the evangelical vision of a personal code and a public code of behavior. Ontario community believed that a woman would save the suffering world: “Evangelicalism encouraged a bifurcated view of society: a meanly competitive, male-controlled public sphere was softened and civilized by a spiritually rich domestic life, a refuge from an evil world” (Cook, 1995, p 178). However, in Quebec, the citizens did not support such a vision of the society. Furthermore, the local government prohibited some kinds of alcoholic beverages, as well as controlled the production, distribution, and sale of alcohol in the province. Thus, the primary cause of Prohibition’s failure is that its ideas were the products of Protestant culture and ideology that were not acceptable for all the Canadians. According to Linteau, "Writers concerned with Québec's development characterized it as a traditional society, largely closed to the changes occurring elsewhere in North America. Québec was described as a peasant society, emphasizing its stability and arguing that at bottom its characteristics changed little between the 18th and mid-20th centuries (2006)".

Therefore, cultural and ideological diversity between different provinces of Canada resulted in disapproval of Prohibition, pushed by the evangelical vision of the society.

Another cause of Prohibition’s failure was ignorance of the fact that people could not refuse consuming alcohol completely. Throughout the centuries, alcohol has accompanied holidays, rituals, and the days of sorrow. Moreover, drinks served as an attribute of holidays, excitement, and joy; hence, for the people to approve Prohibition meant to agree to live a joyless and gray routine life. As mentioned earlier, the goal of the Temperance movement was not to rid the society of alcohol but to teach it to control its desires. Nevertheless, the officials attempted to make people become sober. However, citizens were not ready for forced soberness; therefore, they had to satisfy their psychological need in alcohol illegally. It became obvious that people were psychologically addicted to alcohol, as it provided relaxation and emotional discharge. In a traditional patriarchal society at the beginning of the 20th-century, men were supposed to be both physically and emotionally strong, which meant ‘to hide emotions’. Consequently, males were the key consumers of alcohol, which allowed them to relax and express their feelings. Unfortunately, it frequently resulted in domestic violence, fights, and injuries. People, who had no opportunity to consume alcohol, shifted to narcotics and illegal spirits. For example, despite the Temperance movement against narcotics and alcohol, males became addicted to marijuana and other drugs. People needed to feel relaxed and excited though they did not possess knowledge how to achieve these conditions without drinks or drugs. Another aspect of disability to use alcohol was the spread of prostitution and rapes that allowed men to ‘relax’. Though the social experiment, which was initially believed to be successful, failed, people could not refuse from the things they need and love. This lesson demonstrates that individuals should control their desires instead of attempting to destroy the enticements.

The next aspects that led to the failure of the Prohibition are the consequences of Prohibition’s adverse effects. First, it was dangerous to consume illegal alcohol because there were very few production standards and the underground alcohol was not tested. It was difficult to predict the effects of moonshine or rum produced in bathtubs by amateurs. For instance, dangerous adulterants of illicit alcohol could kill its consumer or damage health. In particular, in the U.S. states where alcohol poisoning happened similarly to Canada, Coffey (1975) stated, “the death rate from poisoned liquor was appallingly high throughout the country. In 1925 the national toll was 4,154 as compared to 1,064 in 1920” (p. 196). Even the proponents of Prohibitions admitted, “A very conservative reckoning would set the poisonous effects of bootleg beverages as compared with medicinal liquors at ten to one… The reason, of course, is that bootleg liquor is so concentrated and almost invariably contains other and more deadly poisons than mere ethyl alcohol” (Fisher, 1947, p. 28). If the government controlled alcohol production and sales, it could prevent deaths from alcohol poisoning.

Furthermore, numerous researchers state that Prohibition has enhanced the levels of alcohol consumption instead of reducing it. Particularly, Prohibition has increased demand for alcohol among, at least, three groups of people that included youth, immigrants, and nondrinkers. When the alcohol was easily available, it was usual to consume it. However, as soon as Prohibition started, alcohol became more attractive because it was associated with excitement, risk, and intrigue. It was similar to a hazardous game to find alcohol and to drink it despite the severe punishment. Thus, people who used illicit spirits wanted to satisfy not only need in alcohol, but also other needs. For instance, Lee (1963) noticed that “men were drinking defiantly, with a sense of high purpose, a kind of dedicated drinking that you don't see much of today” (p. 76).

Moreover, Prohibition provoked disrespect for law, making criminals from people, who had a moderate need for drinking. Previously, citizens used to drink alcohol freely with no need to coordinate their drinking behavior with the government according to law. However, when the Prohibition started, consumption of alcohol was equal to the crime. Individuals, who wanted to drink spirits as usual, became criminals. It is worth reminding Abraham Lincoln’s ideas regarding Prohibition: it makes crimes out of things that are not really crimes. Though the law forbade alcohol use, almost everybody broke it. While some people produced alcohol and others consumed it, there were those, who witnessed these ‘crimes’ and kept silence about it. Everyone knew that laws regarding alcohol were a failure and pretended to respect and follow them. People recognized that unwise people who set the law did not know for sure whether certain regulations were worth implementing. More and more citizens were involved in crimes connected with alcohol, which allowed them to think that they could violate the law and receive no punishment. Thus, law transformed into silly and ineffective prescription that contradicted desires, needs, and habits of people, who had to follow these regulations. Fortunately, people started to realize that the failure of Prohibition program was connected with its ineffectiveness and hypocrisy concerning its implementation. In addition, due to the prison overcrowding, the criminals were sure that they would not go to jail. As a result, the court employees and the police officers took bribes and sold court’s decisions. As the officials recognized alcohol use, attorneys and judges had to waste their time on alcohol cases instead of fighting with crimes and lawlessness.

In addition, Prohibition failed to change Canadians’ drinking habits. Instead of helping people to manage their alcohol addiction, it denied them access to alcohol. To solve the problem, citizens needed therapy, but they were forced to drink alcohol that is more dangerous and to smoke cigarettes. As moonshiners and rum-runners have successfully pushed up the income from their business, the quantity of people willing to drink was growing. It is worth mentioning Harry Low, who was one of the most popular and successful rum-runners in Ontario. Individuals who had problems with drinking habits received no treatment, whereas drunkards and occasional drinkers were equal to criminals. Furthermore, people who used to drink beer started to use hard liquors that were more damaging to their health.

The organized crime that appeared as a reaction to the Prohibition threatened the society. Though the laws dramatically aimed at reducing crime rates, the local gangs were forming and imposing their will on others. Extortion, gambling, and prostitution were the sources of money for these gangs, who were also controlling the distribution of alcohol in different cities. Moreover, during the Prohibition, organized crime has transformed into a multi-billion dollar business for the gangsters, officials, and politicians.

In conclusion, the primary reasons for the Prohibition’s failure were rooted in cultural and ideological dimensions. Not all the Canadians shared Protestants’ views and desired to support Prohibition, inspired by the evangelical vision. In addition, the negative impact of Prohibition on economic well-being, physical and psychological health, crime rate, and social standards made the failure of Prohibition predictable. The Prohibition led to lawlessness, criminalization, and immorality of the society, which allows concluding that this movement was a failure.