Encyclopedia of the Great Plains

David J. Wishart, Editor


In August of 1907 some patrons of a Regina restaurant fell ill while eating breakfast and were diagnosed as suffering from arsenic poisoning. Three later died. Suspicion immediately fell on Charlie Mack, the Chinese owner of an older, neighboring restaurant. His business was known to have suffered because of competition from the newer establishment, and he had access to the oatmeal that had been found to contain arsenic.

The police, however, were unable to locate him, and public dissatisfaction with their lack of results finally prompted the police to take extraordinary measures. In a midnight raid they rounded up the entire male Chinese population of Regina and took them to city hall, apparently believing that they were conspiring to hide Charlie Mack. The operation was not a success, though; Charlie Mack was never apprehended. Moreover, fourteen of those taken into custody sued the police officers involved in the raid, the mayor of Regina, and the attorney general of Saskatchewan, alleging that they had been falsely arrested and unlawfully confined. The authorities at first refused to take the suit seriously, but the complainants persisted (though the attorney general was later dropped from the case) and they eventually won their case. They collected substantial damages, and the affair cost the chief of police his job. The most important result, though, was to deter police from taking such indiscriminate action against the Chinese community in the future, and to demonstrate that the courts of Saskatchewan were able, and in this case willing, to protect the rights of all of Saskatchewan's citizens.

Ken Leyton-Brown University of Regina

Leyton-Brown, Ken. "The 'Poison Porridge' Case: Chinese and the Administration of Justice in Early Saskatchewan." Great Plains Quarterly 12 (1992): 99–106.

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