Donald Fyson

The Canadiens and the bloody code: criminal defence strategies in Quebec after the British conquest, 1760-1841

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The British conquest of Canada in 1759/1760 and the establishment of the new Province of Quebec led to an apparently radical shift in criminal law and penal justice in the colony. This article explores the reaction of the Canadien (francophone and largely Catholic) population of the colony to these transformations, focusing in particular on changes in criminal defence strategies brought about by transplanted institutions and practices such as juries, defence counsel and pardons. In the very short term, the change in legal regimes may have confounded some Canadien defendants and legal practitioners. However, what is more interesting is the progressive adaptation of Canadien defendants to the new possibilities for criminal defence. After an initial transitional period, Canadiens seem to have adapted relatively well, even if some potential defence strategies, such as the appeal to ethnic solidarity between jurors and accused, do not seem to have materialized. Pragmatism thus won out over any obstinate refusal to participate in or legitimate the judicial system of the conqueror.

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