Canadian State Trials, Volume I: Law, Politics, and Security Measures, 1608-1837

edited by F. Murray Greenwood, Emeritus Professor of History, University of British Columbia and Barry Wright, Professor, Department of Law, Carleton University. Published with the University of Toronto Press, 1996.

State trials reveal much about a nation’s insecurities and shed light on important themes in political, constitutional, and legal history. In Canada, perceived and real threats to the state have ranged from dissent, disaffection, and the emergence of threatening ideologies to insurrection, riot, violent protest and military invasion. The Canadian State Trials series will explore the role of the law in regulating such threats, from the period of early European settlement to 1971. The first volume, and the planned series as a whole, present a great deal of new material by prominent Canadian historians and legal scholars. Although certain Canadian political trials and security crises have received scholarly attention in the past, there has never been a comprehensive and systematic examination of the country’s surprisingly rich record in this area. The eighteen essays in Volume I examine this record for the period 1608-1837, covering proceedings in New France, the four Atlantic colonies, the old province of Quebec, and the two Canadas. They highlight security law during the American revolution, the wars against revolutionary/Napoleonic France, and the War of 1812; comparative treason law; and the trials of David McLane, Robert Gourlay, Francis Collins, and Joseph Howe, among others. The essays, which make extensive use of primary sources ( the most illuminating of which appear in a documentary appendix), place the examination of the law and its administration during these events in socio-political and comparative context.

Reviews of Canadian State Trials, Volume I: Law, Politics, and Security Measures, 1608-1837

The overall goal of the book is achieved. What emerges is a picture of an official class driven by personal goals and an almost paranoiac dislike of criticism to use and interpret the law in defence of its personal positions and its concept of an orderly top-down society.  Ronald Stagg, Canadian Historical Review, vol 79, 1998, p. 600.
A fine addition to the corpus of Canadian legal history .... A subtle and often striking image of the intersection of law, politics, loyalty, security, and authority in colonial Canada up to the eve of the Rebellions.  Jonathan Swainger, American Journal of Legal History, vol 42, 1998, p. 412.
In a time when the Charter is the sole focus of libertarian concerns, it is good to be reminded that the Canadian civil rights tradition goes back to the beginning of our political and legal systems.  Roderick Macleod, Alberta Law Review, vol 35, 1997, p. 1135.

Reviews have also appeared in the following publications:

  • Louis A. Knafla, Canadian Journal of Law & Society, Vol 19, 2004, p. 201.
  • Donald Fyson, Revue d’histoire de l’Amerique française, Vol 52, 1999, p. 417.
  • Margaret McCallum, Acadiensis, Vol 27, 1998, p. 163.
  • Neil A. Campbell, Canadian Law Libraries, Vol 23, 1998, p. 69.
  • Hamar Foster, The Advocate (Vancouver Bar Association), Vol 55, 1997, p. 446.
  • Michael Boudreau, Dalhousie Law Journal, Vol 20, 1997, p. 275.
  • Reg Whitaker, Literary Review of Canada, Vol 6, 1997, p. 3.