Magistrates, Police and People: Everyday Criminal Justice in Quebec and Lower Canada, 1764-1837

by Donald Fyson, Professor of History, Universite Laval. Published with the University of Toronto Press, 2006.

This book is a study of everyday criminal justice in Quebec and Lower Canada between the Conquest and the Rebellions, concentrating on the justices of the peace and the police. The first half explores the criminal justice system itself: the transfer and adaptation of English criminal law and courts, the appointment and character of the magistracy, and the police. The second half presents an overview of everyday criminal justice in operation. Prof. Fyson argues that neither the Conquest nor the Rebellions represented radical breaks with the past. There was considerable continuity despite the Conquest, both in structures and in personnel. Conversely, state formation was well underway before the Rebellions, responding to the demographic, social and economic changes that swept the colony. Criminal law and the criminal justice system were modified to suit local circumstances, and the magistracy and the police, became increasingly professionalized. The relationship between the people and the system also changed dramatically across the period. This is perhaps best exemplified by the steady increase in the rate of criminal prosecution. From being relatively marginal, local criminal justice became increasingly used by both the Canadien and British populations of the colony, especially in urban areas.

Don Fyson’s award winning book has now been translated into French, the second Osgoode Society book published in French. It came out with Hurtubise in 2010, part of that publisher’s Cahiers du Quebec series.


Honorable Mention - Canadian Historical Association Prize for the best book in Canadian history 2006
Clio Award, Regional History 2006
Canadian Law and Society Association Book Prize 2006
Honorable Mention -J. Willard Hurst Prize 2007
Winner - Priz Lionel Groulx awarded for the best book on the history of French America

Reviews of Magistrates, Police and People: Everyday Criminal Justice in Quebec and Lower Canada, 1764-1837

Donald Fyson's account of criminal justice in Lower Canada and Quebec between British conquest in 1764 and the rebellions of 1837 offers a refreshing departure from more mainstream historical accounts of criminal justice in the colonies. Michael Young, International Criminal Justice Review, Vol 18, 2008, p. 482
Well-balanced, Fyson's conclusions account for the complexity of relationship between colonial society and criminal justice and invite further exploration. Bruno Aubusson de Cavarlay, Law and History Review, vol 26, 2008, p 771.
This well written, thoroughly researched, and innovative book will be a valuable resource to anyone interested in legal history or in exploring the relationship between the Quebec legal system and some of the complex questions of Quebec historiography. It will also be invaluable for comparing the criminal justice system in Quebec with those operating in other parts of North America, and in examining how British legal systems functioned in different colonial environments. David Murray, American Historical Review, Vol 112, 2007, p. 1524

Reviews have also appeared in the following publications:

  • Laurence Guignard, Revue d'histoire modern et contemporaine, Vol 56, 2009, p. 227.
  • Mary Stokes, University of Toronto Quarterly, Vol 77, 2008, p. 251.
  • Sylvio Normand, Les Cahiers de Droit, Vol 48, 2007, p. 525.
  • Lisa Helps, H-Net, October 2007.
  • Justice Gilles Renaud, Provincial Judges' Journal, vol 29, Winter 2006-2007.