Previous The History of the Dominion of Canada (1897) Next



leave the province. Failing to obey the judgment pronounced against him, he was again arrested, and, after a long and harsh imprisonment, was brought to trial at Niagara in August, 1819. We are told that his confinement had so unpaired his reason that his trial was a solemn mockery. He was found guilty of disobedience to the order previously pronounced against him. It was now repeated and this time obeyed. At the same assizes a local editor was found guilty of seditious libel and sentenced to eighteen months' imprisonment and to pay a fine of £50. His fault was that he had published a letter, written by Gourlay, in which the governor, the Duke of Richmond, and the lieutenant-governor of Upper Canada, Sir Peregrine Maitland, were severely criticised.

Criminal Libel.—The law of libel was perhaps the most powerful weapon in the hands of the officials, and it was used—in the two Canadas particularly—with merciless severity against political opponents. On the other hand, the most outrageous attacks by newspapers which supported the government, upon the character and motives of the leading reformers, were quietly ignored by the Crown officers. Words spoken of those in authority were treated as criminally libellous, which, when spoken of their opponents, were even applauded.

Editors Prosecuted.—In the year 1828 a committee of the British House of Commons inquired into the civil government of Canada. The reformers of Lower Canada had been active in preparing petitions to be laid before the committee, and in holding public meetings at which strong resolutions against the ruling faction were passed. The libel laws were at once resorted to against newspaper editors who ventured to report these proceedings, while at the same time the government press teemed with the most scurrilous abuse of those members of assembly who were taking part in the agitation. To make this harsh proceeding still more harsh the prosecution was conducted, not where the defend-ants lived, but at Quebec, the seat of government.

In 1828 an editor at York named Collins was brought to trial for a libel upon the attorney-general—a gentleman known to a later generation as a learned and upright judge, Sir J. B. Robinson. Collins was found guilty and sentenced to one year's imprisonment and to pay a fine of £50. The persistent refusal of the lieutenant-

Previous The History of the Dominion of Canada (1897) Next