'To Shudder at the Bare Recital of Those Acts': Child Abuse, Family, and Montreal Courts in the Early Nineteenth Century
G. Blaine Baker and Donald Fyson, eds., Essays in the History of Canadian Law, vol. XI: Quebec and the Canadas (Toronto: University of Toronto Press for the Osgoode Society for Canadian Legal History, 2013) 370-426.
59 Pages Posted: 26 Nov 2013 Last revised: 24 Jan 2014
Date Written: November 25, 2013
This paper uses archival and other primary sources to reanimate the judicial response to child abuse by family members in Montreal for the period 1825-1850. In a period before the operation of child protection agencies, the records reveal a tentative but growing engagement with issues related to child abuse and a limited judicial response to impose limitations on parental authority. Parents and guardians were prosecuted and imprisoned for a range of offences, including assault, aggravated assault, ill-usage, and attempted murder. While incest was not a cognizable offence during this period, the judicial archives also reveal some evidence of the existence of incest as a social phenomenon, as well as some prosecutions (generally brought under the charge of ravishment or, more unusually, abduction). This paper contributes to our understanding of Quebec socio-legal history for an understudied time period, and adds dimension to our understanding of the manner in which the legal system grappled with compelling social phenomena before widespread legislative or public action on these issues.
Keywords: Montreal legal history, early nineteenth century child abuse, early nineteenth century incest
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