Aurore!  The Mystery of the Martyred Child

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[Stamp of the Minister of Justice, September 24, 1920]

In eight days Quebec will enter into the annals for 1920 the hanging of a woman, a mother, the Gagnon woman.

It is a repulsive event capable of sending a shiver down anyone’s spine that is difficult to shake off. The poor miserable woman is already dying day by day, each new dawn reminding her that she has one day less left to live.

Yes her crime was odious, slowly torturing to death the little martyr that we will never forget. I agree, and it is in memory of this child that I admit that every well-born soul would wish that her tormentor, or rather her tormentors, receive a well-deserved punishment without, however, repaying evil for evil by taking life.

We live in a province that is predominantly Catholic, and from the pulpits without fail comes the truth from those wishing us to carry forth the words of God: "You will render a wrong with a right; you will forgive in order to be forgiven." And, again from God: "Thou shalt not kill." He did not say: "Thou shalt kill whosoever has killed."

Finally, in our country as in other countries considered civilised, the law calls for capital punishment, and so I acquiesce to it, all the while convinced otherwise. However, I have the right to decry the injustice being committed, as the spouse of the condemned woman is being granted life in a penitentiary, and who, after having sworn at the altar to protect her from all harm, not only in order to serve his personal interests but to save her from herself, did nothing to prevent similar cruelty from being inflicted on his very own child, before it reached the level of a crime.

This towering brute's life has been spared, compared with a woman of rather slight stature (fear was the pretext used to save his life) and was it not his duty to bring her back to reason and have her recognise the error of her ways when, upon returning home from work, he would find his own flesh and blood covered in hideous sores?

Was it not he who, being sane of mind, could not ignore the state his wife was in? Was it not he who should have understood that by an act of God this woman’s nerves were wrought to the limit and that he should have removed the victim from her grasp and placed her in a safe haven? He himself ceased to use physical punishment as he realised that the child was enduring enough of it from her stepmother.

I am not here to retry the father who was given the freedom to live. I rather admire his lawyer, worthy defence counsel, whose eloquence should have just as well touched the jury in the case of his female client; however, if justice must be rendered, let it be equal justice, and if the father of the victim is allowed to live, let it be so for the poor unstable woman.

How many families have there been who have not had to suffer from the irresponsible ways of the mother in bad times, whether due to overwork, the lack of physical strength, or a complete mental breakdown due to the too-close birth of a high number of children?

Many women under the duty to procreate have later deplored the memory of endless moments of impatience, at times in excess for some of them in regard to their children. They could scarcely recognise themselves their nature had changed so much; as such this poor miserable woman acted while in a state of mental breakdown.


Happy are the families for whom regrettable moments such as these have been but temporary, while others found themselves forced to commit to an asylum these poor mothers who were of no use in the home.

There is certainly no comparison to be made with the monstrous acts for which the Gagnon woman was found guilty, but if we consider how frequently such debilitating moods have made themselves felt in very moral people, one can understand this type of barbarity coming from one whose mind is not cultivated; going from a normal state of mind to insanity was a mere step away, and that is how this woman, whose cold-bloodedness is seen only in those deprived of a lucid mind, was able to look at, for months on end, injuries that resulted from the physical abuse she herself inflicted on this child who asked for mercy.

Like her lawyer, I plead temporary insanity, and in the name of all woman who have more than once suffered the agony of maternity, I implore the court to allow the condemned woman to live. As God forgave her long ago, let her live with what He left to a humanity condemned to die: the uncertainty of the day and time of death, which once known, make waiting for death the worst mental torture of all.

It is said that the province of Quebec did not favour the petition to commute the death sentence, judging by the sheet of paper that has remained almost entirely blank. If those responsible for the document have made their absence evident everywhere, as was the case for myself and those around me, it is no wonder that it met with so little success.

I, like many others, would have been happy to sign such a humanitarian petition.

I still have hope, and I believe that I speak for the majority of women in the province of Quebec in imploring for the woman who, for the remainder of her life in a penitentiary, would have to live with remorse for having made of an angel sent to us by God, the little martyr that was Aurore Gagnon.

Let us have pity for the little ones to whom she gave birth within the walls of the jail. May the breath of life she has granted them be hers also and may she live! -


To the Honourable Minister of Justice of Canada.




[signature]Madame J. A. Beaubien

51 Claire-Fontaine

Quebec City.

Source: ANC, , RG 13, Box 1507, File Houde Marie-Anne, vol. 1, part. 1, Madame J. A. Beaubien, "Un dernier appel à la clémence humaine," September 24, 1920, 2.

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Great Unsolved Mysteries in Canadian History