Aurore!  The Mystery of the Martyred Child

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Le Devoir, September 30, 1920, p. 8




Ottawa, 30. - (S.P.C.)- The Gagnon woman, who was to mount the gallows tomorrow in Quebec City, has seen her sentence commuted to life imprisonment. The Privy Council, which convened especially to study her case, rendered its decision last night. The government has spared the woman from capital punishment only because she is currently nursing the infant twins that she bore a couple of months ago. The doctors charged with preparing a report stated that the death of the mother at this stage of nursing would seriously jeopardize the life of the two wee ones. Even though Canada has not witnessed the hanging of a woman for some twenty years, it is likely that justice would have followed its course in the Gagnon woman's case because she caused the death of her stepdaughter by the most revolting of atrocities. But the twins she bore have saved their mother's life.

Quebec City, 30. - Marie-Anne Houde Gagnon was informed last night in the Quebec City jail that the government had granted her clemency and that the death sentence handed down to her had been commuted to life imprisonment. The murderess received the news without a word, then broke into tears, hugging her babies close. The tidings were brought to her by Maître J. N. Francoeur, the Member for Lotbinière in the Provincial Assembly, who went to the jail late last night and informed C. Carbonneau, the prison warden, that he was the bearer of important news for the prisoner. When Maître Francoeur was taken to her cell, he told her that he had received a message from Ottawa announcing that her sentence had been commuted. At the same time, the sheriff of Quebec City, Monsieur Cléophas Blouin, had communicated to prison authorities the following message from Ottawa: "To the Sheriff of Quebec City: I have been ordered to inform you that His Excellency the Governor General has seen fit to commute to life imprisonment the death sentence pronounced by the Honourable Mr. Justice Pelletier against Marie Gagnon.

Please communicate the contents of this telegram, which I will confirm by letter tomorrow. (Signed) Thomas Mulvey, Under-Secretary of State." Upon receiving this communication, Sheriff Blouin immediately gave the necessary orders. It was Thomas Vien, M.P. for Lotbinière, the county where the Gagnon family lived and an associate of Monsieur Francoeur, who had submitted the request for a stay of execution to Ottawa. Even though the citizens of Quebec City seemed opposed to granting clemency to the Gagnon woman, public opinion had it that the Cabinet would save her from the gallows in light of the extraordinary circumstances of her maternity. The defence had explored every possible means to avoid this horrible sentence. Twice, the matter was brought before the Quebec City courts. The first attempt at delaying the execution of the sentence was heard by Judge Pelletier, the very one who had pronounced the sentence. The defence team had requested a reprieve, stating that the mother's execution could jeopardize the lives of the two infants. Judge Pelletier countered that, in view of the new status of judges in the province, the decision was not his to take. Then the motion was brought before Judge Malouin. His attention was directed to the report by Doctors Fortier and Grondin, who had been to see the prisoner to evaluate her condition. Asked whether the children needed their mother, they both answered in the affirmative. Judge Malouin wanted to know whether the death of the mother could bring about the death of the children. The doctors answered no. This is why he suggested that Monsieur Francoeur submit an appeal to Ottawa. This gave rise to the actions that resulted in the commutation of the sentence. Yesterday Canon Beaulieu, the prison chaplain, went to visit the Gagnon woman, accompanied by Canon Larue. When the priests left her, she seemed resigned to her fate, much like [missing] the last [missing] the prisoner has [missing] any emotion was when the three Gagnon children, two from her husband’s first marriage, were brought to her from the St. Joseph de la Délivrance home, in Lévis, where they are being cared for by the nuns. Upon seeing them at the prison infirmary, the woman swooned, and when they left, she sobbed bitterly. Her brother went to see her yesterday. The affair has drawn keen public interest, witnessed by the numerous letters received in Quebec City and mostly bearing women’s signatures, requesting that the Law follow its course. A Quebec City woman has offered to adopt and raise the twins. The prisoner was held in the prison infirmary and received the care that such a place could provide. The gallows had not yet been erected, this sinister procedure having been put off until the very last moment.

Source: S.P.C. (Service de presse canadien), "La justice. Sauvée par ses enfants," Le Devoir (Montréal), September 30, 1920.

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Great Unsolved Mysteries in Canadian History