Aurore!  The Mystery of the Martyred Child


This site contains a significant number of documents produced by the criminal courts almost a century ago. The legal system's vocabulary is sometimes dense and complicated. So it is useful here to present a few definitions of expressions frequently used in documentation pertaining to the Gagnon affair.

Autopsy: Examination and description of the external and internal parts of a body carried out by a medical specialist (medical examiner). The medico-legal autopsy makes it possible to identify a body or to look into the cause of a suspicious death (accidental or criminal) and the circumstances of death. It also looks for signs of rape, alcoholization, and various poisonings. The medico-legal autopsy is demanded by a judicial authority, contrary to a medical autopsy whose goal is to explain the cause of a natural death and to contribute to improved medical knowledge.

Commutation: Replacement of a sentence by another less severe. (H. Reid, Dictionnaire de droit québécois et canadien, 1994.) Before the definitive abolition of the death penalty in Canada in 1976, commutation was applied quite regularly. As of 1914, steps were taken to abolish the death penalty. Over the following decades, several actors in the judicial system deemed the death penalty inadequate. In these cases, the death penalty was commuted to life imprisonment.

Coroner: The coroner is a public officer who has judicial authority and jurisdiction over all deaths that occur in Quebec. His function, in the event of an unusual death, is to try to determine -- by means of an investigation and, if need be, an inquest -- the identity of the deceased person, the date and place of death, the probable causes of death (that is to say the illnesses, morbidity, traumatisms or poisonings having caused death or having resulted in or contributed to death), and the circumstances of death. Later, he draws up a report specifying the causes of death. He also has the authority to identify the individual he believes to be implicated in or responsible for the death of the person being investigated.

Coroner's Inquest: Investigation by the coroner that aims to discover the identity of a deceased person, as well as the date, place, probable causes and circumstances of death. (H. Reid, Dictionnaire de droit québécois et canadien, 2001.)

Court Clerk: A court clerk is an officer of the court responsible for keeping records, and collecting and keeping the minutes of trials and of any juridical act. The court clerk also has certain judicial powers.

Court of King's (Queen's) Bench: 1. Court of appeal created in Quebec in 1849 and which was at the origin of the present Court of Appeal. 2. Division of the Superior Court of Quebec which, in the past, referred to the Criminal Assizes. (H. Reid, Dictionnaire de droit québécois et canadien, 2001.) In Quebec in 1920, this court was both a court of appeal in the civil jurisdiction and a court of first instance in the criminal jurisdiction. It was before this court, during the spring session in the Quebec City judicial district, that the trials for murder in the Gagnon affair were heard. (See also Criminal Assizes.)

Criminal Assizes: 1. Court responsible for hearing and trying crimes. It is generally made up of a presiding judge and a jury. 2. Period during which the Court of Assizes sits. (H. Reid, Dictionnaire de droit québécois et canadien, 2001.) In Quebec in 1920, this was a common way of speaking of the periodic sessions of the Court of King's Bench in the criminal jurisdiction. (See also Court of King's Bench.)

Cross-examination: Examination of the adversary and the adversary’s witnesses by the party opposed, aiming to depreciate their depositions and throw doubt on the credibility and the powers of observation of the deponents. The role of the judge is limited to deciding on the admissibility of questions objected to by the adversary (

Crown: Refers to the sovereignty of the Queen or the King in Canada, as elsewhere in the British Empire. Institution that represents the State and which is invested with the rights and powers of the sovereign, which it exercises through its ministries and public officials. A word that is gradually being replaced by "government" and "State", except within the judicial system.

Crown Prosecutor: Government lawyer who is responsible for representing the State in criminal cases (H. Reid, Dictionnaire de droit québécois et canadien, 2001). He pleads on behalf of the State for justice to be done. Maître Fitzpatrick was appointed by the State to prepare and present the evidence against Marie-Anne Houde and Télesphore Gagnon.

Defence attorney See "Defence lawyer."

Defence counsel See "Defence lawyer."

Defence lawyer: The attorney who represents someone charged with an offence is called the defence lawyer. The defence lawyer's role consists of ensuring that the accused's rights are protected throughout the proceedings. During the trial, the defence lawyer must question the evidence put forward by the prosecution, examine its importance or pertinence and explore other possible interpretations ( The role of the defence lawyer consists of trying, by all legal means, to have his client acquitted. He must therefore, in every case, strive to have evidence declared inadmissible as soon as he has a chance of succeeding. He must also, when it is possible to do so, cross-examine the prosecution's witnesses in order to weaken their credibility ( Maître Francoeur was hired by Télesphore Gagnon and Marie-Anne Houde to defend them against charges of murder in the death of Aurore. He was therefore the defence lawyer.

Deposition: 1. Statement under oath of a witness before a court. 2. By extension, the written record in which the statement is taken down. (H. Reid, Dictionnaire de droit québécois et canadien, 1994.)

Examination: All the questions asked of a witness during his deposition. (H. Reid, Dictionnaire de droit québécois et canadien, 1994.)

Exhibit: An article (written document, various objects, etc.) produced as evidence during judicial proceedings.

Homicide: The killing of a human being. (H. Reid, Dictionnaire de droit québécois et canadien, 2001.) Homicide applies to all situations in which one person causes the death of another (

Judge: Person appointed by the State to decide disputes according to the prescriptions of the law or to render decisions on all other questions under his jurisdiction. (H. Reid, Dictionnaire de droit québécois et canadien, 2001.) In Canada, the judge's role consists essentially of arbitrating the debate between the prosecution and the accused. In principle, the judge therefore does not actively take part in the proceedings and does not examine the witnesses, although he does have a certain power of intervention (

Jury: Group of people chosen according to law to hear proof of the facts during a trial, and to return a verdict on a person's guilt or responsibility. (H. Reid, Dictionnaire de droit québécois et canadien, 2001.) The jury is made up of 12 citizens. The jury is called upon to evaluate the elements with which it is presented and, at the end of the trial, taking into account only the evidence admissible in law, it will return the verdict. Because the jurors' decision has serious consequences, the judge frequently asks each juror to not read the newspapers, to not watch television, to not discuss the case, etc. He can even order the jury's isolation, which is called its sequestration. Up until 1960, this was the rule. It was heavily criticised and prompted jury candidates to do everything they could to be exempted or not chosen (

Justice: Judge.

Justice of the Peace: Judicial officer having jurisdiction, in criminal cases, to try breaches of certain provincial statutes. He also has powers granted him by the Criminal Code and by the Code of Penal Procedure of Quebec. (H. Reid, Dictionnaire de droit québécois et canadien, 2001.) Justices of the Peace are essentially ordinary citizens (most not being lawyers) with a good reputation in their community, appointed by the provincial government to hear "denunciations" and "complaints" (pertaining to crimes) and to set in motion the judicial process that is called for. (F. Kantorowski, L’encyclopédie du Canada 2000.)

K. C.: King or Queen's Counsel, depending on the reigning sovereign. Title granted to lawyers by the Crown. Originally, this title was granted to lawyers who were considered to have enough merit to represent the Crown before the courts. However, in many provinces, it has lost this mark of distinction, as it is granted to most lawyers with generally 10 years or more of practice and who have the same political allegiance as the party in power. This title is granted by provincial governments or by the federal government. No duties are associated with this title, which only grants the holders precedence in the profession and the right to wear a silk lawyer's robe. (F. Kantorowski, L’encyclopédie du Canada 2000.)

Magistrate: Judge

Manslaughter: Homicide committed by a person who did not specifically intend to cause death or to perform the act that brought about death, whether he acted on sudden impulse or as a result of carelessness or negligence. (H. Reid, Dictionnaire de droit québécois et canadien, 2001.)

Murder: Culpable homicide committed by a person who wants to cause his victim death or who intends to inflict bodily harm he knows is likely to cause death, and doesn't care whether death ensues or not. Also qualifies as murder the killing, by accident or mistake, of a person other than the one intended, and the causing of death when, for an unlawful object, a person does anything that he knows, or ought to know, is likely to cause death, notwithstanding that he desires to effect his object without causing death or bodily harm. Finally, it is murder when a person kills someone while committing or attempting to commit certain offences specifically stated in the Criminal Code. (H. Reid, Dictionnaire de droit québécois et canadien, 1994.)

Plea: Statement by which an accused takes a stand regarding the charge brought against him. For example: a plea of guilty, a plea of not guilty. (H. Reid, Dictionnaire de droit québécois et canadien, 2001.)

Pleading Address to the court delivered by a party's attorney (Public Works and Services Canada, Termium, 2001).

Preliminary Inquiry: In criminal proceedings, the step prior to the trial, the goal of which is to determine whether the evidence gathered against the accused is sufficient for him to be committed to stand trial. (H. Reid, Dictionnaire de droit québécois et canadien, 2001.) The preliminary inquiry serves to determine whether there is sufficient evidence to justify a trial. During the preliminary inquiry, the prosecution sets out the main elements of proof against the accused. If the judge considers that the evidence justifies a trial, he sends the accused to trial (

Sessions of the Peace Court: Court that hears a case for the first time and which has criminal jurisdiction under both federal and provincial law. Its judges are, by virtue of their office, Justices of the Peace, and possess, among other things, the authority to hold preliminary inquiries and to judge the majority of criminal acts and summary offences. It was before this court that the preliminary inquiries of Marie-Anne Houde and Télesphore Gagnon were heard.

Great Unsolved Mysteries in Canadian History