Judicial Documents

For some time now, Canadian and Quebec historians have been mining the wealth of what are commonly called "the judicial archives". They are increasingly interested in the paper trail left by the state apparatus for social control and criminal justice of bygone eras, whether it be New France or Canada at the turn of the 20th century. Violent crimes were studied in depth by the courts. We can therefore draw on the archives of these same courts in order to understand either the phenomenon of crime or the efforts of the state to suppress and punish it.

Aurore Gagnon's death and the criminal proceedings that followed it left a large paper trail within Quebec court records. For the most part, these documents are kept in the National Archives of Quebec in Quebec City (www.anq.gouv.qc.ca), situated on the campus of Laval University. The documents relating to the Gagnon affair are dispersed among several fonds: Cour des sessions de la paix, greffe de Québec (Sessions of the Peace Court, Quebec City Registry) (TP12, S1); Cour du banc du roi, greffe de Québec (Court of King's Bench, Quebec City Registry) (TP9, S1); Documents de tribunaux de la période confédérative (Court Documents from the Time of Confederation) (TP999); and Ministère de la Justice (Ministry of Justice) (E17).

The judicial documents are of a heterogeneous nature. They include depositions, judgements, warrants for arrest, correspondence and declarations of all sorts. In the 1920s, some documents were still handwritten but the typewriter was gradually being used more and more. As the judicial documents on this site are very numerous and lengthy, we have decided to treat the Depositions and the documents from the Coroner's Records as separate categories of documents produced by the judicial system.

In the archival fonds of each court of justice we should, in principle, be able to find traces of all the cases heard before that court, even those that ended without a trial in due form taking place. In practice, however, the court clerks each had their own way of working, of filing and of drafting their documents. Considering the complexity of the judicial system, this led to a considerable jumble in the archives. Specifically in the case of the Gagnon affair -- which several researchers examined before us -- documents were sometimes filed every which way and, for example, documents produced by the Court of King's Bench were in the Sessions of the Peace Court fonds. Fortunately, our partners at the National Archives of Quebec had already made a prior effort to identify and locate the relevant documents, which greatly facilitated our research.