Crime And Punishment Of Modern Canada

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Crime and Punishment of Modern Canada

The Case of Valentine Shortis


It's hard to realize today how totally enthralled the public was by murder cases in 19th and early 20th century Canada. The perpetrators became household names, thousands flocked to the trials and, perhaps because a guilty verdict usually resulted in a death sentence, decisions were fiercely debated everywhere (, 2012).

But even allowing for the interest murders aroused at a time when the homicide total for Canada could be in single digits, the Valentine Shortis case was special. Before it was over, it focused French-English hostilities, played a part in bringing down the Conservative government of the day, and engaged the sympathies and controversial involvement of the wife of the Governor-General, Lady Aberdeen (, 2012).

Martin L. Friedland, a law professor at the University of Toronto, relates the facts of the crime in his first chapter. Shortis, the only son of a wealthy Irish cattle dealer, arrived in Montreal in 1893 at the age of 18. His father, against his mother's wishes, had sent their troublesome son to Canada in the hopes he would learn to stand on his own feet.

The Case of Valentine Shortis is a superior nonfiction book by University of Toronto law professor Martin L. Friedland, whose last work, The Trials of Israel Lipski, dealt with anti-Semitism in Victorian jurisprudence and won the Arthur Ellis award for non-fiction. In The Case of Valentine Shortis, Friedland examines the murky world of criminal insanity and political wheeling and dealing in turn-of-the-century Canada (Friedland, 1988).

Two men were shot, and killed in the office of the Montreal Cotton Company in Valleyfield on a night in 1895. A third victim, shot through the head, managed to survive. Charged with the murders was Valentine Shortis, a young Irish immigrant. His trial, the longest on record at the time in Canada, was played out against one of the most dramatic periods in Canadian political history. Before, the case closed it had involved some of the most important names in the country (, 2012).

Shortis is an excellent candidate for this type of close study - he committed a multiple murder in 1895 whose repercussions are still felt in the political makeup of Canada, yet his name is largely unknown.



Friedland has the gift of writing about the law without drowning in legal language or maundering on about legal maneuverings - so fascinating to the lawyer, so deadly to the non-initiate. He also devotes a lot of space to the backgrounds of the people involved and his profiles are worthy of any novel. (One of Shortis's most dedicated supporters was a bizarre little man named Arthur W. Beall, who went about lecturing on the evils of self-abuse and the importance of not "bleeding away the precious Life Fluid.") But Friedland never makes the mistake of writing down to the readers. Despite its slick presentation and readable style, The Trial of Valentine Shortis is carefully researched and documented and can be savored by scholars as well as ordinary readers ...
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