A View From the Bench

I have heard it said that one should approach searches of one’s genealogy with caution since one might be surprised by what lurks waiting in the shadows of the past.

This was lately brought to mind when I was doing some case research on a very interesting evidentiary question arising from a jurisdictional issue which had been raised in a trial.  Well, “very interesting” to me, a fact which may go some distance in explaining a lifetime which has been all but devoid of rousing social interaction.

In the course of my research on the matter of the inferences which may be properly drawn from already proven facts, I came across the decision of R. v. Marceau (1914-15), 8 Alta. L.R. 510 (Alta. C.A.).

Parenthetically, and as a bit of a cautionary tale, the facts I am about to relate do not appear in the on-line version of the case report; one only becomes aware of them if one goes back to the hard copy volume of the 1914-15 Alberta Law Reports.

Why, you ask, was I poking about the judicial library looking in a book instead of relying upon the version which was available in my chambers on my computer?  

The official answer, which, like many, though not all, “official answers”,  has some truth to it, is that I don’t entirely trust the accuracy of the computer version of old cases. Over time, I simply have found too many errors in them to take the computer versions as being unimpeachable. 

The unofficial answer, which like many (well, in truth, all unofficial answers) is entirely true, is that I really like the physical sensations of touching, smelling, and hearing the old law reports. The hearing bit refers to the sound of the pages turning, not the voices in my head.

The simple physical act of handling and reading a very old book brings to me some sort of psychological affinity with the author of the case report being reviewed.  However, let me return to my story before this column becomes grounds for the Modern Technology Police to arrest me for challenging the notion that computer storage and research is the exclusive source of all knowledge worthy of consideration. I think the offence is related to Criminal Code section 365(c): “pretends from his skill in or knowledge of an occult or crafty science [using real books when researching the law] to discover where…anything [some principle of law or an illustration of its application] that is supposed to have been…lost may be found.”   

So, as I practiced the crafty science of reading a book, and in particular reading  the book version of R. v. Marceau, I learned from p. 511 that Ms. Marceau had been convicted by a Magistrate sitting in Calgary of keeping a house of prostitution, and that “[i]n the evidence of the various witnesses, the house is referred to as being located at 326 Sixth Avenue East, but no express mention is made anywhere in the evidence of the fact that the house so located is within the limits of the City of Calgary.” Ultimately, the learned Magistrate found that he could infer from all of the evidence that the house was located in Calgary, and that decision was upheld on appeal.  

The case was of use to me in my research, but, as a collateral matter, the address of this house of prostitution sounded very familiar to me (no, I was not alive in 1914, so you can desist with the defamatory inferences).  It sounded familiar because the courthouse in which I first practiced my other crafty science of “judge of the Provincial Court” was located at 323 Sixth Avenue [South] East, Calgary.  Our building occupied all but the western tip of the 300 block of Sixth Avenue, east of Centre Street; it would have had “326” well within its confines.  So, if “326 Sixth Avenue East” referred to the Sixth Avenue south of the Bow River, then the fact would seem to be that the court house, which housed the judicial descendants of the learned Magistrate who convicted Ms. Marceau, was built on the very location of the house of ill repute the operation of which our ancestor convicted her. The irony is exquisite, the quirk is delicious, and the revelation is humbling. 

And that, dear readers, is an example of the interesting tidbits which one may find when one pokes about in the dusty and forgotten records of the past. 

The Honourable Judge A.A. Fradsham is a Provincial Court Judge with the Criminal Court in Calgary.  His column “A View From the Bench” has been a highlight in the Canadian Bar Association newsletters for over 15 years.