Mr Attorney: The Attorney General for Ontario in Court, Cabinet, and Legislature 1791–1899
Published: December 1986© 1986
416 Pages, 6.00 x 9.00 in
Ebook - PDF
In early Upper Canada the attorney general was little more than a skilled functionary -- the Crown's chief legal counsel; by the mid-nineteenth century he had become a leading member of cabinet and generally premier. Mr Attorney is the story of this transformation and many other aspects of the attorney general's role in nineteenth-century Ontario.
A central figure in the story general's rise was John Beverley Robinson, a slippery zealot whose loathing of libertarian ideals drove him to flout the most essential duties of the office. His mishandling of the Alien Question and failure to check civil rights abuses discredited the government and spurred the first public campaign for 'responsible government.' His successors' failure to uphold the rule of law in the face of political repression and increasing pro-government violence helped to provoke the rebellion of 1837; but the discontents of the era were rooted not only in the corrupt administration of justice but in the fact that the law itself offered farmers little protection against exploitation by merchants and financiers.
Moving into the Union period, Paul Romney explains how the attorney general acquired constitutional responsibility for the administration of justice. He reviews important procedural and administrative topics relating to the attorney general's responsibility for law enforcement: the Felon's Counsel Act of 1836, the origin of the county attorney system, the controversy over the idea of a provincial police force. A chapter on the post-Confederation struggle over 'provincial rights' depicts Oliver Mowat as a legal mastermind whose victory was the fruit of intellectual subtlety and tactical ingenuity. Turning to the attorney general's role in late nineteenth-century criminal and civil law reforms, Romney describes how trial by jury was compromised by the introduction of Crown appeal against acquittal in the Criminal Code of 1892.
This important study of the office and the men who held it offers a fresh perspective on the history of nineteenth-century Ontario and illuminates the state of civil liberties in Canada today.