The Death Penalty and Sex Murder in Canadian History
From Confederation to the partial abolition of the death penalty a century later, defendants convicted of sexually motivated killings and sexually violent homicides in Canada were more likely than any other condemned criminals to be executed for their crimes. Despite the emergence of psychiatric expertise in criminal trials, moral disgust and anger proved more potent in courtrooms, the public mind, and the hearts of the bureaucrats and politicians responsible for determining the outcome of capital cases.
Wherever death has been set as the ultimate criminal penalty, the poor, minority groups, and stigmatized peoples have been more likely to be accused, convicted, and executed. Although the vast majority of convicted sex killers were white, Canada’s racist notions of "the Indian mind" meant that Indigenous defendants faced the presumption of guilt. Black defendants were also subjected to discriminatory treatment, including near lynchings. In debates about capital punishment, abolitionists expressed concern that prejudices and poverty created the prospect of wrongful convictions.
Unique in the ways it reveals the emotional drivers of capital punishment in delivering inequitable outcomes, The Death Penalty and Sex Murder in Canadian History provides a thorough overview of sex murder and the death penalty in Canada. It serves as an essential history and a richly documented cautionary tale for the present.
- Series: Osgoode Society for Canadian Legal History
- World Rights
- Page Count: 384 pages
- Illustrations: 48
- Dimensions: 6.3in x 1.3in x 9.3in
"The Death Penalty and Sex Murder in Canadian History adeptly conveys a fascinating aspect of Canadian criminal legal history. Carolyn Strange draws from an impressive range of archival sources to open up a line of sight into the complex interactions of culture, law, and politics that shaped Canadian responses to sex murders and capital punishment since the earliest years of the country."
Benjamin L. Berger, York Research Chair in Pluralism and Public Law, Osgoode Hall Law School, York University
"Carolyn Strange has produced a gripping account of the tragic sex murder cases that dominated Canada’s fierce debates over capital punishment and led 39 men to the gallows. ‘A cautionary tale for today and the future,’ it is an appalling history where race, ethnicity, class, and toxic masculinity never failed to intrude."
Constance Backhouse, Faculty of Law, University of Ottawa
"Strange masterfully recounts how the fates of the 61 convicted men she follows were both shaped by and shaped broad societal forces, such as public opinion and intolerance; judicial rigour and bias; sexological, psychiatric and penological expertise; social activism; bureaucratic process and moralizing; and political calculation and debate. Beyond the focus on sex murder, the book also provides an understanding of the history of capital punishment and its abolition more generally in Canada."
Donald Fyson, Département des sciences historiques, Université Laval
Author InformationCarolyn Strange is a professor in the School of History at the Australian National University.
Table of contents
1. The Politics of the Death Penalty and the Problem of Sex Murder
2. Sex Fiends and the Death Penalty at the Turn of Canada’s Century
3. Contesting Convictions and Questioning Culpability: Sex Murder between the Wars
4. Sexual Psychopathy and Penal Severity in the Post-War Era
5. Sexual Psychopathy, Insanity, and the Death Penalty under Scrutiny in the 1950s
6. Sex Murder in the Sixties and the Demise of the Death Penalty
Epilogue: The Problem of Sex Murder in the Shadow of Abolition
Note on Sources and Methods
Downloads/LinksListen to a podcast by the author, History Slam Episode 165: Capital Punishment, Murder, & Sexual Violence in Canada.
Subjects and Courses