A book for which you are the jury

A book for which you are the jury


Our judicial annals are teeming with errors where justice has not been served and where our courts have shown their sordid side. Especially if there has been a death sentence.

The case of Aurore the martyred child is still very present in our collective memory, even if this tragedy took place a few years ago. is over 100 years old. The legal columnist Daniel Proulx undertook to dust off this story. Plus, he intends to act as defense lawyer for Marie-Anne Houde, accused of the premeditated murder of Aurore Gagnon and sentenced to death in April 1920. He therefore invites us to be the jury that will decide on her guilt or of his innocence.

“We submit to your judgement, he writes, the observations collected during our search for the truth. It will be up to you to validate or not our approach. » 

Because, paraphrasing the writer Émile Zola in his famous plea in favor of Alfred Dreyfus, Proulx, too, accuses the accusers of said stepmother of having intentionally staged “a social spectacle with a purifying effect  ”, which is nothing other than “ a judicial and media blunder”. 

We must first remember what Quebec was like at the time. In 1920, the Catholic religion leads the way. Since 1918, women have had the right to vote in federal elections, but not in provincial elections. The clergy oppose it, fearing a “too rapid emancipation of women”. 

In the small village of Sainte-Philomène, the death of little Aurore “by general poisoning” will unleash passions. It must be said that the story of the Gagnons is not trivial. Télesphore Gagnon's first wife, Marie-Anne Caron, dies while she is confined in an insane asylum. In the meantime, Télesphore had retained the services of Marie-Anne Houde to take care of the house and the children. However, a week after the death of his wife, Télesphore discreetly marries the other Marie-Anne, who gives birth, a few weeks later, to a baby who will only live a few hours. Quebec society was not ready to digest so many transgressions of good morals at the time, and, with the help of the tabloid press, it made Aurore Gagnon's mother-in-law a “stepmother”. ruthless, a child torturer, ignoring the presumption of innocence.

Spinal cord disease?

The author recalls the cross-examination of the prosecution doctor by the defense counsel for the accused. The 54 wounds on Aurora's body could have been caused by something other than beatings, such as spinal cord disease. He scrutinizes each testimony, because he does not believe in the veracity of the facts put before the court. 

At the end of a seven-day trial, the judge does not hide his bias of guilt in his instructions to the jury. This one will deliberate only 15 minutes and will return a unanimous verdict of guilt. The judge will immediately condemn her to be hanged.

A hundred years later, Me Jacques Dupuis, to whom the author made read the report of this trial, also concludes to “a total denial of justice. […] Judge Pelletier and Prosecutor Fitzpatrick do not seem to me to have been up to their task. They totally failed in their duty. » 

And you, what will be your verdict? 

Very exciting.

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