Update! First year JD rare book room tour

First year JD students are invited to come to the library for a tour of the rare book room. Learn about what the library and the rare book room has to offer! The tour will take place on Monday September 9th. One tour will take place at 1:30pm. The other will take place at 2pm. Each tour will have a maximum of 20 students each. Sign up for the tour time you want by emailing Daniel Perlin, associate librarian, at dperlin@osgoode.yorku.ca.  If one tour is full, you will be placed in the other tour until it is full.

Note that one person from each tour will win a $50 gift certificate to the York University bookstore!

First Year JD. rare book room tour

First year JD students are invited to come to the library for a tour of the rare book room. The tour will take place on Tuesday August 27th. One tour will take place at 2:45pm. The other will take place at 3pm. Each tour will have a maximum of 20 students each. Sign up for the tour time you want by emailing Daniel Perlin, associate librarian, at dperlin@osgoode.yorku.ca

Note that one person from each tour will win a $50 gift certificate to the York University bookstore!

An Important Association Copy: George-Étienne Cartier and Louis-Hippolyte La Fontaine

The Osgoode Library’s Canada Law Book Rare Book Room contains many treasures illustrative of Canadian law and history. One of my favourites is a small book, not of great value in its own right, but valuable both because of its association with two great of Canadians and because of the insight it gives us into their politics.

The book is:

Lucas, Charles. Recueil des débats des assemblées législatives de la France sur la question de la peine de mort : avec une introduction et des annotations. Paris: M Ve Charles-Béchet, 1831.

The book itself (digital text available on the Internet Archive here) is not especially rare or valuable. Its value to us lies in a short inscription, in pencil, on the top right corner of the title page:

“À G.[eorge] É.[tienne] Cartier , esq M.P.P. de la part du Juge en chef [Louis Hippolyte] LaFontaine” (Translation: To G[eorges] É[tienne] Cartier, esq M.P.P. from Chief Justice [Louis Hippolyte] La Fontaine)

La Fontaine-Cartier Insscription

George-Étienne Cartier (1814-1873) (he was named after the English king and spelled his first name à l’anglaise) and Louis-Hippolyte La Fontaine (1807-1864) were not only friends but also partners in both the practice of law and as liberal-reformist politicians. When Cartier was called to the bar of Lower Canada in 1835, he joined La Fontaine’s law practice in Montreal. They were both also Patriotes and fervent supporters of Louis-Joseph Papineau in his rebellions against the “Chateau Clique” for responsible government and equal rights for French Canadians. (Cartier was exiled for a year after the first rebellion failed in 1837.) When LaFontaine was appointed first Canadian-born Prime Minister of the United Province of Canada (and first head of an elected, responsible government in Canada) in 1841, Cartier joined him as an elected member of the parliament. The two men worked together to abolish the system of seigneurial land tenure in Quebec and both also pushed for the adoption of a new Civil Code to replace the Coutume de Paris as the basis of private law in Quebec.

George-Étienne Cartier

Louis-Hippolyte La Fontaine









La Fontaine was appointed Chief Justice of the Court of Queen’s Bench  in Canada East (formerly Lower Canada, now Quebec) in 1853. He did not live to see the Confederation of the British colonies as the independent Dominion of Canada in 1867. Cartier, however, became the leader of pro-confederation forces in Quebec and is, in my opinion, the greatest of the “Fathers of Canadian Confederation” and its kingpin, as he was responsible for bringing not only French Canada, and was instrumental subsequently in also bringing British Columbia and Manitoba into Confederation.

Why do I find this document so interesting? I like to think that Canada has a long liberal tradition and find it interesting to imagine that one reformer, La Fontaine, gave and recommended this book, discussing the abolition of the death penalty, to his friend Cartier in the decade preceding the founding of this great country. It would be a hundred years before the goal of abolishing the death penalty would be realized in Canada, but I like to think that this book is one of the first incentives to the realization of that goal.

When True Crime Meets Crime Fiction: A Bibliographical Mystery

The Osgoode Library recently acquired for its Trials special collection in the Canada Law Book Rare Room copies of the following publication:

Life and Confession of Sophia Hamilton Who Was Tried, Condemned and Sentenced to be Hung at [name of city] for the Perpetration of the Most Shocking Murders and Daring Robberies Perhaps Recorded in the Annals of Crime / Carefully Selected by the Author, William H. Jackson. Printed for the Publisher, 1845.

Sophia Hamilton at Work

This is a most interesting and confusing little publication. Here at Osgoode we were fortunate to obtain copies of both extant Canadian editions of this work, one published in Montreal and the other in Fredericton, both in 1845. Both editions are rare, especially the Fredericton edition. More interesting, however, is the fact that the person and crimes described in both editions are completely bogus and fictional. In the Montreal edition, the evil Sophia owned and operated out of a cottage tavern located in La Prairie, “a neat village about nine miles south of Montreal”, where she fleeced and murdered some of her more affluent guests, as well as a few witnesses to her crimes, for which she was tried and hung in Montreal on 22 January 1845. The Fredericton edition claims that her inn was located in Woodstock, New Brunswick, while she was tried, condemned and executed for her avaricious thefts and 10 murders in Fredericton on 8 April 1845. Other than these details, the text (though not the typsetting) of both editions is identical.

An article from the University of New Brunswick Faculty of Arts alerts readers to the fact that Sophia Hamilton is in fact a fictional character, but misses the bibliographical interest that her fictional misdeeds were recorded in two different cities in two separate imprints.

The earliest edition of this work, however, seems to have been printed in New York. A dgitized copy, from the Cornell University Library, can be viewed here. In this edition, Sophia was hung in Montreal on the 25th of November, 1844, two months before the Montreal edition saw her go. The illustration on the title-page is also different from the Montreal and Fredericton editions. The title-page illustration in the Canadian editions shows Sophia with one of her murdered victims lying on the floor, while the New York edition shows her in the act of making her confession. This latter illustration is rendered further in the text in the Canadian editions. (The image above is from the Osgoode copy of the Montreal edition.)

The Catalogue of Law Trials [from] the Collection of the late E.B. Wynn, of Watertown, N.Y. [To be sold at auction] February 7th to 11th, 1893 (New York, 1892), which can be viewed on the Hathi Trust here, records copies of both the Montreal and Fredericton (but not the New York) editions of the work. This catalogue claims that Sophia committed her crimes in Fredericton but was tried, condemned and hung in Montreal. Wrong again!

You can read the Montreal edition of the pamphlet, from the collection of the Boston Public Library, on the Internet Archive here. A copy of the Fredericton edition, seemingly published a few months later, from the collection of the National Library of Canada, is available on the Internet Archive here.

Bibliographically speaking, Sophia Hamilton was one busy bad girl!

Gentoo Laws (1776) and the Imperial Project

“Honourable Sirs,

I have now the Satisfaction to transmit to you a complete and corrected Copy of a Translation of the Gentoo Code, executed with great Ability, Diligence, and Fidelity, by Mr. Halhed, from a Persian Version of the original Shanscrit, which was undertaken under the immediate Inspection of the Pundits or Compilers of this Work.”

I’ve had another chance encounter with a pair of very curious books, an encounter that served as a reminder that a book is not simply paper, ink and boards, but a collection of ideas and words, beliefs and feelings, all products of the individuals who created them and the age in which they were created.

As I was clearing through a backlog of arcane titles for our special collections, I came upon two books that had earlier caught my eye with their peculiar titles Gentoo Laws. Gentoo? I am no linguist, but this word seemed out of place in our largely Anglo-French collections, almost as if it dropped into our library from some Narnian fantasy land.

Since I am a curious man, I’m not one to allow such an unfamiliar word pass me by unchallenged and unexamined. I quickly finished the task at hand, pulled the books off the shelf and brought them back to my desk for examination. While “Gentoo” (sadly) was not a Narnian term, it was indeed a word with origins remote in both time and place. If I may permit myself to extend the analogy, the word “Gentoo” comes from a land that is to England as Calormen is to Narnia: a far off place where, to use the language of postcolonial discourse, the exotic “other” lived. Pronounced with a soft g, like gentleman, “Gentoo” is an archaic term once employed by Europeans to refer to the native inhabitants of India. Fully titled A Code of Gentoo Laws, or, Ordinations of the Pundits, this book, by the English orientalist and philologist Nathaniel Brassey Halhed, was first printed in London in 1776, when use of the term was evidently common and acceptable in British parlance. The Code of Gentoo Laws is a translation into English from the original Sanskrit by way of Persian – in effect, a translation of a translation. Working under the patronage of the famed Warren Hastings, the first British Governor-General of Bengal, Halhed produced this treatise to illumine to the British the obscure workings of Indian law.

As a translation of a translation, Halhed’s work was deemed a work of poor quality by John Dawson Mayne in his Treatise on Hindu Law and Usage (1st edition, London, 1878), who quotes another authority describing Halhed’s work as “a loose, injudicious, epitome of the original Sanskrit, in which abstract many essential passages are omitted, though several notes of little consequence are interpolated, from a vain idea of elucidating, or improving, the text”. Ouch. Especially in comparison to Mayne’s preferred source, the slightly later and considerably more learned Digest of Hundu Law (Calcutta, 1797), Henry Thomas Colebrooke’s considerably more learned translation of the Vivada Bhangarnava, Halhed’s work had little impact. Nevertheless, in 1776, it was important as the first such attempt to codify Hindu law in English, and was followed five years later by a second edition (London, 1781), which Osgoode also holds.

Although The Code of Gentoo Laws undoubtedly broke new ground, the motivations driving its production can be, from our historical perspective, troubling. Halhed’s “Translator’s Preface” says all we need to know:

“The Importance of the Commerce of India, and the Advantages of a Territorial Establishment in Bengal, have at length awakened the Attention of the British Legislature to every Circumstance that may conciliate the Affections of the Natives, or ensure Stability to the Acquisition. Nothing can so favourably conduce to these two Points as a well-timed Toleration in Matters of Religion, and an Adoption of such original Institutes of the Country, as do not immediately clash with the Laws or Interests of the Conquerors.

To a steady Pursuance of this great Maxim, much of the Success of the Romans may be attributed, who not only allowed to their foreign Subjects the free Exercise of their own Religion, and the Administration of their own civil Jurisdiction, but sometimes by a Policy still more flattering, even naturalized such Parts of the Mythology of the conquered, as were in any respect compatible with their own System.

With a View to the same political Advantages, and in Observance of so striking an Example, the following Compilation was set on foot; which must be considered as the only Work of the Kind, wherein the genuine Principles of the Gentoo Jurisprudence are made public, with the Sanction of their most respectable Pundits (or Lawyers) and which offers and complete Confutation of the Belief too common in Europe, that the Hindoos have no written laws whatever, but such as relate to the ceremonious Peculiarities of their Superstition.”

Halhed’s petitions for religious tolerance and the use of the native legal system are admirable; less so are the presentation of his ideas and the motivations behind them. Halhed advises the British to emulate their imperial heroes, the Romans, by employing tactics of self-interested soft power (in this case the allowance of certain freedoms) – but only insofar as they are beneficial and not contrary to the colonial project of the East India Company and Britain. Halhed isn’t merely a theorist; he admits he undertook this work with the aim of actively supporting the amiable conquest he proposes. CUNY professor Siraj Ahmed addresses the issue in his article “Notes from Babel: Toward a Colonial History of Comparative Literature” (Critical Inquiry 39 (2): 296-326, (Winter 2013)), where he states that works such as Halhed’s Code “enabled the colonial state to claim knowledge about Indian history and present itself as an extension of native sovereignty,” and therefore “philology had been apprenticed to colonial rule.”

For his part, it must be said that Halhed did have an avowed personal philological interest in his project, as he spends a considerable amount of the text discussing linguistic challenges and other pertinent topics, and includes fascinating plates exemplifying the Sanskrit language in its original script.

In his Code, Halhed includes a bibliography of Indian law books, the “names of the Hindoo months,” and a glossary of “Shascrit [sic], Persian, and Bengal words”. And Halhed did work with “Bramins” expert in their native law – all of whom are named – to render into Persian the Sanskrit originals they produced. Halhed is generous to state that these Bramins were indeed the labourers who compiled and created the intellectual content of the work in hand, while he was merely the translator. Though the claim is generous, experts see it as factually implausible. Encouraged by this project, Halhed went on to publish A Grammar of the Bengal Language.

I attempt neither to condemn nor condone Mr Halhed and his work; nor do I wish to misrepresent anything in which I am not expert. I have had but a short time to investigate this text and don’t pretend to criticize the enterprise from a moral high-ground 200 years after it was written. I say all this only to describe the political and imperial thrust of the text. Without its preface, the book might pass simply as an exercise in translation or a genuine attempt to understand the endemic culture of India, but the context in which it was published negates this possibility. The Code of Gentoo Laws remains an artifact of its era: an almost synecdochic item in that it, as a single object, represents a time, place, worldview, enterprise, condition, and Empire. Though once a process of history, it is now, thankfully, only a piece of it.

Canadian Provincial Statutes Now Available on HeinOnline

Hein-Provincial-feature1A comprehensive collection of Canadian provincial statutes in digital format is now available in the new Provincial Statutes of Canada library on HeinOnline. The collection includes statutes, both public and private, for all ten Canadian provinces (though not – yet? – the three territories) in PDF copies of the official statute volumes as published by the provincial Queen’s Printers. The collection currently includes nearly 1,500 volumes and more than 850,000 pages.

This is a significant event for a number of reasons. Unlike other jurisdictions, Canada has done almost nothing to digitize our legal print heritage, a topic I have written about frequently (most recently here). Where our law societies, attorneys general and law libraries have failed us, Hein has stepped in and digitized the entire body of Canadian provincial legislation, making it available for the first time in digital format and simplifying the work of Canadian lawyers, researchers and librarians.

The collections can either be searched full-text or browsed. You have the option to select a province from an alphabetical listing or by clicking on the map provided on the library’s homepage. Both current and historical coverage are provided for the following provinces:

  • Alberta
  • British Columbia
  • New Brunswick
  • Nova Scotia
  • Ontario

Historical Statutes only are provided for these provinces:

  • Manitoba
  • Newfoundland and Labrador
  • Prince Edward Island
  • Quebec
  • Saskatchewan

Please note that levels of historical coverage may vary. For all provinces, historical coverage begins at least at the date they entered Confederation. For a few provinces, some colonial statutes are included.

For more information about the Provincial Statutes of Canada library on HeinOnline, click here.

Election Special 2015 – X Marks the Spot, or, Ballot Dos and Don’ts


Our federal election is swiftly approaching, and all signs point to a close race.

We sometimes become disillusioned about the worth of each individual vote, but a tight three-way contest will demonstrate the importance of every ballot. I don’t say ballot to metonymically refer only to each individual’s participation in the election process, but literally each ballot – each slip of paper marked with the elector’s desired candidate – because if you’re not careful, your vote may not float.

If you plan to vote, you want to make it count. The CBC reports that in the last federal election (2011), eight Toronto ridings were decided by fewer than 1,500 votes. In Etobicoke Center, Conservative Ted Opitz edged out Liberal Borys Wrzesnewskyj by only 26 votes!

With such close races, you cannot afford – nay, Canada cannot afford! – to have your ballot discounted by the returning officer due to a casual elector error. After all, four years ago, 26 ballot errors might have led to an even more dramatic result in Etobicoke Center. Much is at stake: each riding is riding on the decision of its constituents, so the returning officer needs to have clear rules to determine which votes are valid and which are not.

The legislation governing elections – along with other helpful resources such as links to significant cases, maps and data on electoral districts, historical data, extensive description of Canadian electoral process – is all available online via the Elections Canada Resource Centre, but I was inspired by an old returning officer manual to share some ballot dos and don’ts to ensure that each voter’s vote is valid.

Title page

The Powers, Duties, & Liabilities of an Election Agent, and of a Returning Officer, at a Parliamentary Election in England or Wales, published in 1885, offers “fac-simile copies of ballot papers” that gave them trouble all those years ago. As the book states, “Several cases have come before the courts in which instances of irregularly marked ballot papers have been considered, and these may serve as guides to the returning officer in determining any question that may come before him” (182). Though the voting process might seem simple, there are an alarming number of ways to give counters pause when tallying votes. So…

DON’T! Identify yourself on the ballot. Identification includes voter registration numbers, names, and initials

Initials Don't identify yourself!

DON’T! Mark the ballot anywhere except inside the designated area

Don't mark outside ballot box!

DON’T! Mark the ballot with “a long cross, each line thereof being partly in the square allowed for one candidate and partly in that of the other”. Even though this was “allowed as a good vote for the candidate in whose square the intersection of the cross appeared”, it’s best to keep in mind: Precise is nice.

Don't use an ambiguous mark!

YOU PROBABLY SHOULDN’T! Mark the ballot with a symbol other than a cross or “X”. Although Elections Canada states that a ballot clearly “marked with a symbol other than a cross” is still valid and cannot be discounted, there are probably better opportunities to exercise your creativity during the election (Note: I am firmly opposed to the vandalism of political lawn-signs and in no way endorse such activity).

Such aberrant markings include:

A “single stroke”

A single stroke

A “straight stroke in addition to the cross”

Stroke and cross

A “mark like an imperfect letter P in addition to the cross”

Cross and Imperfect P

A “star instead of a cross”


And last, a “peculiarly formed cross”

Peculiar cross

And finally…

DO! Mark the ballot with clean, exact, unambiguous “X”

The perfect vote

The main takeaway: when casting your vote, let simplicity reign. Don’t forget to take a look at the actual, current legislation governing valid ballots at Election Canada.

Skip over the ocean and forward 120 years and you’ll find a ballot that looks something like this (courtesy of Elections Canada):

Sample Ballot

And once cast, it should look something like this:

Sample Ballot voted

I’ve always thought Cabot an underrated explorer – although I must say I am quite taken with Mlle. De Verchères since looking her up five minutes ago.

Don’t forget to check out the previous Election Special, written for the 2014 Ontario election, for even more great tips on how to exercise your Canadian democratic right.

Happy Voting! Election day is October 19, 2015. Visit the Elections Canada homepage for more information.