Trials of Women in Canada, 1866-1954
The archival documents from Confederation to the abolition of the death penalty in 1976 include the files of some 1,300 men and fifty-eight women. Twenty-eight women were initially condemned to death for killing their husbands. The distribution of these homicides is as follows: seven in Ontario, seven in Quebec, four in Alberta, three in New Brunswick, three in Saskatchewan, two in Manitoba, one in British Columbia, and one in Nova Scotia. The periods during which these twenty-eight cases of homicide occurred are as follows: seven cases occurred between 1866 and 1899; nine occurred between 1900 and 1929; and twelve occurred between 1930 and 1954. In terms of final trial outcome, we know that seven women were executed, that fifteen had their death sentences commuted, and that six were acquitted.
The women ranged in age from twenty-five to fifty. Most of them were mothers, and almost half of them had been victims of domestic violence. Three sentences were commuted because the women were pregnant. Firearms were used in ten out of the twenty-eight cases and poison was used in eight (five in Quebec). In the other cases, the weapons used were the axe (four) and the knife (six). It is interesting to note that all seven executions were performed either in Ontario (three) or in Quebec (four), and that five out of the seven women executed (70 per cent) allegedly had lovers.