White Privilege and the Making of Canada's Injustice System: Setting Precedent for Inequitable Treatment in the Courtroom, Vancouver Island, 1860-1873

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Midolo, Matthew
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University of Guelph

Canada has a longstanding history of racialized and discriminatory practices against the Indigenous population dating back to the first European invasion. During the establishment of British law on Vancouver Island, “whiteness as right-ness” was woven into the fabric of the developing justice system. Specifically, in the case of murder trials, white assailants were privileged within the courtroom, often evading the death penalty, while Indigenous assailants were hanged for related crimes. Through a careful examination of Chief Justice David Cameron's, Chief Justice Joseph Needham's, and Judge Augustus Frederik Pemberton's records, discriminatory treatment in the courtroom is revealed. These men, in tandem with the juries, oversaw the first courtrooms in Victoria, BC, from 1860-1873, and they treated Indigenous assailants more harshly than white assailants. Their records reveal that discriminatory practices in Canadian courtrooms date back to their formation.

legal history, Indigenous, Canadian history, criminal justice system, British Columbia, Vancouver Island, courtroom, white privilege, racism, discriminatory practise, colonialism, 19th century