Stiff, Harsh Sentences Back in the Day

Claude McIntosh
Stiff, Harsh Sentences Back in the Day

Stiff, Harsh Sentences Back in the Day

In the 1930s, the justice system operated in a different orbit than today: swift and often harsh, it discriminated against the less fortunate who couldn’t afford legal counsel. There was no legal aid.

It was not unusual for somebody to be arrested one day, tried the next and off the jail before sunset.

The criminal code allowed judges to include Draconian whipping as part of a harsh prison sentence.

At a 1932 convention in Hamilton, Ontario magistrates passed a motion calling on the government to allow “whipping” to be part of a sentence for offenders under the age of 21.

Some examples pulled from the March 1933 local court files:

– A Romanian immigrant convicted in the armed robbery of an elderly Cornwall man – $10 was stolen – was given a 10-year sentence and 20 lashes by Mr. Justice Wright. Court was told the 80-year-old frail victim was abandoned in a rural area and could have died if not for being found hours later by a passer-by.

– A 27-year-old Cornwall Township man convicted of indecent assault of a 13-year-old girl was sentenced to two years and 10 lashes.

– Four hours after they were arrested and charged with stealing 15 chickens from a Glengarry farmer, two Montreal men pleaded guilty in Alexandria court and were sentenced to four years in Kingston Pen. The judge said that in the wake of numerous thefts of chickens in the county, he wanted to use a harsh sentence as a clear message. Farmers, he said, were having a tough time making a living without people stealing their livelihood.

– A 37-year-old Alexandria man charged with failing to support his wife and two children, while keeping the company of a 17-year-old girl, was slapped with a two-year jail sentence.

“I have no sympathy for you,” Judge J. C. Milligan told the man.

On the way out of the court room the man yelled at his wife, sitting at the back of the room, “If I never see you again it will be too soon.”

That feeling might have been mutual.

– A Montreal man convicted of vagrancy (no means of support) and begging on Pitt Street was given a choice by the magistrate: Spend the next two years in the slammer or get out of town within an hour and never return to Cornwall.

“I’m on my way (out of town),” the man told the magistrate. “You won’t see me around here again” as he headed for the court room door.

“Good,” said the magistrate. “If I ever see you back in this court room again, you will get more than two years.”

– Three Cornwall youths – 17, 18 and 19, two of them brothers – were given seven-year prison sentences in Kingston Pen and 20 strokes of the lash – 10 when they arrived and 10 just before release – when found guilty of the armed robbery of a city grocery and three break-ins.

– There is cheating on your wife, and then there is the kind of “cheating” that could land you in jail. So it was with a Morrisburg area farmer who was slapped with a six-month stay in the slammer when found guilty in Cornwall court of bigamy. His 24-year-old “new wife”, who admitted she knew he was married when the two got hitched in Brockville, got off with a suspended sentence. In his legal marriage, he had a son.

– Three strikes and it was off to jail for a city man found guilty of being intoxicated in public for a third time. He got four months in the counties slammer.

– Convicted for an eighth time, a city man was given three months in the local jail and fined $500. Unable to pay the fine, his sentence was extended to 12 months.

Bootlegging was common and the sentences stiff by today’s standards.

– An east Cornwall bootlegger received a six-month sentence – it was his fourth offence. When he told the judge he couldn’t pay the $15 fine (apparently business wasn’t all that good), he got an extra 15 days.

– When the RCMP raided the home of a Bonville resident, they found an illegal stash of 19 quarts of beer and 100 ounces of liquor. He entered a guilty plea and was sentenced to six months in Guelph Reformatory. His lawyer, Lionel Chevrier, future MP and cabinet minister, asked for a lenient sentence because his client had a heart condition.

– Even with the threat of an additional three months for possession of a quart of illegal booze, a city man stuck to his story that he found it in Central Park. He had just received a three-month sentence. When the judge threatened to add three months to the sentence if he didn’t tell the court where he bought it, the man stuck to his story. The judge decided not to add the extra time.

– A 16-year-old Cornwall teen was sent to jail for three years when he pleaded guilty to stealing money from the Nativity Church poor box and breaking into two homes. Court was told that just prior to his arrest, he had been released from reformatory where he served two years for theft. Court was told that the young man showed no remorse.

– For stealing $3 from a Second Street West service station and hitting owner George Myers, a 22-year-old man was given 15 months in jail.

TRIVIA – Only one of these former prime ministers had a law degree: 1) Joe Clark, 2) Kim Campbell, 3) John A. Macdonald, 4) Stephen Harper, 5) Robert Borden.

TRIVIA ANSWER Ron Joyce was a Hamilton police officer when he invested in a struggling Tim Hortons coffee/doughnut shop in 1964.

QUOTED – “If your objective is to be popular, you’re going to be popular but you will be known as the prime minister who achieved nothing.” – Brian Mulroney.

ONE LAST THINGBruce McNall, once owner of the Los Angeles Kings who brought Wayne Gretzky to California, holds a dubious NHL milestone. In 1997 he was sent to jail for five years for swindling investors and banks out of $250 million. It is the longest prison sentence for an NHL owner.

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