Questions submitted and proposed to Messrs Powell, Adhemar and de Lisle by the Baron Maseres with the answers of these Messrs, given in their meeting on March 13, 1784

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Baron Francis Maseres, Attorney General of Quebec, from 1766 to 1769

Questions submitted and proposed,

at the end of February last,
to Messrs Powell, Adhemar and de Lisle, deputies of the Province of Quebec,
by the Baron Maseres,
General Agent of the said province,
with the answers of these Messrs,
given in their meeting,

on March 13, 1784.

Would it please the Canadiens that the English law of Habeas Corpus be solemnly introduced, by an Act of Parliament, in Canada; so that the power to put men in prison, be exerted only by written orders signed by the magistrate who gives them, and in which would be expressed the cause of the imprisonment; and that the judges of the province be given the right to examine the causes expressed in these orders, and, if they were not legitimate grounds to imprison a man according to existing laws of the province, to liberate the people, wrongfully held captive, in their prisons, either without any condition, and with or without bail, according to whether the laws would require it; and that all this procedure be application as much for the people who would be imprisoned by the order of the governor, or the King himself, as for those who would be imprisoned by any other person?

Secondly, -- Would it please the Canadiens that be restored, in the courts of justice of the province, the right to have jurors decide the facts that would be disputed between the litigating parties in civil matters, if the parties, or one of them required it, as it was in the province from September 1764, up until May first, 1775, when the Act of the Parliament of the year 1774, for the establishment of the government of this province, began to take force? -- And, if jurors were restored in civil matters, would be it please the Canadiens, that while giving their reports, or verdicts, on the matters submitted to their decision, one required that they be, all twelve, unanimous, or rather than they claim to be so; or would it be more pleasant to the Canadiens than the decision of nine jurors, who would agree, out of the twelve, be considered sufficient to decide the matter in question according to their feeling, in spite of the opposition of the others three jurors? -- And, moreover, would it be pleasant to the Canadiens that jurors be paid by the litigating parties, or by the party which would require it, a moderate sum, like one Spanish piastre each, or half a piastre, to reward them for the time and attention which they would be obliged to give to these decisions?

Thirdly, -- Would it please the Canadiens, that, in order to have the members of the legislative Council of the province act with more liberty and zeal for the good of the province, and to make them more respectable to the eyes of the other inhabitants of the province, it be ordered in the least ambiguous and most solemn way, by an act of the Parliament, that the governor does not have the power to dismiss any member of that council from his office of adviser, or even to suspend any member for a time, however short it may be, without the assent of four fifth of the members of the council, i.e. if they were twenty advisers, then sixteen among these twenties; and, in all cases, if the advisers were less than the number of fifteen, without the assent of at least twelve advisers; which assent from the advisers who would join the governor in suspending one of their fellow-members, would be signed of their hand on the registers of the council, and also on another copy that would be given to the suspended person. Always provided that the King Himself preserved the power to dismiss such adviser that he would like, when it would seem good to Him, or by an act made in His private council, or by an order signed by His hand, and contresigned by the Secretary of State.

Fourthly, -- Would it please the Canadiens, that, to render the judges of the province more courageous in administering justice with impartiality, it be ordered by an act of Parliament, that none of them be removable of his office of judge by the governor of the province, under whatever pretext it may be; and also that the governor should not have the power to suspend any one of them for more than a year, nor for this amount time, or any amount time, whatever short it may be, without the assent of at least twelve members of the legislative council of the province, signed by their hands on the registers of the council, and also on another copy which would be given to the suspended judge: Always provided that the King Himself keep the power to dismiss any judge He would like, when it would seem good to Him, or by an act made in His private council, or by an order signed by His hand, and contresigned by the Secretary of State.

Fifthly, -- Would it please the Canadiens, that it be declared by an act of Parliament,that the governor of the province could never imprison any person in the province, whatever the cause; not even for the most atrocious and most attested crimes: but what the duty to imprison the people who would have offended the laws, and would deserve to be put in prison, belonged only to the criminal judges, and to the police chiefs of peace, or in general to the magistrates of criminal justice? -- This law takes place in England; because the king of England does not have the right to imprison any person in England by his own order, for some crime that it is; not even for the crime of lese-majesty, or rebellion, which would be attested on oath by ten eyewitnesses, or for an assassination which would be attested in the same way: but, if one gave him information of such crimes, it would be obliged to return the business to its judge as a chief of the Bench of the King, (which is the large court of criminal justice in England) or to some Justice of the Peace, or some other magistrate of criminal justice; who, after information necessary, would send the person shown in prison, so that him his lawsuit was made, in times and places suitable and legitimate, and, if it were convinced there by a body of sworn, that it afterwards was punished, or by death, or such other punishment which the law would have attached to its crime. By this happy impotence, where the law of England puts the king, to imprison anyone, for anything, by its own order, it avoids two great disadvantages; to know, firstly, despotism, or absolute capacity to remove freedom on the subjects of the crown without cause, and with the simple liking of the king; and, in the second place, the personal disgrace of the king, who would result from the cassation of his kinds, like illegal and insufficient, by lower magistrates: because, if the king could give orders to imprison his subjects, one would need of two things one; or the order would validate in all cases, and would not be breakable by the authority of any other person; or it would not be valid in all cases, but only if the king would have given it for a legitimate ground, and on sufficient information; and in this last assumption, it would be necessary that some lower magistrate had the right to examine whether the ground were legitimate or not, and if information were sufficient or not, and to break the order of the king if the ground were not to be legitimate, or information not to be not sufficient. In the first assumption, the king would be the absolute Master of the freedom of all his subjects; and in the second, the personal character of the king for justice and wisdom could suffer from disgrace, by the cassation of the orders which it itself would have given and signed: what would be also a great evil for the kingdom, as well as for the king, though less than the horrible despotism which would result from the first assumption. To avoid these disadvantages, the king never puts any person in prison by his own order; and it seems that it would be reasonable to declare by an act of the Parliament, that the governor of the province of Quebec will not be able pareillement to make imprison any person in this province by his own order.

Cinquièmement, -- Serait-il agréable aux Canadiens, qu'il fût déclaré par un acte du parlement, que le gouverneur de la province ne pût jamais emprisonner aucune personne dans la province, pour quelque cause que ce fût; pas même pour les crimes les plus atroces et les mieux attestés: mais que le devoir d'emprisonner les personnes qui auraient offensé les lois, et mériteraient d'être mises en prison, n'appartînt qu'aux juges criminels, et aux commissaires de paix, ou en général aux magistrats de la justice criminelle? -- Cette loi a lieu en Angleterre; car le roi d'Angleterre n'a pas le droit d'emprisonner aucune personne en Angleterre par son propre ordre, pour quelque crime que ce soit; pas même pour le crime de lèse-majesté, ou de rébellion, qui serait attesté sur serment par dix témoins oculaires, ou pour un assassinat qui serait attesté de même: mais, si on lui donnait des informations de tels crimes, il serait obligé de renvoyer l'affaire à son juge en chef du Banc du Roi, (qui est le grand tribunal de la justice criminelle en Angleterre) ou à quelque juge de paix, ou à quelque autre magistrat de la justice criminelle; qui, après les informations nécessaires, enverrait la personne accusée en prison, afin qu'on lui fît son procès, en temps et lieux convenables et légitimes, et, s'il y était convaincu par un corps de jurés, qu'on le punît après, ou par la mort, ou par tel autre châtiment que la loi aurait attaché à son crime. Par cette heureuse impuissance, où la loi d'Angleterre met le roi, d'emprisonner qui que ce soit, pour quoi que ce soit, par son propre ordre, elle évite deux grands inconvénients; savoir, premièrement, le despotisme, ou le pouvoir absolu d'ôter la liberté aux sujets de la couronne sans cause, et au simple gré du roi; et, secondement, la disgrâce personnelle du roi, qui résulterait de la cassation de ses ordres, comme illégaux et insuffisants, par des magistrats inférieurs: car, si le roi pouvait donner des ordres pour emprisonner ses sujets, il faudrait de deux choses l'une; ou bien l'ordre validerait en tous cas, et ne serait point cassable par l'autorité d'aucune autre personne; ou il ne serait point valide en tous cas, mais seulement dans le cas où le roi l'aurait donné pour une cause légitime, et sur des informations suffisantes; et dans cette dernière supposition, il faudrait que quelque magistrat inférieur eût le droit d'examiner si la cause était légitime ou non, et si les informations étaient suffisantes ou non, et de casser l'ordre du roi si la cause ne se trouvait pas être légitime, ou les informations n'être point suffisantes. Dans la première supposition, le roi serait le maître absolu de la liberté de tous ses sujets; et dans la seconde, le caractère personnel du roi pour la justice et la sagesse pourrait souffrir de disgrâce, par la cassation des ordres qu'il aurait lui-même donnés et signés: ce qui serait aussi un grand mal pour le royaume, aussi bien que pour le roi, quoique moindre que le despotisme horrible qui résulterait de la première supposition. Pour éviter ces inconvénients, le roi ne met jamais aucune personne en prison par son propre ordre; et il semble qu'il serait raisonnable de déclarer par un acte du parlement, que le gouverneur de la province de Québec ne pourra pareillement faire emprisonner aucune personne en cette province par son propre ordre.

On demande à Messieurs [Powell], Adhemar et de Lisle, les députés Canadiens, leurs sentiments sur ce sujet, et les sentiments de leur constituants.

Ces cinq articles, si importants à la félicité et au salut de la colonie, furent débattus avec toute la maturité et le sens froid d'une politique éclairée. Messieurs les députés, guidés par leurs lumières et les sentiments vifs de leur patriotisme, les appuyèrent de leurs suffrages unanimes: en leur nom privé et dans leurs individualités respectives, ils allèrent même jusqu'à manifester le plus sincère désir de l'institution d'une Chambre d'assemblée, formée sur un plan général, seule mesure qu'ils reconnurent devoir placer l'administration heureuse du Canada sur une base fixe et respectable. J'étais présent à ces arrêtés: je goûtai une sensible consolation, de les communiquer à tous mes compatriotes par 36 exemplaires de ces cinq articles, que je leur dépêchai par les premiers vaisseaux: par les titres les plus intéressants, ils ne peuvent, sans doute, que les confirmer.

M. Masères, en proposant ces cinq articles, pourvoyait au plus pressé, c'est-à-dire à l'absolu nécessaire; eu égard au peu de concert qui régnait dans la province, il ne voyait pas jour à amplifier, avec espérance de succès, les objets des demandes présentes: mais si le patriotisme et la voix des intérêts communs venaient jamais à ramener tous les esprits à l'unité de sentiment, (révolution heureuse, que j'ose aujourd'hui me promettre du Canada) j'avance hardiment, que la félicité de la province exigerait au moins l'addition des trois articles suivants:

  1. La représentation du Canada par la nomination de six membres, d'après le plan tracé dans ma Lettre à Messieurs les Canadiens.
  2. La soustraction à l'autorité du gouverneur, du pouvoir de casser, ou même de suspendre les avocats, les procureurs, les notaires, et autres gens de loi, que sur les mêmes clauses stipulées pour le juge en chef.
  3. La décision des corvées remise au jugement du corps législatif, et enlevée au gouverneur, qui par là serait privé des moyens de molester les pauvres agriculteurs, par des injonctions déplacées et arbitraires.

Notes et commentaires

Questions remises et proposées, vers la fin de février dernier, à Messieurs Powell, Adhemar et de Lisle, députés de la Province de Québec, par le Baron Masères, agent général de cette province, avec les réponses de ces Messieurs, données dans leur assemblée le 13 mars 1784. excerpted from Appel à la justice de l'État, a the collection of letters by Pierre du Calvet.