The Canadian Department of Justice, and the Completion of Confederation 1867-78

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Jonathan Swainger, The Canadian Department of Justice, and the Completion of Confederation 1867-78 (Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 2000), viii + 167pp. Cloth. £48.95. ISBN 0-7748-0792-X.

Jonathan Swainger has written an important book which draws to our attention the importance of 1878 as a dividing line in Canadian constitutional history. Goldwin Smith once remarked that it would need the pen of Voltaire to impart a touch of liveliness to the British North America Act. The legal and administrative implications of that text present a considerable challenge to any author, and Swainger is to be congratulated on his treatment. Broadly, he has approached the subject through a series of themes, examining the origins of the Department and the way in which it operated, concentrating on its attitude to the prerogative of mercy, the administration of penitentiaries, and appointments to the Bench. By his choice of 1867 to 1878 as a single period of study, Swainger demonstrates that the Mackenzie government was something more than a disorganised interlude between two periods of Macdonaldian nation-building. Indeed, we see an unbending John A. in these pages, capable of agreeing with a trial judge that a murderess should go to the gallows because she was conducting a relationship with a black man. …