User:Mr Serjeant Buzfuz/Joseph Doutre

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Joseph Doutre, Q.C. (11 March, 1825 – 3 February, 1886) was a Canadian writer, journalist, politician and lawyer. A director of the Institut canadien de Montréal, a liberal association, he led a long anti-clerical struggle against the influence of the Roman Catholic Church in the Province of Quebec, particularly Ignace Bourget, Bishop of Montreal. Towards the end of his life, he felt that his cause was lost. However, Doutre's views on the role of the church in Quebec were ultimately vindicated in the Quiet Revolution a century later.

Early Life, Education and Family[edit]

Doutre was a native of the town of Beauharnois. His father was a shoemaker and a sacristan of the local Roman Catholic church, St. Clément.[1] He attended parochial school and then the Petit Séminaire de Montréal (now the Collège de Montréal), run by the Sulpician Order. While at the Petit Séminaire, he studied under Fr. Joseph-Alexandre Baile. He also associated with fellow-students Magloire Lanctôt and Rodolphe Laflamme. In 1843, after completing his studies at the Petit Séminaire, he began to study law under Norbert Dumas, Augustin-Norbert Morin, and Lewis Thomas Drummond. He was called to the Bar of Lower Canada in 1847.

In 1858, Doutre married Angéline Varin. The marriage was short, as she died the following year. He later married Harriet Green, a native of Vermont, and they had six children, three boys and three girls. His eldest son followed him into the legal profession.

Two of Doutre's younger brothers, Jean-Baptiste and Gonzalve, were also lawyers. Like Joseph, Gonzalve Doutre was very active in the profession and in the affairs of the Institut canadien.[2]

Literary Works and Journalism[edit]

In 1844, at the age of 18, Doutre wrote a romantic novel, Les Fiancés de 1812, which attacked religious intolerance.[3][4] The novel was heavily influenced by the French author Eugène Sue. In addition to trying to adapt Sue's writings to Canadian fiction, Les Fiancés de 1812 was also noted for its preface, which attacked contemprorary Canadians for their indifference to Canadian literature. The novel is valued for for the author's commentary on contemporary society, and its rejection of ideologies of the day.[5] The church condemned the novel as immoral. Nevertheless, two years later, Doutre wrote “Le frère et la sœur,” a short story of an incestuous relationship that was inspired by Chateaubriand’s René.

In addition to being called to the bar, Doutre also worked as a journalist, contributing articles for Le Ménestrel, L'Aurore des Canadas, Les Mélanges religieux and L'Avenir.

Membership in the Institut canadien de Montréal[edit]

In light of his literary interests and political views, the Institut canadien de Montréal had a natural appeal for Doutre. The Institut was founded in 1844 by young men of liberal views as a literary and scientific institution, for the purposes of providing a library, reading-room, and other educational purposes, not linked to the educational organs of the Roman Catholic Church, which had a near-monoply on education in Quebec at that time. Many members of the Institut were supporters of the Parti Rouge, which emerged from the Parti patriote and the liberal wing of the Reform movement. Although he was not one of the founders of the Institut canadien, Doutre joined the group and soon became one of its acknowledged leaders. On the sixth aniversay of the founding of the Institut, Doutre gave a speech outlining its purposes. In his view, the Institut's strength was that it was open to all, without distinction of class or background; its members included young men from the technical trades as well as from the liberal professions. The Institut provided opportunities to learn of “the prospect of human greatness and of the honours attaching to high rank in public life."[1]

In November, 1852, Doutre was elected president of the Institut. During his term as president, the Institut was incorporated by an Act of the Parliament of the Province of Canada.[6] At the time of incorporation, the Institut had over 500 members, a library of over 2000 volumes, and a reading-room with newspapers and periodical publications.[7] In 1854, the Institut acquired a large building on Rue Notre-Dame and appeared to be on a solid footing for the future.[1]

Political Activism[edit]

Political Positions[edit]

In July, 1847, Doutre was one of the group of thirteen young men who began contributing pieces to the newspaper L'Avenir. Originally a supporter of the Reform party, Doutre and his fellow contributers boasted that they helped elect Louis-Hippolyte La Fontaine as the first elected Premier of the Province of Canada. Shortly afterwards, however, the group began to support Louis-Joseph Papineau, the radical leader from the 1837 rebellion who was now attacking the merger of Upper and Lower Canada into the single Province of Canada. In August, 1848, L'Avenir published a satirical piece, "La tuque bleue", which suggested that George-Étienne Cartier, a leading member of the Parti bleu, had run away from the battle of St. Charles in 1837. Cartier believed that the article libelled him and went to the offices of L'Avenir, where he berated Daoust, the presumed author of the article. In spite of Daoust's authorship, the upshot was that Cartier challenged Doutre to a duel. They agreed to fight with pistols on the slopes of Mount Royal, but were forced to move the site of the duel to Chambly when the police arrived unexpectedly. Neither man was injured in the duel.[1][8]

When L'Avenir began to agitate for the suppression of tithes and the annexation of Canada to the United States, Doutre was quickly suspected by the authorities of fueling revolutionary tendencies. Doutre in turn believed that there was a secret agreement between the Governor-General, Lord Elgin, and Bishop Bourget to silence the annexationist movement. Doutre's writings at this time were marked by increasing, unprecedented anticlerical rage and show his frustration at the rejection of his idealistic projects. By 1850, he had adopted the principle of the separation of church and state, with the exclusion of the church from secular politics.[1]

In 1849, Doutre began to agitate for the abolition of seigneurial tenure. The seigneurial system of land-holding dated back to the early days of New France. It was a semi-feudal system of land-holding, where the seigneur held the land and granted plots to the use of individual tenants, termed "habitants" or "censitaires."[9] Doutre's advocacy for abolition brought him into conflict with Louis-Joseph Papineau, who although a radical reformer, was also a seigneur. The seigneurial system was abolished in 1854 by an act of the Province of Canada, which allowed the censitaires to claim the land.

Doutre also continued to press for educational reforms. At that time, most schools and other educational institutions in Quebec were under the control of the Roman Catholic church. He argued repeatedly for a non-denominational school system, but recognised that there was general support for the existing arrangements. Nonetheless, in a speech at a public banquet in February, 1858 in honour of Daoust, Doutre made clear that he favoured a non-denominational school system.[10] He repeated his position in a letter to Le Pays the same month, making it clear that he thought the school system had to be taken out of the hands of the church. He repeated this point in a private letter to George Brown, written about the same time, stating that he thought eventually there would be a non-denominatioal system in Quebec, similar to what Brown was arguing for in Ontario.[1]

In addition to his concerns for the school system, Doutre also argued for greater technical and business education facilities. In 1854, speaking at the Institut upon the death of Édouard-Raymond Fabre, a founder of the Liberal newspaper Le Pays, Doutre praised Fabre for acquiring a businessman's training on his own initiative, and commented: “Even today, the necessity for an education derived from sources other than Greek or Latin authors is barely appreciated."[1]

Electoral Attempts[edit]

In 1856, Doutre stood for election to the Legislative Council of the Province of Canada in Salaberry, but was defeated by Louis Renaud. In 1863, he was a candidate for the Legislative Assembly, but was again defeated, this time by Alfred Pinsonneault. He never again sought election to the Assembly, but he hated and blamed the clergy for his unfortunate electoral fate.

Legal Career[edit]

Exasperated by his electoral defeats, which he attributed to the influence of the Church, Doutre threw himself into his legal practice and became a leader of the bar. He was appointed Queen's Counsel by the short-lived Brown-Dorion administration, and served frequently on the council of the Bar of Lower Canada as well as its library committee. From 1864 to 1866 he acted as an examiner for the Bar.[1] In 1867, he was elected Bâtonnier of the Barreau of Montreal and served a one-year term. Some of his partners included Joseph Lenoir, his brother-in-law Charles Daoust, his brothers Gonzalve and Jean-Baptiste, his cousin Raoul Dandurand, and Médéric Lanctot. A young Wilfrid Laurier trained under his direction.

Doutre contributed to a large number of legal publications. He was a corresponding member for the Société de Législation Comparée of Paris from 1872. He also contributed regularly to the Lower Canada Jurist and the Legal News in Montreal. In 1880, his treatise on Canadian constitutional law was published. [11]

In 1857, Doutre acted as advocate for groups of censitaires who were able to claim the land they farmed when the seigneurial system was abolished.[10] In 1877, he was retained by the Government of Canada to act on behalf of the Canadian and British governments before the Halifax Fisheries Commission, established under the Treaty of Washington, 1871. However, his best known case was undoubtedly the Guibord case, caused by conflict with the Catholic Church over the burial place for Joseph Guibord, a member of the Institut canadien. Doutre was ultimately successful on an appeal to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, at that time the highest court in the British Empire.

In an odd twist of fate, Doutre later became a litigant before the Judicial Committee, in a lawsuit with the federal government over his fees for his counsel work before the Halifax Fisheries Commission. Doutre was successful in his action.[12]

Appearances in the Supreme Court and Judicial Committee[edit]

Doutre had an extensive litigation practice, which resulted in him making several appearances before the Supreme Court of Canada and the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, at that time the final court of appeal for the British Empire.

Supreme Court[edit]

Doutre appeared as counsel ## times in the Supreme Court:

  • Abrahams v. The Queen (1881), 6 S.C.R. 10.
  • Vézina v. New York Life Insurance Co. (1881), 6 S.C.R. 30.
  • Shaw v. St. Louis (1883), 8 S.C.R. 385.
  • Genereux v. Cuthbert (1884), 9 S.C.R. 102.
  • Grange v. McLennan (1883), 9 S.C.R. 385.
  • Harrington v. Corse (1883), 9 S.C.R. 412.
  • Liggett v. Treacey (1884), 9 S.C.R. 441.
  • Lionais v. Molsons Bank (1883), 10 S.C.R. 526.
  • Sulte v. Three Rivers (Municipality) (1883), 11 S.C.R. 25.
  • Cie de villas du cap Gibraltar v. Hughes (1884), 11 S.C.R. 537.
  • Burland v. Moffatt (1885), 11 S.C.R. 76.
  • City of Montreal v. Hall (1885) 12 S.C.R. 74

Judicial Committee[edit]

Doutre appeared as counsel ## times in the Judicial Committee:

  • Brown v. Les Curé et Marguilliers de l'Œuvre et de la Fabrique de la Paroisse de Montréal, (1874), LR 6 PC 157, [1874] UKPC 70] (PC).

Conflict with the Church[edit]

In 1858, the tensions between the Institut and the Church came into the open, in a dispute over the books in the Institut's library. The dispute resulted in excommunications, a five-year legal dispute over the burial of a deceased member of the Institut, and ultimately the decline of the Institut.

Bishop Bourget, who had read the encyclical Mirari Your of Gregory XVI , was indignant against the advances of Joseph Doutre and reproached him for his contempt for the Catholic religion.

Doutre claimed to meet all the young people in Canadian society under the banner of progressivism. He was shocked when Louis Proulx, Elzéar-Alexandre Taschereau, Jean Langevin and Joseph-Édouard Cauchon became a member of the Institute and forced to temporarily cease its attacks in the newspapers. Disillusioned, he later defended the existence of a conservative clerical conspiracy to hide the truth for French Canadians.

In 1852 , he noted that some members leaving the Institute in favor of a rival association funded by the diocese of Montreal.

With Charles Daoust , he frequently criticized in the pastoral letters of the Bishop of Montreal. As a result, the Institute lost 138 members and is soon to compete with the French-Canadian Institute .

The Guibord Case[edit]

had taken an active part in the Guibord case , which excited the Canadian public for nearly two decades, from 1858 to 1875 . Joseph Guibord was finally buried in 1875 , Doutre congratulated himself on the gain obtained late.

Later Life and Death[edit]

Mount Royal Cemetery gate

Feeling old, he noted in 1880 that almost all former Liberal friends had embraced the faith of the Catholic Church. Always driven by a radical atheist, he again refused to renew the faith of his youth. In recent confessions he gave to Honoré Mercier , however, he admitted a little conciliation would have been useful in his life. He died in Montreal on February 3 1886 and was buried in the main Protestant cemetery of the city.[13]


Doutre, Plaidoyer pour Guibord (re-printed 2008).

Doutre, Constitution of Canada: the British North America Act, 1867, its interpretation, gathered from the decisions of courts, the dicta of judges and the opinions of statesmen and others; to which is added the Quebec Resolutions of 1864, and the constitution of the United States (Monteal: John Lovell & Son, 1880).


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h Philippe Sylvain, "Doutre, Joseph", Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online.
  2. ^ Jean-Roch Rioux, "Doutre, Gonzalve", Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online.
  3. ^ Laurentiana: Les Fiancés de 1812
  4. ^ Joseph Doutre, Les Fiancés de 1812 – Essai de Litterature Canadienne (Montreal: Louis Perrault, 1844).
  5. ^ E.D. Blodgett, "Joseph Doutre", in The Canadian Encyclopedia.
  6. ^ Statutes of the Province of Canada, 16 Vict., c. 261.
  7. ^ Brown v. Les Curé et Marguilliers de l'Œuvre et de la Fabrique de la Paroisse de Montréal (1874), L.R. 6 P.C. 157, [1874] UKPC 70 (P.C.), at p. 193 (L.R.), p. 3 (UKPC).
  8. ^ Philippe Sylvain, "Daoust (D’Aoust), Charles", Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online.
  9. ^ Jacques Mathieu, "Seigneurial System," Canadian Encyclopedia.
  10. ^ a b "Doutre, Joseph" Les Patriotes de 1837
  11. ^ Constitution of Canada: the British North America Act, 1867, its interpretation, gathered from the decisions of courts, the dicta of judges and the opinions of statesmen and others; to which is added the Quebec Resolutions of 1864, and the constitution of the United States.
  12. ^ The Queen v. Doutre, [1884] UKPC 34 (P.C.).
  13. ^ "Recalling the Guibord Case - Funeral of Joseph Doutre, Guibord's Leading Counsel", New York Times, February 7, 1886.

External links[edit]

Category:French Quebecers Category:Canadian writers in French Category:Lawyers in Quebec Category:Canadian legal scholars