The North-West Mounted Police and frontier justice, 1874-1898

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The historical legacy and office of those commissioned as the sovereign's peacekeepers and judicial officers extend back into the 'darkest ages' of English legal history. Although their functions, powers and designations have evolved over 12 centuries, their essential roles have persisted under a multiplicity of titles. They include the early ealdormen, reeves and shire-reeves, sheriffs, custodians, keepers of the peace, justices of the peace, stipendiary magistrates, magistrates and judges. It was during the 'Age of Discovery' that explorers brought the office of the justice of the peace to the New World. Similar to his English counterpart, the British North American (BNA) justice was a governor in his district, and was the 'eyes, ears, hands and mouth' of the central government at the local level. The whole machinery of government functioned through him. Around Hudson's Bay, chief factors and post governors were also magistrates who facilitated the accretion of English laws into Rupert's Land and the Indian Territories. In 1874, the North-West Mounted Police (NWMP) marched west into the territories of Saskatchewan and Alberta. Under the command and auspices of the first lawyer magistrate, Assistant Commissioner James F. Macleod, commissioned officers inaugurated the first system of law enforcement and judicature in the North West Territories (NWT). By virtue of their commission and statutory enactment, officers were justices of the peace (JP) and the commissioner a stipendiary magistrate (SM). As the first 'professional magistrates' in the Territories, and during the formative period of frontier justice 187 4-98, they exercised their judicial discretion when they heard and determined misdemeanours, summary conviction, felony accusations and indictments in the NWMP courts of first instance. In that capacity their pervasive judicial activities dominated the NWT's judicial records, and consequently they were the precursors of, and laid the foundation for, the modem 'bench and bar.' While historians have belied both the NWT 'peaceable kingdom' and 'violent frontier' hypothesis, a quantitative and qualitative examination of the NWMP judicial reports provides substantive documentary evidence of what Professor R.C. Macleod concluded was 'the most important non-police activities of the force,' their judicial conduct. What is more, police magistrate activities extended well into the twentieth century, and in October 1998 the last of 'police' magistrates and provincial court judges appointed from the ranks of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police retired from the Provincial Court Bench of Alberta. His honour Kenneth James Plomp ended the epic legacy of the 'police magistrate.'
Bibliography: p. 303-321
Martin, R. G. (2005). The North-West Mounted Police and frontier justice, 1874-1898 (Doctoral thesis, University of Calgary, Calgary, Canada). Retrieved from doi:10.11575/PRISM/18193