Part of the Department of History's 2014-2015 lecture series, This Just In: History and the Headlines.

Wilbert Coffin’s name became well known across Canada and the United States even before his execution in 1958 for the murder of three American hunters in the backwoods of the Gaspé Peninsula. Although the crown’s evidence was entirely circumstantial, and the defense attorneys had not allowed Coffin to testify in his own defense, repeated requests for a judicial appeal failed and the Canadian government refused to commute his sentence to life imprisonment. The case became a cause célèbre again in 1963 when journalist Jacques Hébert published a book suggesting a parallel with France’s Dreyfus case. Hébert was targeting the Duplessis regime, which had ended four years earlier, but he was subsequently charged with contempt of court by the Solicitor-General of the Lesage government. And, despite the defence provided by his lawyer and close friend Pierre-Elliott Trudeau, Hébert was sentenced to a fine as well as imprisonment. My presentation will focus less on the controversial question of whether or not Coffin was guilty, which was brought before the Canadian Justice Department’s Criminal Conviction Review Group in 2006, than on the light that the protracted affair sheds on Quebec politics and society before and during that province’s Quiet Revolution.

This is a free event and is open to the general public. Reserve your spot using the form below.


Jack Little is a specialist in the history of 19th century rural society in the Eastern Townships. A prolific author, Dr. Little has published nine books on various aspects of Canadian history.

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Thu, 23 Apr 2015 5:30 PM

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