Justice records cover topics such as criminal, court and other legal matters. The administration of justice in Canada falls under municipal, provincial/territorial or federal jurisdiction, depending on the case.
Individuals convicted of crimes are incarcerated in municipal or provincial jails, or in federal penitentiaries. In order to undertake a search for relevant records, you must know the nature of the crime and the place and period of incarceration so that you can contact the appropriate government office. Also note that many early court and criminal records may not have been retained, especially as many incarcerations were for what would now be considered minor infractions.
Research at Library and Archives Canada
Library and Archives Canada holds records relating to inmates of federal penitentiaries, as well as some pre-1867 criminal and court records.
Lower Canada and Canada East: Civil Secretary (RG 4 B21)
Gaol calendars and prison returns by district, 1765, 1800-1867, 14 volumes, not available on microfilm.
Quebec, Lower Canada and Canada: Provincial Secretary and Registrar (RG 4 B20)
Applications for pardon or clemency, 1767-1857, 32 volumes, not available on microfilm.
Quebec, Lower Canada and Canada East: Civil Secretary (RG 4 B16)
Court records, 1762-1867, 37 volumes, not available on microfilm.
Lower Canada and Canada East: Police Records (RG 4 B14)
Police records, 1836-1843, including registers of prisoners in Montreal and some rural areas, 68 volumes, not available on microfilm.
Upper Canada and Canada West: Civil and Provincial Secretaries (RG 5 B27)
Gaol calendars and prison returns by district, 1823-1847, 4 volumes, not available on microfilm.
Registrar General: Warrants and Pardons (RG 68)
Various records relating to warrants for the removal of prisoners and some pardons, 1818-1953. Most of the records are available on microfilm. Consult the ARCHIVED - Government of Canada Files database. Select Detailed Search.
Keywords: "prisoners," "warrants," "pardons"
Finding Aid: 68-2
North West Mounted Police (RG 18)
Most of these records relate to the western provinces and territories. They include crime reports, 1880-1938, and court cases and legal papers, 1883-1919. Some records are on microfilm. Researchers must consult Finding Aids 18-2, 18-12 and 18-13 onsite to identify specific volumes of interest.
Capital Case Files (RG 13 B1)
Case files on most of the individuals convicted of capital murder from 1867 to 1976. Files may include correspondence, medical reports, summaries and transcripts of the trial proceedings, petitions and newspaper clippings (Finding Aid 13-39) [PDF 1,018KB]. The records must be consulted onsite.
Inmate Case Files, 1886-1966 (RG 73 C3)
Only a small sample selection of case files for inmates of federal penitentiaries are retained by Correctional Service Canada and transferred to Library and Archives Canada. The indexes/Finding Aids and the corresponding files are restricted under the provisions of privacy legislation. To inquire about the records, you must contact our Access to Information and Privacy Division, with specific details, such as full name, name of the penitentiary and approximate years of incarceration. You must also include documentation that proves the individual has been deceased over 20 years, such as a death record or obituary, unless the individual was born over 110 years ago.
Operational Records of the Penitentiary Branch, 1834-1962 (RG 13 D1)
Files on escapes, transfers, convictions and sentences of prisoners at federal institutions. Consult the ARCHIVED - Government of Canada Files database. Select Detailed Search.
Finding Aid: 13-18
Kingston Penitentiary, Kingston, Ontario
Kingston Penitentiary opened in Portsmouth, Kingston Township, Frontenac County, on 1 June 1835 as the Provincial Penitentiary for Upper Canada. This institution was designed for the incarceration of prisoners of both Upper Canada (Canada West) and Lower Canada (Canada East). In 1867, the government of Canada became responsible for the maintenance and management of the Provincial Penitentiary at Kingston. The penitentiary received offenders sentenced to terms of more than two years from Ontario and Quebec and came under the jurisdiction of the Department of Justice.
The following records are available:
Stony Mountain Penitentiary, Stony Mountain, Manitoba
The Manitoba Penitentiary and Asylum was founded as a provincial institution in 1871 at Lower Fort Garry, in the Rural Municipality of St. Andrews. It was taken over by the federal government in 1874 and closed in 1877. In January 1877 the federal penitentiary was opened at Stony Mountain, north of Winnipeg, in the Rural Municipality of Rockwood. It also served as a lunatic asylum until 1885. A new provincial asylum opened in Selkirk in 1886.
The following records are available:
Other Penitentiary Records
Library and Archives Canada holds some convicts registers for St. Vincent de Paul Institution in Laval, Quebec, starting in the 1860s; however, as the registers also include more recent entries, access is restricted. More recent records for federal penitentiaries are also restricted.
The indexes/Finding Aids and the corresponding records are restricted under the provisions of privacy legislation. You must contact our Access to Information and Privacy Division, with specific details, such as full name, name of the penitentiary and approximate years of incarceration. See: Records of the Government of Canada. You must also include documentation that proves the individual has been deceased over 20 years, such as a death record or obituary, unless the individual was born over 110 years ago.
The Web site of Correctional Service Canada provides brief institution profiles [www.csc-scc.gc.ca/text/region/institutional_profiles_e.shtml] on federal penitentiaries.
Research in Published Sources
Some lists of federal prisoners/convicts were included in the annual reports of the Department of Justice. Those annual reports were published in the Sessional Papers. Copies are available at Library and Archives Canada and in many university libraries and larger public libraries.
Research in Provincial Sources
Older court and criminal records are in the custody of provincial and territorial archives. More recent records are still held by the courts.
Newfoundland and Labrador
Prince Edward Island
From 1608 to 1663, private companies were governing New France. Those companies had to make laws and sentence people. However, no justice records for that period are known to exist.
After 1663, New France became a royal colony and justice courts were created.
After 1760, common law is introduced in the province of Quebec but the French civil law is still in force. New justice courts are created. The Quebec justice records are held at the Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec [www.banq.qc.ca]. In order to check the extent of the records, consult the Pistard database which describes the different fonds. Many indexes by name are available on microfiches.
Archiv-Histo [http://pages.infinit.net/pbenoit/chronica.htm] has prepared many inventories and indexes for Quebec court records, which is available on CD-ROM, and grouped in the Thémis and Chronica Collections.
The Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec also holds the guardianship records and the coroners' reports. To see the extent of those two series of records, consult the Pistard database. Other databases for justice records are available on their Web site.
Addresses of Courthouses and Judicial Service Centres [www.justice.gouv.qc.ca/english/joindre/palais/palais-a.ht]