1838 Baptiste Cadien: Métis Interpreter on Trial

In March 1838 a Métis interpreter from the Mackenzie valley fur-trading post of Fort Norman (now Tulita) (see map) was found guilty of murder and condemned “to be taken, &c. and on the sixteenth of March instant he be hanged by the neck until his body be dead”.

Cadien was said to have committed multiple murders in December 1835 at a Sahtu Dene fishing camp at or near what is today the Great Bear Lake community of Déline (formerly Fort Franklin). Crimes of this nature, prior to Canada acquiring this territory in 1870, would normally have been dealt with through traditional Dene laws.

Cadien’s employer, the Hudson’s Bay Company, decided instead to have Cadien tried under British law but the trial was controversial right from the beginning. Cadien’s lawyer argued that the Court of King’s Bench in Three Rivers (Trois-Rivieres), Quebec had no jurisdiction in this case because the alleged crime took place outside of British territory and did not involve British citizens. He further argued that Cadien acted in self-defence and that the key witness for the prosecution was not impartial.

Details of the trial – along with the subsequent appeals, petitions and letters – were printed and published in a booklet titled Case of Baptiste Cadien, for Murder; Tried at Three Rivers, in the March Session 1838.

Cadien’s lawyer was successful in his arguments and the sentence of execution was stayed, though not overturned. Cadien was instead sentenced to what was called “transportation to Australia” to spend the rest of his life in a penal colony down under.

Baptiste Cadien was sent to England to await transportation to Australia and while incarcerated on a filthy and overcrowded prison ship anchored in the Thames River died of an unknown disease.