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Red Deer and the Law, 1900-20

par Jonathan Swainger

|  Page 2  |  

William Earnest Payne, avocat et membre de l'Alberta Provincial Legislature: vecteur de la loi, d'autorité, et de la stabilité économique dans le centre de l'Alberta.Even more problematic for the police was the impression that Red Deer was too small to make crime pay. The fact of Red Deer's geographic location at the crossroads of Alberta subjected the community to all types of travellers and transients, some of whom were criminals and prone to violence. Further, from 1910 to 1912 railway labourers provided a constant threat to communities from Blackfalds to Rocky Mountain House who, in turn, pressed the NWMP to increase their staff to handle outbreaks of drinking and fighting.6 Without question, the clearest demonstration that Red Deer was a difficult community to police can be seen in the fact that police chief George Rothnie was miraculously spared death at the hands of an assailant, thanks only to a misfiring pistol. Rothnie resigned immediately after delivering the failed assassin, John Russell, to jail. Rothnie’s replacement, George Bell, was not so fortunate and was actually gunned down on June 1, 1911. Bell managed to survive Arthur Kelly's attack, and eventually the accused was captured by a band of intrepid boy scouts.7 In light of these realities of policing, combined with incidents of expected preferential treatment, the creation and maintenance of order in and around Red Deer was no easy task.

The next level of the legal system after the police was occupied by justices of the peace (CJP). The commission to act as a JP stipulated neither legal training nor any pressing requirements other than Canadian citizenship or naturalization. Although such a position was often subject to political manipulation, the great majority of JPs in central Alberta nevertheless endeavoured to fulfil their offices credibly. Not surprisingly, it was crucial that those appointed to act as JPs engendered public faith in the system and confidence from the attorney general's office. In Red Deer, this role was ably filled by Joseph T. Wallace, who was a permanent fixture during the first two decades of the century. Although others also held a commission of the peace in and around central Alberta, it was Wallace who, by his actions and presence, signified the stability, responsiveness and accessibility of the administration of justice.8

Russell and Jones Law Office, v. 1910: Dans le coeur du nouveau région financier de Red Deer, à côté de la Merchant's Bank en construction sur la rue Ross, orientée au sud sur le long de l'avenue Gaetz.Not surprisingly, while Wallace exemplified the conscientious JP, there were a number of individuals who badly tarnished both the office and the administration of justice. Although almost every community of any size in central Alberta had an incident concerning the behaviour of a JP, Red Deer's scandal was doubly unfortunate, in that it involved Leonard Crane Fulmer, who was also Red Deer's secretary-treasurer when he was accused of theft and fraudulent misappropriation of funds. The preliminary hearing and investigations encouraged speculation that Fulmer's low bail was in response to community sympathy with the plight of his family. Further, rumour had it that the authorities did not wish to prosecute Fulmer and "... would be rather glad to see him get away with it."9 Fulmer's flight from central Alberta, the reported reluctance of local officials to aid in the prosecution, and the eventual failure to gain his extradition from Seattle, Washington, was one of the darker moments for the administration of justice during those years. Thankfully, episodes as grave as that were rare, and the example set by Joseph Wallace and others exerted much greater influence.

The legal profession was the first level of the administration of justice in which residents were assured of a foundation of legal knowledge. Admittedly, a foundation did not ensure competency but, on the whole, Red Deer was well served by the lawyers who chose to practise there. For most of the years between 1900 and 1920, the legal profession in Red Deer was dominated by three men: George Wellington Greene who arrived in 1891, William Earnest Payne who joined Greene in 1902, and John Carlyle Moore who arrived in August 1904 to assist with the land interests of his father, John T. Moore. As a group, these men exemplified the pioneer lawyer who, through all manner of activity, rises to the stature of community leader. Further, by their actions, both in and out of court, these men worked both consciously and unconsciously to maintain economic stability in central Alberta.10 The second tier of lawyers in Red Deer was occupied by individuals such as Corbet L. Durie, John Quigg, and Arthur Russell. All three men worked, at various times, as agent for the attorney general's office, and thus supervised criminal prosecutions in the district. Although not particularly inspired lawyers, in their role as crown prosecutor they endeavoured to sustain the ideals of justice in what could be, on occasion, a fairly rough-and-tumble community.

George Wellington Greene dans une robe de juge, v. 1915: 'Un air de permanence et de stabilité' parmi les édifices et les entreprises dans le centre de Red Deer.IIt is worth noting, however, that the influence enjoyed by Greene, Payne and Moore was generational. Greene had arrived shortly after the first train on the Calgary-Edmonton line in 1891. His decision to build a two-storey bank and law office in the centre of Red Deer gave his practice, and the community in which it existed, an air of permanence and stability. As Greene's law partner, Payne was able to build upon the foundation which had been laid and soon assumed a significant public profile. Moore, whose family connections were both a help and a hindrance, nevertheless cultivated a fair measure of influence. However, with the outbreak of WWI, and the symbolic turning point provided by Greene's departure for a judicial appointment on the District Court Bench in Medicine Hat, the founding generation came to an end. With Greene in Medicine Hat and Moore serving in Europe, only Payne continued practising in Red Deer. Economic recessions and the political movements they engendered increasingly placed the legal profession in a negative light and, rather than fight the tide, most of the lawyers in Red Deer and central Alberta retreated from public life.11

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