Coffin affair

Coffin affair

The Coffin affair was an event in Canadian history in which a man named Wilbert Coffin was hanged for the murder of three men. The affair started in June 1953 in Gaspésie when three men from Pennsylvania were reported missing. Their bodies were found a month later deep in the woods sixty kilometres from the nearest town.


Trial and execution

The main suspect in the case was Wilbert Coffin, who was found to have many items belonging to the men in his possession. Coffin was sent to trial in July 1954 and though the evidence against him was mostly circumstantial, he was convicted with one count of murder (as the penal code prohibited multiple convictions of murder in the same trial). On August 5 he was sentenced to hang.

An appeal to the Quebec Court of Queen's Bench was dismissed. Coffin's application for leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada was turned down but the federal Cabinet submitted a reference question to that Court asking: "If the application made by Wilbert Coffin for leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada had been granted on any of the grounds alleged on the said application, what disposition of the appeal would now be made by the court?"[1][2]

The federal government's decision to take the question to the Supreme Court of Canada caused tension with the government of the province of Quebec.[3] The Supreme Court answered that it would have upheld the conviction of Coffin: Reference re Regina v. Coffin, [1956] S.C.R. 191.

Coffin was hanged at Montreal's Bordeaux Prison on February 10, 1956 at 12:01 AM.

But the story did not end with Coffin's death. Jacques Hébert, a reporter during the trial and later a senator, published two books on the matter: Coffin était innocent (1958) and J'accuse les assassins de Coffin (1963). Hébert's 1963 book caused such controversy that the provincial government established a Commission of Inquiry into the case. Headed by judge Roger Brossard with Jules Deschênes as Counsel to the Commission, over 200 witnesses were interviewed. The commission found that Coffin did receive a fair trial.

In 1979, filmmaker Jean-Claude Labrecque made a feature film on the matter entitled L'Affaire Coffin. It was released on September 10, 1980. Other documents inspired by the Coffin case include Dale Boyle's song "The Wilbert Coffin Story" and the Alton Price book, To Build A Noose, which reflects Price's intensive research on the case.

Recent interest and debate

In 2006, 50 years after Coffin's hanging, four generations of his family commemorated his death at his gravesite. That week, the Association in Defence of the Wrongly Convicted announced it was studying the case. The director of client services for the association called Coffin's case "a blot on the criminal justice system."[4]

The coroner at the time, Lionel Rioux, recently told the news media that he believes Coffin was innocent. Rioux accused Maurice Duplessis, premier of Quebec at the time, of making Coffin into a scapegoat for the killings of foreign tourists. Rioux held a coroner's inquest at which Coffin testified. Rioux says that the provincial government destroyed the transcript of Coffin's testimony. Coffin did not testify at his trial. Speaking in 2006, prominent Canadian criminal lawyer Edward Greenspan blamed Coffin's trial lawyer, Raymond Maher, for keeping Coffin out of the witness box: "It was incompetence with a capital I," Greenspan said of Maher. "It's the worst case of lawyering I've ever seen."[4]

At the time Coffin was hanged, he had an 8-year-old son. The child's mother wanted to marry Coffin before the execution, but Duplessis denied permission and said it would not be "decent."[5]

Case closed?

But there is something new in this matter. Numerous Canadians believe that Coffin was the victim of a miscarriage of justice.[citation needed] Last October, in a 384 page book titled L’affaire Coffin: une supercherie (translation: The Coffin Affair: A Hoax?) published by Wilson & Lafleur in Montreal, Clément Fortin, a retired attorney and law professor, proceeded to re-establish the facts. Given the evidence presented to the Percé jurors in 1954, Fortin concluded that they were justified to render a verdict of guilty as charged. In 1964, the Royal Commission of Enquiry on the Coffin Affair reached the same conclusion.

External links


  1. ^ "Volume 21 - 409". Documents on Canadian External Relations. Retrieved 2006-08-24. [dead link]
  2. ^ Reference re Same-Sex Marriage, [2004] 3 S.C.R. 698, 2004 SCC 79, at para. 68
  3. ^ "Volume 21 - 410". Documents on Canadian External Relations. Retrieved 2006-08-26. 
  4. ^ a b Scott, Marian (2006-02-11). "Was the wrong man hanged?". Montreal Gazette. Retrieved 2006-08-24. 
  5. ^ Tyler, Tracey (2006-02-07). "Rough justice in the Gaspé". Toronto Star. Retrieved 2006-08-26. 

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Wilbert Coffin — (October 1915 ndash; February 10, 1956) was a Canadian prospector who was convicted of murder and executed in Canada. Montreal journalist, editor, author and politician Jacques Hebert raised doubt in Coffin s guilt in J accuse les assassins de… …   Wikipedia

  • Adelle Coffin — Infobox Television episode Title=Adele Coffin Series=Nip/Tuck Season=1 Episode=10 Airdate=September 30, 2003 Writer=Dell Chandler Ryan Murphy (teleplay) Dell Chandler (story) Director=Michael M. Robin Guests=Joey Slotnick (Merril Bobolit) Linda… …   Wikipedia

  • Mark Coffin, U.S.S. — 1st edition cover (Doubleday) Mark Coffin U.S.S. is a 1979 political novel by Allen Drury, who was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1960 for his 1959 novel Advise and Consent.[1] …   Wikipedia

  • Noël Dorion — Noël Dorion, PC (July 24, 1904 March 9, 1980) was a law professor, lawyer and Canadian politician. Dorion was called to the bar in 1927, and was the founding president of the Jeune Barreau de Québec in 1934. He was the crown attorney who… …   Wikipedia

  • Micheline Lanctôt — Born May 12, 1947 (1947 05 12) (age 64) Frelighsburg, Canada Occupation Film director Actress Screenwriter Years active 1972 Present …   Wikipedia

  • Jules Deschênes — The Honourable Jules Deschênes CC (June 7, 1923 ndash; May 10, 2000) is a Canadian retired, Quebec Superior Court judge.Born in Montreal, to Wilfrid Deschênes and Berthe Bérard, he completed grade school under the supervision of les Clercs de… …   Wikipedia

  • As I Lay Dying (novel) — For the band, see As I Lay Dying (band). As I Lay Dying   First edition cover …   Wikipedia

  • Fundamentalist–Modernist Controversy — A Fundamentalist cartoon portraying Modernism as the descent from Christianity to atheism, first published in 1922 and then used in Seven Questions in Dispute by William Jennings Bryan. The Fundamentalist–Modernist Controversy was a religious… …   Wikipedia

  • Days of our Lives storylines — This is an overview of major historical storylines from the daytime drama Days of our Lives .1960sThe HortonsWhen the show debuted in 1965, it centered around the Horton family. Dr Tom Horton and his wife Alice had five children: Tom Jr., who had …   Wikipedia

  • Baroness Mary Vetsera — Baroness Marie ( Mary ) Alexandrine von Vetsera Born 19 March 1871(1871 03 19) Died 30 January 1889(1889 01 30) …   Wikipedia

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”