Dalhousie Law Journal


Nova Scotia, repression, criminal law, libel, criticism, Sedition Act, courts, legal history


Given its primacy and exceptionality in the Nova Scotian context, Wilkie both exemplifies the judiciary's role in official repression, and instantiates the importance of what Wright calls "the ideological mechanisms of the criminal law" in prescribing the outer limits of legitimate political discourse. This paper examines the first known use by the government of Nova Scotia of the eighteenth-century, judicially-invented misdemeanour of seditious libel in order to silence and punish criticism of the ruling eite. As Nova Scotia had neither indigenous caselaw, nor statutory legislation to supplement and reinforce the common law offence-Upper Canada's SeditionAct (1804) was still in full vigour, despite unsuccessful attempts having been made to repeal it-the powers that were in Halifax had to exploit to the full existing English case-law. To paraphrase Wright's summary, the sedition case of Wilkie illustrates "the repressive uses of criminal law as well as the possibilities and limits of counter-hegemonic struggles in the criminal courts. [It underlines] the importance of the criminal law as a repressive social ordering mechanism." Resorting in the first instance to criminal law was intended not only to undermine, but also to 'delegitimize' public criticism of official actions and institutions.