Jones v. Fraser

Supreme Court of Canada – [1886] 13 S.C.R. 342


Quebec Family lawSeigniorial lawSuccession
Summary

The Court considered a customary marriage, but did not decide on it. The 1869 decision in Johnstone v. Connolly remained the reference.

Issue

Was the marriage between Alexander Fraser and Angelique Meadows valid?

Was Alexander Fraser’s will revoke at Marguerite Jones’ death?

Decision

The question of the marriage was not considered. The will was not revoked (4 against 1).

Parties

Between: Thomas Jones

And: William Fraser

Facts

In 1788, Alexander Fraser, while working in the Northwest Territories, married Angelique Meadows, an Indian woman, according to her customs. After some time, they moved back to Lower Canada, now Québec, where they continued living together. In 1833, Alexander Fraser was heavily in debt and sold his seigniories, Temiscouata and Madawaska, for the sum of £15 000. He paid £5 400 of debts and invested the rest, £9 600.

In 1837, Alexander Fraser died. His will, dated Febuary 11th 1833, was drafted shortly before the sale. The Seigniories of Temiscouata and Madawaska were divided in pre-defined portions between Marguerite Jones, daughter by Angelique Meadows, and Elizabeth and Magdeleine Fraser, daughters by Pauline Michaud, his servant. His two sons by the same woman, William and Edward Fraser, were the residuary legatees. A curator was appointed for the succession.

In 1839, the curator began to distribute the estate. William Fraser opposed the curator report’s claiming a bigger share in his late father’s estate. Thomas Jones, son of Marguerite Jones and Alexander Fraser’s grandson, contested William Fraser’s opposition.

Arguments

Thomas Jones: The marriage between Alexander Fraser and Angelique Meadows was valid and they lived under the marital regime of community of property. Alexander Fraser recognised her in public as his wife. The selling of the Seignories prior to the death of Alexander Fraser revoked the legacies to Marguerite, Elizabeth and Magdeleine and the residuary legacies to William and Edward. Since Angelique died before Alexander Fraser, their daughter, Marguerite Jones, his only legitimate child still alive, would have been the universal legatee and should have been entitled all of the proceeds of the 1833’s sale. Thomas Jones’ part would amount today to half of the £9 600. Further, his mother’s portion of the Seigniories sale should have been calculated on a total of £15 000, not £9 600, because the Alexander Fraser’s will stipulated that the daughters were exempt from the payment of the debts.

William Fraser: The union between Alexander Fraser and Angelique Meadows was not a lawful marriage under Lower Canada’s civil law, because it was not celebrated during a religious or civil ceremony. Angelique Meadows was merely his concubine and the children produced by their union were illegitimate. They could not, under Lower Canada’s civil law be recognized as universal legatee.

Decision of the lower courts

Quebec Superior Court (1884): The sale of the two seigniories was necessary to insure the Fraser’s family subsistence and was not made in a spirit of revocation. Since the legacies were not revoked, the question of the legitimacy of the union did not need to be addressed. Jones’ case was dismissed.

Quebec Queen’s Bench (1885): The majority ruled against the legality of the union between Alexander Fraser and Angelique. The majority ruled that for a marriage to be valid, it has to be contracted according to Christian’s tradition. A marriage under Aboriginal customary laws is not a valid one.

Reasons for Judgement

Jury

Ritchie, Fournier, Taschereau, Gwynne

Reason

The sale of the seigniories in 1883 was not made to revoke the will. They were essential to insure Alexander Fraser’s subsistence.

Even if the legacies were revoked by the sale, Thomas Jones still would not be allowed half of the profit. The division of the estate in 1839 does not bind Jones, meaning that he could have repudiated it at his mother’s death, twenty-five years ago.

Since he accepted his mother’s part in the legacy at that time, it is too late for him to repudiate it. The Court allowed Jones’ cross-appealed and redefined the portions for Alexander Fraser’s daughters without subtracting the £5 400 debt.

Impact

The Supreme Court did not address the matter of the legitimacy of the customary marriage between Alexander Fraser and Angélique Meadows.

The Connolly case, decided in 1869 by the Superior Court of Quebec, is still the authority on the recognition of Aboriginal customary marriage in the Canadian legal order. The reason the Queen’s Bench decided otherwise was that the majority decision was written by Cross, who argued and lost the Connolly case before the Superior Court when he acted as Julia Woolrich’s succession’s attorney (Nelson, 2002: 41).

Related Cases

Johnstone et al. v. Connolly, [1869] 17 R.J.R.Q. 266 for further details on the recognition of Aboriginal customs in Canadian law.


Sources

Fraser v. Pouliot, [1881] 7 Q.L.R. 149.

Harring Sydney L. 1998. White Man’s Law: Native People in Nineteenth-Century Canadian Jurisprudence, coll. Osgoode Society for Canadian Legal History. Toronto: University of Toronto.

Nelson Jay. 2002. A Strange Revolution in the Manners of the County: Aboriginal-Settler Intermarriage in Nineteenth-Century British Columbia, in J. McLaren, R. Menzies, and D. E. Chunn (edited by), Regulating lives: historical essays on the state, society, the individual, and the law : 23-62. Vancouver : UBC Press.

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