By Johanne Noël
Exchequer Court of Canada created in 1875
The Exchequer Court and the Supreme Court of Canada were created by the same legislation: the Supreme and Exchequer Courts Act. The Exchequer Court was in existence from 1875 until 1971, the year the Federal Court was created.
Since the Exchequer Court had fewer cases, they were heard by justices of the Supreme Court. These justices travelled across Canada for this purpose on a rotating basis from 1875 to 1887. In 1887, the Exchequer Court became a separate court; its first judge, the Honourable George Wheelock Burbidge, wrote the rules of procedure.
Cases heard before the Exchequer Court
Cases argued before the Exchequer Court included actions brought against the federal government, such as claims arising from accidents involving civilian or military government vehicles. But the government could also initiate lawsuits in the Court, such as expropriations or measures related to intellectual property infringement (patents, industrial drawings and trademarks), as well as disputes between the different levels of government. The Exchequer Court also heard appeals from the admiralty courts and appeals related to maritime law, taxes and citizenship.
Records in the Exchequer Court fonds
The vast majority of records in the Exchequer Court fonds at Library and Archives Canada are files related to cases. Other documents include special work of the Court, correspondence, minutes of hearings, various records and dockets.
The Registrar of the Court kept a large record book, know as the docket record, in which he recorded cases in chronological order. For each case, he entered the number, the names of the plaintiff and the defendant, and the names of their respective solicitors. Throughout the proceedings, he listed the documents filed with the Court, the date they were filed and the cost of registration. A docket record could contain many cases and be up to 10 centimetres thick.
Files related to cases
Files related to cases can include a multitude of documents, the first often being the petition of rights, or complainant statement. It sets out the alleged facts and the complainant’s claims. The defendant then responds to this statement, after which a date for the hearing is set. In the meantime, items are added to the file, the quantity depending on the scope of the proceedings. The ruling handed down by the judge is definitely one of the most important exhibits in the file.
The vast majority of documents are in English; those in French have been translated.
Case No. 18029
The King v. Isabel Gertrude Spencer, June 25, 1938: Information: Expropriation of land for purposes of Jericho Beach Air Station. Amount tendered $49,150.00.
This case pitted the complainant—the Government of Canada, represented by the King—against the defendant, Isabel Gertrude Spencer, wife of Colonel Victor Spencer. The most interesting documents include the declaration of expropriation, the statement of defence, the judgment and the reasons for the judgment.
On June 25, 1938, the government (represented by the King) filed an “information.” This first document was to serve notice of expropriation of a property belonging to Isabel Gertrude Spencer, who was offered financial compensation. The reason for the expropriation was that the Royal Canadian Air Force wanted to build an officers’ mess on this land for the Jericho Beach Air Station in Vancouver.
Declaration of expropriation
When an action is brought by the King or Queen, as is the case here, he or she files a motion, known as an information, in a court. (If an action is brought by an individual, he or she files a petition of rights.)
Statement of defence
The defendant has four weeks to file a statement of defence, which is what happened in this case. On August 6, 1938, Mrs. Spencer filed a document explaining why she disagreed with the amount offered. Attached are various exhibits in support of her plea before the Court, including a map of Jericho Beach showing the air station and Mrs. Spencer’s property in relation to it.
The defendant filed several exhibits, numbered A to M, in support of her position. Exhibit A is a map of the part of Vancouver near Jericho Beach, with her Trimble Street property circled.
On August 21, 1939, the Court ruled in favour of the defendant, who received an amount of $94,446, plus court costs.
Reasons for the judgment
In an 18-page brief presented at the same time as the judgment, the judge set out the reasons why he was awarding the defendant damages of $94,446. It is interesting to note that the judge lists the buildings and other installations on the property, to assess the value and compare with the government’s offer.
As can be seen, documents related to a court case can be used by future generations seeking information on a property, family, community or other related subjects.
- Victor Spencer archival fonds, City of Vancouver Archives (fonds AM1470 – Colonel Victor Spencer family fonds)
- Amateur film about Aberthau, the Trimble Street property targeted by the expropriation (Exhibit MI-85 – [Home of Victor Vance Spencer])
Johanne Noël is an acting archivist in the Private Archives Branch at Library and Archives Canada.