Patrice Corriveau, Isabelle Perreault, Jean-François Cauchie and André Cellard are currently conducting a study entitled Sociologie historique du suicide au Québec de 1763 à 2021 (historical sociology of suicide in Quebec from 1763-today). For this study, they analyze the changes in society’s reaction to suicide, which is a spectacular example of the social deconstruction of a crime. In 17th and 18th century New France, suicide was considered one of the most heinous crimes anyone could commit. The cadaver of a person suspected of “having homicided themselves” would be taken to court. If found guilty, the deceased would then be dragged face down behind a cart, hung by their feet in the public square and thrown into the dump. Society’s reaction to this form of “deviance” would decrease in intensity in the 19th and 20th centuries until the “crime” of attempted suicide (punishable by imprisonment) was struck from the Criminal Code of Canada in 1972.
Long considered an individual weakness, suicide came to be seen as a “societal problem”. In 2006, 42% of Quebec’s population considered suicide as “something acceptable” (Association québécoise de la prévention du suicide, September 2006). The social history of this deconstruction is what the authors want to analyze through the commentaries of the main players: the suicide victims themselves and those close to them.
This research is funded by SSHRC