"During the year 1917, the cases which passed through the Vancouver jail numbered 3,863, and of these according to the Chief-Constable and others, a large proportion were drug addicts, and it is believed that the use of drugs is probably one of the chief contributors to crime in British Columbia, in that it diminishes the responsibility of those who are mentally or nervously subnormal or disordered." -- Emily Murphy, The Black Candle

Often touted as the first book on drug abuse in Canada, Judge Emily Gowan Murphy's The Black Candle (1922) ostensibly exposed the drug trade in Canada, with occasional references to Vancouver. Having led numerous political crusades as a feminist, Murphy launched a 'clean-up' campaign to change laws on narcotics and curtail immigration of unworthy citizens who, she believed, were spreading prostitution, alcohol and other forms of social degradation. "All honest men," she wrote, "and orderly persons should rightly know that there are men and women who batten and fatten on the agony of the unfortunate drug-addict--palmerworms and human caterpillars who should be trodden underfoot like the despicable grubs that they are." Murphy had evolved her over-the-top writing skill with preceding publications under the pen name Janey Canuck between 1901 and 1914, mainly patriotic travel sketches and newspaper columns. Much of The Black Candle was comprised of her journalistic tirades from Maclean's magazine. Her opinions and reportage frequently veered towards sensationalized fear-mongering in which she identified drug abusers as mainly "Chinese, Assyrians, Negroes, and Greeks". Murphy unfortunately had widespread influence on Canadian drug laws. She wrote, "The [marihuana] addict loses all sense of moral responsibility. Addicts to this drug, while under the influence, are immune to pain, and could be severely injured without having any realization to their condition. While in this condition they becoming [sic] raving maniacs and are liable to kill or indulge in any form of violence to other persons, using the most savage methods of cruelty without, as said before, any sense of moral responsibility."

Born on March 14, 1868 in Cookstown, Ontario, Emily Ferguson married a minister named Murphy in 1887 and moved two years later to England where she began her writing career as Janey Canuck. The family moved to Swan River, Manitoba in 1901, then onto Edmonton, Alberta in 1907 where she befriended suffragist Nellie McClung who became the first female police magistrate in the British Empire. Having become the first woman appointed to the Edmonton Hospital Board in 1910 and having pressured the Alberta government to alter the Dower Act in 1911, she continued to confront social boundaries for women until her death in Edmonton, Alberta on October 17, 1933. In 1916, after she was famously prevented from witnessing a trial of prostitutes due to the subject matter of the case, Murphy appealed directly to the Attorney General and convinced him to establish a separate police court in Alberta for the prosecution of women. After she was chosen to serve as the magistrate for that court, her appointment was challenged on the grounds that women were not persons within the terms of the British North America Act. This objection was overruled and women were declared persons by the Alberta Supreme Court in 1917, but federal confirmation was not achieved until 1929 after Murphy had led a compaign with four other women, including McClung, to have a woman appointed to the Senate. In the autumn of 2004, the Bank of Canada launched the new 'Nation Builders' $50 bill featuring the so-called Famous Five.

Although Murphy has been venerated as a Canadian feminist, she has also been derided as a white supremacist who advocated an Alberta eugenics program that sterilized countless women on the grounds that they were mentally unfit to bear children. She was disdainful and wary of Asians and blacks.


The Black Candle. Canada's First Book on Drug Abuse (Toronto: Thomas Allen, 1922; Toronto: Coles Publishing, 1973).


Mander, C. Emily Murphy, Rebel: First Female Magistrate in the British Empire (Toronto: Simon & Pierre Publishing, 1985).

[BCBW 2005] "Drugs"