Media @ McGill

Allison Jacques | "Justice Weekly: The story of a Canadian tabloid"

Submitted by hive on


This project is a historical case study of Justice Weekly, a tabloid newspaper published in Toronto from 1946 until mid-1973. Although this tabloid has slipped largely into obscurity, it occupies a significant place in the history of postwar Canadian media, culture, and sexuality. This dissertation locates and examines that place. Justice Weekly was a "scandal sheet" preoccupied with corporal punishment and nontraditional sexual desires; as such, it could easily be dismissed as merely a curiosity-a text on the fringes of Canada's already-marginal tabloid press. However, Justice Weekly was in fact an unlikely pioneer in the publication and distribution of gay content and in the emergence of certain sexual subcultures. Drawing heavily on primary archival research, this project constructs for the first time a history of Justice Weekly and then focuses on three particular areas of content in which the tabloid was a groundbreaking force: letters to the editor, personal advertisements, and gay columns. In so doing, this dissertation contributes to an understanding of postwar Canadian print culture and sexuality, while drawing attention to the historical value of non-dominant texts.

Chapter 1 lays the foundation for the chapters that follow. It begins with a biographical portrait of Philip H. Daniels-a lifelong Toronto newspaperman who alone founded, published, edited, and wrote most of the content of Justice Weekly-followed by an overview of the tabloid's format and content. It then addresses questions of genre through what may seem like a simple question: What was Justice Weekly? The paper evades easy classification, as it belonged neither to the mainstream nor to the "underground," and it contained a range of (unusual and deeply contradictory) content. Finally, this chapter reviews the extensive literature on tabloid history and research as it relates to Justice Weekly.

Chapter 2 focuses on the letters to the editor published in Justice Weekly in the 1940s and early 1950s, which were concerned almost exclusively with corporal punishment. Specifically, the tabloid regularly printed long narratives of spankings given and received. A combination of textual analysis and historical research reveals that these letters are rooted in centuries-old erotic narratives of flagellation and, in fact, bear a close resemblance in both style and substance to stories and letters published in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. While the recurring themes and motifs in the letters of Justice Weekly are nearly identical to those found in historical pornography, they also make a great deal of cultural sense when viewed in terms of postwar concerns about the Canadian family and the perceived threat of juvenile delinquency. This chapter suggests that Daniels was able to link the spanking letters in his paper to a real postwar panic over juvenile delinquency, enabling him not only to attract readers with titillating content but also to portray Justice Weekly as a relevant and legitimate newspaper. The chapter includes a review of the literature on letters to the editor as well as of historical flagellation correspondence; an overview of postwar discourses on delinquency; and an analysis of letters printed in Justice Weekly.

Chapter 3 addresses Justice Weekly's column of personal advertisements, which was not only one of its most popular and longest-running regular features but also a major source of revenue and one of the main reasons the tabloid is remembered today. Particularly from the late 1950s, the personals in Justice Weekly dealt almost entirely with unorthodox sexual desires, including sadomasochism, fetishes, and swinging. Significantly, Justice Weekly's column functioned as a rare site where certain sexual subcultures were made visible. The tabloid was not the only source of kinky personal ads in the 1960s, but it was a pioneer in the genre as one of the earliest and most enduring sources. The aim of this chapter is, first, to locate Justice Weekly within a history of personal advertising in Canada (a history that is almost entirely unexamined) and, second, to explore the editorial strategies used by Daniels that allowed him to publish and promote the ads while also distancing his paper from the sexual communities represented therein. Following a review of literature about personal advertising, this chapter analyzes personals found in Justice Weekly in the late 1950s and early 1960s in light of dominant sexual discourses of that period.

Chapter 4 is concerned with the groundbreaking gay-related content published in Justice Weekly starting in the early 1950s. Most of Toronto's postwar tabloids printed gossip and news about the city's homosexuals, paradoxically providing visibility for a fledgling gay community while also condemning those within the community. Justice Weekly distinguished itself in the early 1950s, however, by addressing gay issues, most notably with a weekly column by activist James Egan and a large amount of material reprinted from U.S. homophile publications. Justice Weekly became a major source of early homosexual writing in Canada, among publications of any kind, as well as a significant vehicle for distribution of American gay writing. Furthermore, its deeply ambivalent content (e.g., a column on gay history alongside a news item naming individual local men charged with gross indecency) provides insight into discourses of both "good" and "bad" homosexuality in the postwar period. The discourses constructed in Justice Weekly echoed wider, newly liberal attitudes toward homosexuality in the 1950s: namely, that it should be tolerated and decriminalized, but also that gay individuals should avoid flamboyance and not be too demanding in terms of their rights. This chapter reviews the literature on postwar media representations of homosexuality and analyzes gay-related content appearing in Justice Weekly in the 1950s in terms of depictions of "good" and "bad" homosexuality.

As stated earlier, it is easy to ignore a text like Justice Weekly; it is bizarre, kinky, small, obscure. It is also easy to rely on mainstream periodicals as historical sources. Consider, however, that daily newspapers like the Globe and Mail barely mentioned homosexuality until the 1960s, and refused to accept even "straight" personal ads before the late 1970s. The tabloid press provides insight into aspects of postwar culture rendered invisible in the mainstream media, and for more than 25 years Justice Weekly was particularly important for its pioneering representations of homosexuality, sadomasochism, and other sexual subcultures. It engaged with, and contributed to, historically specific discourses on deviance, sexualities, and families. This project aims to contribute to a "revisionist" history of postwar Canada that has been the project of some historians in recent years, in that it challenges mainstream assumptions about the period. It covers new ground not only in its exploration of a fascinating-and, yes, bizarre-text, but also in its attention to aspects of postwar culture and communication rarely considered.