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WALLACE, WILLIAM, police officer; b. 9 March 1867 in County Donegal (Republic of Ireland), son of Samuel Wallace and Sarah McConnell; m. 25 June 1902 Annie Jane McNair in Toronto, and they had two sons; d. there 25 Oct. 1928.

Born in Donegal not far from Londonderry, William Wallace immigrated to Canada in 1886. He was part of an influx of Irish Protestants into Toronto and its police; a large minority in the city, British immigrants were a majority on the police force. Within a few years of joining the department as a patrolman on 1 April 1890, he was promoted to plainclothesman by Detective Alfred Cuddy. He made acting detective in 1903 and full detective six years later. Wallace was not given to a military style of policing, but he was tough. Once, he dared to apprehend three “thugs” in a pawnshop on York Street but he was beaten into unconsciousness, which permanently affected his health.

During World War I, Wallace was on loan to the federal government to monitor aliens, communists, and other radicals. His recommendations to Dominion Police commissioner Sir Arthur Percy Sherwood* and Minister of Justice Charles Joseph Doherty* anticipated Ottawa’s anti-radical legislation of 1919. The government asked him to continue his surveillance after the war, but he missed his family and preferred regular detective work, so he returned to Toronto. Detectives, because of their relative autonomy, their aura of glamour, and the perception that they dealt with real crime, were subjected to little public criticism during Wallace’s tenure on the force.

In 1919 he became assistant inspector of detectives, under George Guthrie. This was no mere administrative position: Wallace worked long hours, particularly when high-profile investigations arose. His biggest case was the murder in 1921 of druggist Leonard Cecil Sabine by Roy Hotram and William McFadden, who were convicted and hanged. Years of detective work convinced Wallace that criminals were not victims of environment, heredity, or poverty, as social science suggested, but “lazy, selfish, vicious scoundrels.”

Wallace was a typical career officer. His community involvement included the freemasons, Erskine Presbyterian (United) Church, and possibly the Orange lodge, whose members dominated Toronto’s civic politics and departments. His professional importance stemmed from his participation in the Chief Constables’ Association of Canada, a police-lobby organization founded in 1905 which accepted detectives as members. As its secretary-treasurer from 1921 to 1926, he published the proceedings of its annual conventions and the Canadian Police Bulletin (Toronto), both valuable sources for the study of the professionalization and ideology of Canadian police.

Through the Bulletin and the CCAC’s yearly conferences, Wallace reflected the hardline crime-fighting ethos that dominated municipal police circles. At the 1922 conference he gave a speech entitled “Are we encouraging crime by pampering and coddling criminals?” He criticized the rehabilitative approach in criminology and perceived political interference in police work and the administration of criminal justice. In 1923 he spoke out against a bill introduced by an Ontario Independent Labor party mla, Thomas Tooms, to place municipal police under the control of elective officials rather than boards of police commissioners dominated by appointed officials. Police administration under popular control, he opined, was open to abuse by radical politicians and “parasites” in labour organizations. Wallace also espoused a common belief among detectives: the need to change the federal Identification of Criminals Act to allow the fingerprinting of all persons in lawful custody, not simply those charged with indictable offences. Another pet peeve was the tendency of reformers, religious organizations, and the media to lionize notorious ex-convicts, such as the infamous Norman (Red) Ryan*, “a plaster hero” in Wallace’s estimate.

Wallace was a strong critic of granting leave to convicts under the federal Ticket of Leave Act. His most noteworthy concern, however, was Ontario’s Parole Act and its administration. He blamed parole, psychiatry, and the misguided efforts of reformers for the supposed crime wave of the 1920s. Wallace’s sustained attacks seriously undermined the work of Alfred Edward Lavell of the Ontario Board of Parole, who first tried to placate Wallace and then appealed over his head to chief constable Samuel J. Dickson and judge Emerson Coatsworth of the Toronto Board of Police Commissioners. Wallace used his positions within the Toronto police and the CCAC to discredit Ontario’s parole system and prevent its adoption by Manitoba and other provinces. Lavell in turn accused Wallace of misrepresenting rehabilitative efforts and misusing his CCAC office. In 1924 he wrote that the tenacious detective was succeeding in “giving the police the idea that the Ontario Board of Parole is the work of foolish and sentimental fanatics, ineffective, unjust and a menace to the public good.”

On 28 Sept. 1928, just weeks before his death, Wallace was appointed chief of detectives. He had recently attended the annual gathering of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, where his conservative views on crime-fighting would have been the norm. He died in the early morning of 25 October at his home on Fern Avenue. Honoured with a full police ceremony and a massive procession, he was buried in Prospect Cemetery. Colleagues noted that he was known within police circles across North America, and as an “outstanding criminologist” and “the most technical Police officer in the country.”

Greg Marquis

AO, RG 8-54, boxes 6–12; RG 22-305, no.60585; RG 80-5-0-298, no.2049. NA, RG 13, A2, 231, Wallace to A. P. Sherwood, 22, 30 July 1918; RG 31, C1, 1901, Toronto, Ward 2, div.12: 22 (mfm. at AO). Globe, 26 Oct. 1928. Toronto Daily Star, 7–11 March 1921, 25–28 Oct. 1928. Canadian Police Bull. (Toronto), March 1925, March 1929. Chief Constables’ Assoc. of Canada, Proc. of the annual convention (Toronto), 1920–30. Directory, Toronto, 1891–1928. Greg Marquis, “The early twentieth-century Toronto police institution” (phd thesis, Queen’s Univ., Kingston, Ont., 1987); Policing Canada’s century: a history of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police (Toronto, 1993).

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Cite This Article

Greg Marquis, “WALLACE, WILLIAM,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 15, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed June 19, 2024, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/wallace_william_1867_1928_15E.html.

The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:

Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/wallace_william_1867_1928_15E.html
Author of Article:   Greg Marquis
Title of Article:   WALLACE, WILLIAM
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 15
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   2005
Year of revision:   2005
Access Date:   June 19, 2024