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Governing Through Remorse: The Discursive Framing of Dangerous Offenders in Canada

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  10 June 2021

Linda Mussell
Political Studies, Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario
Michael Orsini
Feminist and Gender Studies | Political Studies, University of Ottawa, Ottawa, Ontario
E-mail address:


This article examines the emotional terrain and discursive frames that govern the constitution of those subject to the “dangerous offender” (DO) designation in Canada. Focusing on the emotion of remorse, we discuss four narratives involving individuals who went through the DO hearing process, gaining significant media attention. Asking what role Indigeneity and other factors play in how the media discuss the emotional comportment of DOs, we examine the persistence of particular discursive frames in these narratives, and the counter-frames that challenge or disrupt dominant understandings of what it is appropriate to feel. The expression of emotion, and its interpretation, can be critical to the outcome of cases, criminalized people/survivor stigmatization, and normalization of punishment and may also motivate community mobilization and prompt policy change. Yet, emotion, and how it may be performed and interpreted differently, is not well understood or discussed in these narratives.



Cet article examine les émotions et les cadres discursifs qui régissent la particularité des personnes assujetties à la désignation de « délinquant dangereux » (DD) au Canada. En nous concentrant sur l’émotion de remords, nous discutons de quatre récits impliquant des personnes qui sont passées par le processus d’audience DD et qui ont attiré l’attention des médias. En questionnant le rôle que jouent l’indigénéité et d’autres facteurs dans la manière dont les médias discutent du comportement émotionnel des DD, nous examinons la persistance de cadres discursifs particuliers dans ces récits ainsi que les contre-cadres qui remettent en question ou perturbent les compréhensions dominantes de ce qu’il convient de ressentir émotionnellement parlant. L’expression de l’émotion et son interprétation peuvent être déterminantes pour l’issue des affaires sur la désignation DD, la stigmatisation des personnes criminalisées/survivantes et la normalisation des sanctions, et pourraient contribuer à la mobilisation de la communauté et provoquer un changement de politique. Pourtant, l’émotion, et la manière dont elle peut être exprimée et interprétée différemment ne semblent pas bien comprises ou discutées dans ces récits.

© The Author(s), 2021. Published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of the Canadian Law and Society Association

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The authors would like to thank the journal’s anonymous reviewers for comments, Tamara Metze for comments on an earlier version of the paper presented at the International Conference on Public Policy in Montreal (June 2019), and Cheryl Webster for her comments on our discussion of the Criminal Code. Michael Orsini acknowledges the support of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council through its Insight Grant Program (435-2013-0520).


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