Faculty of Law Professor Craig Forcese has published a new book detailing the raid and sinking of the steamship Caroline in 1837, and its broader implications for international law and the use of force.
The book – Destroying the Caroline: The Frontier Raid That Reshaped the Right to War – provides detailed insight into the 1837 attack, and the legal doctrine that it spawned: the inherent right to self-defence as a pretext for conflict.
In the middle of night on 29 December 1837, Canadian militia commanded by a Royal Navy officer crossed the Niagara River to the United States and sank the Caroline, a steamboat being used by insurgents tied to the 1837 rebellion in Upper Canada. That incident, and the diplomatic understanding that settled it, have become shorthand in international law for the “inherent right to self-defence” exercised by states in far-off places and in different sorts of war. The Caroline is remembered today when drones kill terrorists and state leaders contemplate responses to threatening adversaries through military action.
But it is remembered by chance and not design, and often imperfectly.
This book tells the story of the Caroline affair and the colourful characters who populated it. Along the way, it highlights how the Caroline and claims of self-defence have been used — and misused — in response to modern challenges in international relations. It is the history of how a forgotten conflict on an unruly frontier has redefined the right to war.
Professor Forcese employed a unique idea for promoting the book in the lead up to its publication: he created a Twitter handle for Commander Drew (@Cdr_Drew_RN), and live-tweeted the rebellion and events that led to his raid on the Niagara River in 1837. Professor Forcese live-tweeted throughout the month of December 2017 to mark the 180th anniversary of the fateful event.
Craig Forcese is a full professor at the Faculty of Law (Common Law Section), University of Ottawa. He is also an Adjunct Research Professor & Senior Fellow, Norman Paterson School of International Affairs, Carleton University (from 2017 to 2022); a National Security Crisis Law Fellow, Center on National Security and the Law at Georgetown Law (Washington DC) (from 2017 to 2020); and, Senior Associate at the Global Justice Lab, Munk School of Global Affairs, University of Toronto (2016 to 2018).
Craig sits on the executive on the Canadian Network for Research on Terrorism, Security and Society (TSAS), and is a board member and past president of both the Canadian Council on International Law and the Canadian Association of Law Teachers.
For full biographical notes, visit his Faculty webpage.
Congratulations to Professor Forcese on his new book!