Appeal of the Day -

Appeal of the Day


Pat Martin uses his members’ statement to appeal on Louis Riel’s behalf.

Mr. Speaker, today I call upon Parliament to set the history books straight and reverse the conviction of Louis Riel for high treason and instead recognize his role as the founder of the province of Manitoba, a Father of Confederation and the champion of the rights of the Métis people.

Louis Riel was elected president of the territory that he named Manitoba and negotiated its entry into Confederation as Canada’s fifth province on July 15, 1870. He was elected to the House of Commons three times. He was wrongfully tried, convicted and executed for high treason on this day of 1885, a case of justice and mercy denied.

It is consistent with history, justice and respect for the rights of the Métis people that the conviction of Louis Riel be reversed and that his historic role in the building of Canada be formally recognized, commemorated and celebrated, I suggest, by the placement of a statue of Louis Riel on the grounds of Parliament Hill.


Appeal of the Day

  1. So the murder of Thomas Scott by Riel's fiat counts for nothing? So two armed rebellions are forgiven, indeed honoured? Is there no end to political correctness and shameless pandering for votes?

    • Riel was granted amnesty for his actions during the Red River rebellion, including the execution of Thomas Scott, by Bishop Tache under the authority of the Government of Canada but thanks for reminding me that the hanging had nothing to do what happened in Saskatchewan and everything to do the the revenge of the Orange.

  2. A bit late in the day for this.

    Besides, there was nothing incorrect about the trial or verdict – in light of Mr. Riel's refusal to plead insanity. The punishment was unwise, but there is no question about the verdict itself. Mr. Riel committed an act of treason.

    If any current advocates for First Nations rights took a similar course and raised an army to levy war against Canada they would be facing the same charges. The only difference is that we have now, wisely, decided that capital punishment is an inappropriate sentence.

    I wonder if Martni wants a statue to Thomas Scott as well. That would only seem fair.

  3. This current fad of rewriting history and apologizing is a bit troublesome, right or wrong (and like the previous post from Mike R, more right than wrong) what happened, how we responded is a matter of history at this point, issuing apologies and such is to negate the real experience of the Scott family……I would agree that there are extraordinary times when we need to acknowledge and own up to our past……but let's not go overboard here.

  4. The crime of Riel's hanging is that we haven't kept dealing with traitors as forthrightly. Now levying war against Her Majesty's government gets you $$$ and attention, instead of the deserved traitors death for you and all of your followers.

    • My my, aren't we bloodthirsty on the Maclean's comments section today.

  5. Also, mercy and justice are almost invariably opposed. I much prefer the proverb "let Justice be done, though the Heavens fall" and to let mercy come from those better appointed to mete it out appropriately.

  6. Nice to see our country is in such decent shape that THIS is the biggest deal bothering the Honourable Member from Winnipeg Centre.

    Has there been a member's statement from any party that was worthy of anything, and of national interest, in the last, say, three months?

    Maybe we can just do away with this nonsense?

    • I realize the pursuit of justice often takes a back seat to the petty concerns of many but yesterday was the anniversary of his hanging so his mention was not out of order if his mention is ever timely at all.

  7. It does not shock or surprise me that so many Canadians continue to put blinders on when it comes to the subject of Louis Riel. What a pity that this overt prejudice continues in the face of evidence that so many have been wrongfully convicted. If we in Canada believe in equal fairness and justice for all, why not be open to the possibility that Riel's conviction was unfair and unjust and that his conviction warrants a fair and just review? Knowing the facts as I understand them to be, any review would demand the removal of the stain on Riel's good name and that he be properly honored by Canada. It's long past the time that a statue of Louis Riel grace the grounds of Parliament, a place to which he was thrice elected.

    • It's not prejudice. Riel ordered the execution of Thomas Scott who was guilty of nothing except racism and a big mouth. He led two rebellions that resulted in many deaths and much destruction. He wasn't wrongfully convicted–his guilt was evident. The facts as Mr Belcourt understands them simply are not facts.

  8. How could his conviction be considered unjust? Was this a case of mistaken identity?

    Mr. Riel, a British subject, raised an armed force that then tried to separate part of this country by force. As a consequence of his actions over 100 people died violently. His actions were clearly treason. The only defence available to him was that of insanity and the evidence on that was debatable. In any case he firmly rejected allowing that plea to go forward.

    Mr. Riel was properly convicted of treason. Any person taking similar actions today, no matter how well-intentioned and no matter how much they think their cause may justify violence, would be treated the same way.

    I agree he should not have been hung. The jury recommended clemency and there was nothing to be gained by it. But the question of the appropriate sentence is distinct from the question of his guilt. There is very little doubt on the latter issue.

    Fans of Riel may also ask themselves how long his Republic of Saskatchewan would have lasted if the government had simply let him secede? As long as the Republics of California or Hawaii? Probably less.

  9. curious

    Any other American citizens convicted of Treason in Canada?

    • Nils von Schoultz.

      • And ten of his friends. All of whom were hung. Should we apologize to them too?

      • From what I can gather he was convicted of bearing arms against Canada, but not for treason.

        • von Shoultz's defence counsel was, perhaps ironically in light of later events, one John A. MacDonald.

          • Geiseric is correct that the charge was not High Treason, which would have been heard in a civilian court – as Riel's trial was. Von Shoultz and the others were tried under "An Act to Protect the Inhabitants of Upper Canada against lawless aggressions from subjects of Foreign Countries at Peace with Her Majesty".

            The intent and effect were the same.

          • Is it?

            I wonder if there would have been a conviction because accounts I've read have left me with the impression that even if the prosecution could get witnesses to provide anything besides hearsay evidence, Riel would have looked like a spokesman who did none of the fighting and none of the instigating. Guilty, as has been said of others, of having a big mouth.

          • They had a lot of witnesses to the effect that Riel was in charge during the Rebellion — it wasn't just hearsay. And, I mean, is there any doubt that Riel was the leader? They also had documents, namely Riel's demand (prior to Duck Lake) for the surrender of Fort Carlton, with a threat of a "war of extermination" if not; and various written negotiations with Gen. Middleton during the Battle of Batoche, in which Riel spoke for the Métis as their leader. At various points in the campaign one sees Riel overruling Dumont on military strategy (always wrongly — Dumont was a good general!), which seems to show also that he was pretty much in charge. He had, moreover, changed the religion.

            Which is not to say that the execution of Riel was just, or not vindictive, or good policy, and the Government could have pardoned him (and might have, but for the ferocity of the Orange Lodges); but it does seem to have been in conformity with the laws of the land, those of 1885 and those of 2009. One can argue whether he was sane or not, or whether the trial should have taken place in the Northwest instead of in Manitoba, but the facts about his having led an armed rebellion against the Crown seem pretty ironclad.

          • He never fired a shot.

          • Neither did any of those convicted at Nuremburg after WW II. It is not a requirement that a person accused of treason actually fire a weapon, if they have conspired to have others work with them to overthrow the government by force. The fact Riel was directing the rebellion rather than actually fighting in it himself in the trenches does not affect his guilt.

          • Which begs the question of whether any other Amercian has ever been convicted of Treason in Canada.

          • Why was it the wrong crime? It seems to me he got a break when they charged him with treason rather than under the "Act to protect etc,,,," (which had been adopted by the Canadian parliament and extended to all of the Dominion. If Mr. Riel had been charged under that statute he would have faced a military court, not a civilian one.

            The argument that he was innocent is silly. He raised an army against the Queen and people died as a result. Anyone doing anything similar today would be arrested and prosecuted. His trial was, by 19th century standards, fair. The sentence, as the jury recommended, should have been commuted, but that's a separate issue from whether he was guilty or not. Clearly he was. Silly arguments like those made by Pat Martin are simply embarassing.

          • You can't betray the Queen if you're not the Queen's subject.

            I'm not saying he's innocent although I will say Riel's role as a military leader in the latter rebellion is easily exaggerated.

          • There is no requirement that you be a citizen of Canada, or a subject of Her Majesty in order to be convicted of treason. The question under the current provisions is whether, in Canada, you levied war against Her Majesty. Mr. Riel clearly did that and, under current law, he would be guilty of High Treason.
            Many people holding American citizenship have been convicted of treason in Canada – such as many tried at the "Bloody Assizes" in Ancaster in 1814.
            Mr. Riel's adoption of American citizenship was irrelevant to his crime. As well, British law at the time (as is common among many nations today, such as China) did not recognize an individual's right to renounce loyalty. Mr. Riel was a British subject. Even if he had not been, the issue was irrelevant to the fact he, while in Canada, levied war against Her Majesty. His guilt is not in question.

          • The Dominion had jurisdiction?

          • You are now quibbling. Yes, they had jurisdiction. Had he been tried anywhere else, however, an honest jury would still have convicted him. He was, after all, guilty. The facts of his guilt are not in dispute – even if you are politically sympathetic to his cause. (The success of which would have, of course, resulted in the annexation of western Canada by the United States – an object which may have been behind those urging Mr. Riel to return to this country)

          • It was a crime punishable by death. Jurisdiction is debatable.

          • It doesn't matter. It would have been a crime punishable by death (as many were at the time) no matter what jurisdiction he was tried in. Pat Martin's ludicrous argument is that there was no jurisdiction to try him in, since, somehow, Saskatchewan wasn't part of Canada or the Empire at the time.
            The whole argument is a bit sad. He's dead, he'll remain dead, the prairies remain Canadian, and nothing any politician does today will undo the past. Those who see Riel as a hero will continue to do so, no matter what we do today. Those who, correctly, see him as a traitor, will continue to do so.

          • It doesn't matter if the law doesn't matter. It also matters because there's a point at which the process of conviction becomes so tainted a pardon becomes unacceptable.

          • The law always matters – except to people like Riel who think you can impose your own version at the point of a gun. The point is, however, the prosecution and trial of Riel was not "tainted" by anything. He raised an army to attempt to overthrow the government of Canada in the prairies. As a result of his actions over a hundred people died. He was, by any definition, guilty of treason and was appropriately convicted.
            As I've said, it would have been more humane, and wiser politically, to have commuted his sentence – as was done for other participants, such as Gabriel Dumont. But there is no reason to issue a pardon.

          • The judge's ignoring the Jury's recomendation for mercy, btw, although where the trial was held by whom ranks a close second.

            almost forgot to respond.

            afa a contrary view goes I'm afraid I don't have much to offer other than to say there's leading and then there's leading. Duck Lake was supposed to be a lead-pipe cinch but turned sour, calling the Battle of Batoche an insurection instead of an act of self defense depends on who you are and how you look at it and the treaty folk wouldn't have been so easy to stir up if Ottawa had done something useful for a change instead of watching them get starved out by the hunts to the South.

            Even as jerryrigged as it was, the jury couldn't help but admit it was holding its nose. That's gotta count for something.

          • Most people at the time recognized the metis and First Nations had legitimate complaints, and most people recognized the violence as a very sad event. Many metis, of course, especially the English-speaking community, did not support Riel's calls for violence. But, as you say, the jury's recommendation of clemency was a recognition that there were legitmate grievances behind the rebellion. The existence of those grievances, however, does not mean the resort to violence was justified, or that the verdict of treason against Riel was incorrect.

          • Ottawa starts letting my kids starve they better not get into arm's reach.

          • Big talker.

          • Maybe I am but the Metis of the rebellion weren't.

            which, btw, was my point.

    • No other person has ever been charged or convicted of "High" Treason in Canada.

  10. Interesting version of history. I don't agree with many of the statements you've made, but such is history.

    I would point out that you can't defend the trial and execution of Scott as "valid" because the provisional government was recognized as legitimate, but then denounce the trial and execution of Riel as a travesty. Surely the government of Canada was "valid" as well? Does that, in your mind, validate all actions – including kangaroo courts such as the one that condemned Scott?

    Anyway, most observers feel Riel received a fair trial (I don't believe the Manitoba Act can apply in this case, since the trial was in Saskatchewan). He was tried in a charge of treason – a charge that had been laid numerous times in the course of the 19th century in Canada. He was the last, but by no means the only person to be executed on that charge in Canada.