2001 Louis Riel Act
Was introduced in the Senate for first reading in 2001 by Alberta Liberal
This bill does not:
Web published: April 16, 1999
at http://www.tcel.com/~brownb/Rebviews.htm and to
http://www.alittlehistory.com/Rebview.htm on Jan. 10/01
11/28/99, 09/06/00, and Jan. 22/02.
Evaluating the Private Members Bill C 417:
the Louis Riel Act 
[When I found a copy of this act on the Web in the summer
of 1999, it indicated it had undergone first reading. Like most private members bills, it probably died on the order paper when the Federal election was called.]
Proposals in the Louis Riel Act with my comments:
- the 15th day of July shall be known as "Louis Riel Day"Since we don't recognize a Sir John A. Macdonald day, I can't see Parliament agreeing to a Louis Riel day.
- Louis Riel is hereby recognized as a Father of ConfederationRiel was obviously instrumental in the creation of Manitoba. We need to keep in mind that our Fathers of Confederation were not perfect and evaluate Riel in the context of that time and situation.
- authorize the placing of a statue of Louis Riel on Parliament HillApparently, Parliament Hill is reserved for statues of people who deserve a place of honor in Canadian history.
- reverse Riel's conviction.
This recommendation is presented in the Act along with a list of 23 historical points. Although those points are in chronological order, they still serve to cloud the issue because there are only three points that are relevant. Those three points are listed below so you can see how the impression that is given is incomplete and misleading:
(p) all of the petitions sent by the Metis to the Government of Canada requesting a redress of the people's grievances and the recognition of their rights were ignored;
(q) the Government of Canada responded by sending troops against the Metis at Batoche;
(r) the Metis, under the leadership of Louis Riel and Gabriel Dumont, defended their homes;
My analysis: In (q) the reader and petition signer is not told why the Government of Canada responded by sending troops. This is critical information which is not provided. In (r) the reader is informed that the Metis were only defending their homes. These points give the misleading impression that the Metis and Louis Riel didn't do anything wrong. As you read about the events leading up to the Battle of Duck lake, you will realize that the Metis were not completely innocent.
So the Louis Riel Act is flawed. It is not an attempt to achieve a reasonable and acceptable balance. In practical terms, what it will do is provoke and irriate. We see this in the response to the Act provided by Andrew Coyne in his national newspaper column titled the forest from the treason. Part of his column is included below, in the next section.
private members bill sponsored by
the Liberal Member of Parliament
Louis Riel Act
1st Session, 36th Parliament
46-47-48 Elizabeth 11, 1997-98-99
The House of Commons of Canada
Response to the Louis Riel Act
by the National Post
National Post column by Andrew Coyne
On April 14, 1999, Andrew Coyne wrote a column in the Canadian national newspaper, the National Post, in which he criticizes the Louis Riel Act and offers us food for thought. His response shows some misinformation; but this is not surprising since newspapers must churn out items like this on a daily basis.
Unfortunately, I have been unable to get permission from Mr. Coyne to include his entire column, partly because this also requires permission from the National Post. No doubt, they are not proud of some comments which are in that column. At this time, included below in small fonts is a series of quotes from his article.
The forest from the treason
by Andrew Coyne
"Among a list of 65 possible wrongful convictions currently under investigation by the federal Department of Justice, we learn from press reports, is the case of one Louis Riel, convicted and hanged for high treason in 1885. . . . . . . what else is behind the extraordinary campaign to exonerate the man who led not one but two armed uprisings against the legitimate constitutional government of Canada? Sorry, did I say exonerate? Try glorify."
"The Louis Riel Act, a private members bill sponsored by the Liberal Member of Parliament Denis Coderre, has attracted the signatures of 137 MPs from all parties. It would not only reverse Riel's conviction but formally install him as a father of Confederation. The 15th of July would be designated Louis Riel Day. There might even be a statue raised to him on Parliament Hill."
"Now if the issue were only the justice of his sentence, his defenders might have a case. There is good reason to think that Riel was insane at the time, and the death penalty is barbaric in any event. A bill to commute his sentence to life imprisonment would surely be worthy of support. But to say, no to legislate, that he did not do what in plain historical fact he did: to attempt to overthrow the government by force of arms? That he was, what is more, a Father of Confederation?"
"Here is the man whom our revisionists would place beside Macdonald, Cartier and Brown, as described by perhaps our greatest historian, the late Donald Creighton: "an able but temperamental and dictatorial man, full of delusions of grandeur, quickly infuriated when his will was crossed, and quite without compunction in the use of force." A revolutionary, in other words."
"And here is what he did. . . . A "provisional government" was declared, with Riel at its head.
It is not clear, says Creighton, what his aims were: "he may seriously have considered the alternataive of annexation to the United States." "
"Annexationist sentiments ran high in the American North-West, and Sir John A. feared that, if the dominion's westward expansion were stalled, the Americans would fill the gap."
"These were the stakes, then: beyond the issue of violent rebellion or the quasi-judicial murder of Thomas Scott, the whole future of Canada was in play. Macdonald decided to deal."
"A convention of elected delegates from the Red River community at large was called. They drew up a "list of rights," proposing terms for admission of the territory into Confederation. These were promptly ignored by Riel, who added his own demands for provincial status and separate schools: terms which, whatever their merits, very nearly scuppered the negotiation."
"Now fast-forward 15 years. Exiled to the United States, after some years in a Quebec mental asylum, Riel is persuaded to return to Canada to take up the cause of the Metis in Saskatchewan . . . . "
"Duck Lake, and the subsequent two-month campaign of terror under the inevidtable "provisional government." Eventually the revolt was extinguished, but not before scores of lives were lost."
"This is the man whom we are asked to exonerate. Perhaps, in a way, this is appropriate. Had Riel succeeded, there might have been no Canada. If we cannot convict a man who would destroy the country by violent means, what is left of treason? Is it possible to betray a country that has no will to live?"
"National Post" newspaper
"The forest from the treason"
by Andrew Coyne
Wednesday, April 14, 1999
Andrew Coyne is concerned that Riel could be glorified.
Should Riel be glorified? Historical figures must be depicted realistically because this is the first step towards general acceptance of their true worth. Glorifying a controversial person simply makes opponents to that person more upset and angry. The result of this is a lack of acceptance of the historical figure and a country which is more divided.
Riel was the key person in the creation of Manitoba, so like Joey Smallwood from Newfoundland, he deserves to be called a father of Confederation. Even though Riel was found guilty of high treason in 1885, it does not undo the fact that he was instrumental in the creation of Manitoba fifteen years earlier.
Mr. Coyne also claims that
Mr. Coyne chooses to simplify the events with the claim that Riel attempted to overthrow the government by force of arms. In my view, this is a misleading encapsulation of everything that happened which fails to put things in context.
Without any input from the Metis, the Canadian government purchased the land the Metis had spent their lives on, began governing them without giving them any say, and then made bad decisions that had a strong impact on the Metis. When the Metis took over Fort Garry there was no violence. So, Mr. Coyne's simple statement that Riel did "attempt to overthrow the government by force of arms" does not accurately reflect what happened.
Andrew Coyne reminds us that Riel " . . . led not one but two armed uprisings against the legitimate constitutional government of Canada . . ."
In the period before 1885, Riel and the Metis did their best to solve their problems by peaceful means. It was not a time when picketing would do any good or when the news media could present the issues and demand fairness and justice on everybody's television at 6 o'clock. While we can criticize Riel and the Metis for failing to be extremely patient, we also need to appreciate that they struggled for decades with bad treatment. They faced the White "civilization" which had strong biases and which was influenced by groups who were racist. Under the circumstances, there was little to indicate that eventually the Metis would be treated fairly.
But, while we can sympathize with the Metis and Natives, we must not lose sight of the fact that treason is a serous crime. Today, when someone becomes bitter, then makes a bad decision and commits murder, we do not sympathize with him and say he is a nice guy and it was only a mistake. For the most part, we ignore all the times he was a nice guy and the good things he has done in his life, and look at the deliberate act of murder. Then, he is sent to prison. Likewise, when people take up arms against the government, we must be careful not to sympathize too much. Many people died. In many ways treason is far worse than murder.
Mr. Coyne claims that Riel ignored the list of rights that the Metis drew up. He criticizes Riel for adding his own demands for provincial status and separate schools by saying that they "very nearly scuppered the negotiation."
Andrew Coyne continues by quoting that Riel "may seriously have considered the alternative of annexation to the United States." Later, he concludes his column with an emotional statement: "If we cannot convict a man who would destroy the country by violent means, what is left of treason?"
In fact, Riel was part of the process in 1879, when the list of rights were drawn up by the Metis, so he agreed with the list of rights. While Riel's additions could have "scuttled the process," they didn't. The fact that the additions were also accepted suggest that Riel may have known what he was doing.
Mr. Coyne says that Riel was a man who would destroy the country by violent means. But, just because one of the alternatives that Riel was considering in their complex and difficult situation was to join the United States does not mean he should be accused of destroying the country.
He states that there is good reason to think that Riel was insane at the time.
He also quotes this description of Riel by historian Donald Creighton.
He claims that Riel was:
Mr. Coyne then adds his own conclusion: "A revolutionary, in other words."
Many writers have assumed that Riel was insane at the time, and even Riel's lawyers believed that his best defense was to claim insanity. However, we need to keep in mind that Riel was a Metis, and he was deeply religious. It is extremely difficult to understand and pass fair judgment on this, especially if you are a rational, analytical White person with different background and beliefs.
As well, Riel was living a life full of uncertainty, and he had to adjust to the extremes in his life. At one point he hit a high by helping to create a province in a dramatic fashion and being so popular that he was elected to the Canadian Parliament. This contrasts with his life immediately afterwards in which he was unable to help the Manitoba Metis while they were mistreated. As well, he had to live in the United States and avoid capture due to the $5,000 reward that was offered. [Also, Maggie Siggins in Riel: A Life of Revolution gives reasons to believe that Riel faked his insanity. p. 279]
Coyne states that "perhaps our greatest historian," Creighton states that Riel was an able but temperamental and dictatorial man. However, Riel spent months preparing the 1884 petition and trying to make it agreeable to everyone. As well, in 1879 in Manitoba he worked with other Metis to help create their "Bill of Rights." This is not the work of a dictator. Also, the natural role of religious leaders (such as a priest) is to give directions. I have not heard of anyone who has accused a Priest of being a dictator.
He adds that Riel was full of delusions of grandeur. This assumption has been made by many, not just Mr. Coyne. While in a sense this is true, we must keep in mind that Riel's dreams and plans to help the Metis were much closer to reality than what people realize. We must take into account that Riel had already accomplished the impossible, by creating a new Province in a dramatic and surprisingly non-violent way. As well, the Metis had confidence in their fighting ability, confidence that White people and some historians tend to overlook. (See details on the amazing Battle of Grand Côteau three paragraphs down.)
It is also stated that Riel was quite without compunction in the use of force. However, it was Riel who wanted to gain settlement in 1885 using peaceful means, and he is the one who told Dumont that he did not want the railway blown up. The impression that his personal diary gives is that, in spite of what Riel stated in his irrational outbursts, he had a strong preference for peace.
Some people probably label Riel as a revolutionary because they are unaware of the full story. In order to allow an unbiased evaluation of events, my account avoids detailed descriptions about Riel's strong desire to help his people, about how the Metis felt in response to all the injustices they experienced, or about their frustrations with the government. So, an unfeeling and uncaring person can still read the account and say the Metis struggles were not a big deal and that Riel was there just to cause trouble. It is time for us to put things in the context of what actually happened and give the Metis respect.
The Battle of Grand Côteau
One reason why it appears that both Riel and the Metis were extremely optimistic about the outcome of using force against the government is because of their past experiences. They were proud of how effective they had been in past battles. The following will help you to understand why:
Around 1853, a small group of Metis traveled into Sioux territory while they were looking for buffalo. When the Sioux saw them, the Metis quickly formed their wagons into a circle. Rifle pits were dug around the outside to protect the men; the women stayed on the inside, behind the wagons.
The Sioux held talks with the Metis during the first day, but they could not come to an agreement.
The next morning, just after dawn, about 2,500 Native warriors appeared on the horizon. They faced the 77 armed Metis. Gabriel Dumont, who was only 13 years old at the time, was also in the rifle pits.
The Sioux attacked. They rode round the Metis, firing their guns and shooting arrows. Sometimes, they would charge at a Metis weak spot. But the Metis sharpshooters were able to stop every charge.
At the end of the day, the Natives retreated. While about 80 Sioux had died, the Metis did not lose anyone.
The Sioux had been known as one of the fiercest tribes on the plains. After this battle, the Sioux never again made a major attack on the Metis. [About 15 years later, it was the Sioux who wiped out General Custer and his entire Seventh Calvary at the battle of the Little Big Horn.]
Comment From A Metis:
[Suggestions for my account of Riel, Dumont, and the 1885 Rebellion]
November 5, 1998:
Hello Mr Brown;
I read with interest your rather biased account of the 1885 Metis resistance, perhaps you would take a more non-biased aproach if you had read a few other points of view, may I suggest Maggie Siggins Book "Loius Riel" the life of a revolutionary, We are very familiar with Flanigans aproach to history and consider him to not only biased but r - . If you are really interested in the Metis viewpoint of history, it is available.
One of the best outsider's books on Riel and 1885 is Strange Empire written by an American. If I can help you access other books and sources of information, you have only to ask.
- name -
"We left Manitoba because we were not free and we came here to what was still a wild country in order to be free. And still they do not leave us alone."
Gabriel Dumont, 1903
January 2, 2004:
In response to finally finding time to read Maggie Siggin's Book Riel: A Life of Revolution, I made a few minor modifications and additions to my account. Flannagan's evaluation of Riel and the Metis also gives me difficulties, so I recommend that the reader read the critical and insightful letter that is published in Maggie Siggin's Book on page 453.
In June (1999) I got another e-mail:
Hello again Mr. Brown:
I have just looked at your addition to the 1885 Battle of Batoche and I again disagree with your slant . . . . Perhaps you will find there is another slant to instaed of Mr, Flanagans and assoc.
I did some more research but didn't get far until I got the following e-mail.
Hello Again Mr.Brown:
I have found in my files a copy of "The Beaver"Summer 1985, on page 36 and on is an articule titled "The Bremner Furs".
Since I had carefully researched my account about ten years before, I was reluctant to make changes. However, after reviewing the article on "The Bremner Furs" and a book on Metis land claims, and careful consideration
I made the following changes:
Middleton became a national hero and he was knighted by the Queen. But later, he was accused of taking furs from a Metis. The resulting scandal ruined his reputation, so he returned to England.
Middleton became a national hero and he was knighted by the Queen. But later, it was discovered that he had taken furs from an English Metis. The resulting scandal ruined his reputation, so he returned to England.
As well, the following paragraph was added to give the reader a better feeling for how things turned out for the Metis.
Unfortunately, the Metis were not able to make good use of some of the land they were awarded, and they did not understand the long term value of it. White speculators took advantage of the Metis, bought their land grants, and made huge profits.
Since that is the final paragraph, it puts a different slant on the entire account. I now feel that my account gives a fairer impression of what happened and I am grateful for the feedback.
The Metis responded in another e-mail : "Yes after reading your comments, I think you are getting closer to the truth. . . . "
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