CBC Digital Archives

Lesson Plan: For Teachers: Should Louis Riel Be Pardoned?

History, Political Science
2 lessons
To examine both sides of an issue in a debate
Students debate whether Louis Riel should receive a posthumous pardon.

Lesson Plan

Before Exploring

Pose the following resolution, based on the resolution the Saskatchewan Métis group passed in Batoche in 1978:

"Louis Riel was dealt with unjustly by an incompetent government which made him a scapegoat for its own failings. Be it resolved that the government of Canada act to right these wrongs against Riel and the whole Métis Nation, by granting a posthumous pardon to Riel."

Take a class vote to see how many people agree and how many people disagree with the resolution.

Outline the Opportunity

Direct students to the topic Rethinking Riel on the CBC Digital Archives website, particularly the clip "War trophy stays put."

Inform students that they will be debating the resolution on which they voted.

Divide the class into two debating teams of five or six people, with one team taking the affirmative and one the negative side. Members of the class not directly involved in the debate will be an audience and can vote at the end of the debate on which side they think won and why. Students should examine the relevant sections of the site to find arguments in support of their position. Each team should prepare an opening statement that will summarize its main arguments and present its position at the beginning of the debate.

The debate can be organized on a "tag team" basis, where each member of the team presents at least one argument in support of its position. Each team will have the opportunity to present a closing statement to the class. You may wish to act as moderator for the debate.

Revisit and Reflect

Ask the audience to determine who they think won the debate and why.

Take another class vote on the resolution, reminding people to base their response on the debate they just heard. Was one side successful in shifting the opinion of some students?

Ask students what they learned from the activity. Have your views on the issue changed as a result of the debate? Why? Do you think the issue of a pardon for Riel is still important? Why? Do you think Parliament will act to pardon Riel in the immediate future? Why? Summarize students' points.


Students can write a letter to their Member of Parliament (MP) stating their view on whether or not Louis Riel should receive a pardon.

Ask students the following questions:

Why do you think the idea of pardoning Louis Riel is still important and controversial today?
Is it a significant gesture to pardon someone who was convicted of and executed for treason over a century ago? Why or why not?

Which groups of Canadians do you think would be most in favour of, and most opposed to, pardoning Riel?

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