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The Trial of Louis Riel
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LESSON 27: The Trial of Louis Riel

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This lesson corresponds to material found in:
Episode 10 Taking the West

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Backgrounder

In a hot, sticky court room in Regina, Saskatchewan, in July 1885, Louis Riel went on trial for high treason. In spite of the efforts of his defense team to mount an insanity plea, Riel himself did his utmost to undermine his own lawyers. He claimed he simply wanted to protect the rights of Métis and Natives in the west. After just four days of a trial conducted exclusively in english, the jury handed down a guilty verdict with a plea for clemency from the Court. But the only possible sentence for high treason was death. The judge condemned Riel to death by hanging.

News of the guilty verdict split the country down linguistic lines. English Canadians applauded Riel's pending execution. Catholic Quebec was outraged to see a man who had been defending the rights of his community facing a death sentence.

A series of rejected appeals and the results of a government inquiry into the mental state of Riel (the findings of which were falsified by Ottawa in order to declare Riel sane), Macdonald's government set the date of execution for November 16, 1885. The decision would have unforeseeable consequences for Macdonald's Conservatives in Quebec. Within a few short years, his Party would wither away, failing to win another majority of seats in that province until 1958. The rights of francophones outside of Quebec were perceived to be in jeopardy across Canada.

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    Lesson Plans
    Episode 1
    When the World Began...
    Lesson 1 Canada's First Peoples
    (includes activity)
    Lesson 2 Stories of Creation
    Lesson 3 Cartier and Donnacona

    Episode 2
    Adventures and Mystics
    Lesson 4 The Beginning of the Fur Trade
    (includes activity)
    Lesson 5 The Jesuits and the Huron
    Lesson 6 Immigration to New France

    Episode 3
    Claiming the Wilderness
    Lesson 7 Expansion to the Gulf of Mexico
    (includes activity)
    Lesson 8 The Expulsion of the Acadians

    Episode 4
    Battle for a Continent
    Lesson 9 Before the Battle of the Plains of Abraham
    Lesson 10 The Battle of the Plains of Abraham
    Lesson 11 The Quebec Act
    (includes activity)

    Episode 5
    A Question of Loyalties
    Lesson 12 Conflict in Quebec, 1775
    Lesson 13 United Empire Loyalists
    (includes activity)
    Lesson 14 Sir Isaac Brock and Tecumseh

    Episode 6
    The Pathfinders
    Lesson 15 The Fur Trade in Canada
    (includes activity)
    Lesson 16 The Selkirk Settlers
    Lesson 17 The Gold Rush

    Episode 7
    Rebellion and Reform
    Lesson 18 The Rebellions of 1837
    Lesson 19 Union of the Canadas
    (includes activity)
    Lesson 20 A Land of Hope

    Episode 8
    The Great Enterprise
    Lesson 21 Newcomers to Canada
    Lesson 22 The Making of Confederation
    (includes activity)
    Lesson 23 Confederation in the Maritimes

    Episode 9
    From Sea to Sea
    Lesson 24 The Red River Resistance
    (includes activity)
    Lesson 25 The Pacific Scandal

    Episode 10
    Taking the West
    Lesson 26 The North-West Rebellion
    Lesson 27 The Trial of Louis Riel
    Lesson 28 Macdonald's National Dream

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