||The Trial of Louis Riel
This lesson corresponds to material found in:
Episode 10 Taking the West
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.