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Wednesday, July 21, 2010

In support of giving Louis Riel a pardon

RielThe National Post yesterday accused Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff of historical revisionism when it comes to Louis Riel. Mr. Ignatieff has recently announced that he is a supporter of the movement to give the 19th century western rebel a pardon for his conviction of treason. The Post thinks that this is mere pandering and that Mr. Ignatieff is either ignorant or intellectually dishonest. The Post’s article, on the other hand, reads like a propaganda speech by Dalton McCarthy, the anti-Catholic politician and contemporary of Louis Riel. There is a complete lack of balance displayed in the historical perspective of the National Post.

The grossest mischaracterization of Louis Riel and his rebellions came in this sentence:

Riel had also attempted to unfairly distort the land-claims process in order that his own Métis people might receive the majority of land being offered by Ottawa to native people.

No one was trying to distort anything, except for the federal government. The Métis people had settled the land in what is modern day Saskatchewan. They had cleared it with their own hands and they relied on the food that it produced for their survival. Then the federal government came to ‘survey’ the land and assign block allotments to settlers.

That is to say, the government was stealing their land.

And this is not just an abstract idea of the value of property rights. The federal government was threatening the survival of the community and causing starvation. The North-West Rebellion was a desperate act of self defence.

No one can claim that the Métis and other natives didn’t try other means than violence to resist the government. Native leader Chief Big Bear and others spent a decade petitioning the government and peacefully protesting their treatment. They were completely ignored by the political establishment in Ottawa. What choice was left them?

As much as we all deplore violence, we must remember the context of that violence.

The National Post also brings up the murder of Thomas Scott. This murder took place during the Red River Rebellion, and all participants in that rebellion received an amnesty. This amnesty included killing Thomas Scott. So as much as the National Post would like to resurrect the ghost of the dubious Thomas Scott, it is unjust to offer amnesty one year and then execution the next. If he was executed for the murder of Thomas Scott, it was an unjust conviction.

The primary issue of Riel’s trial, however, was not Thomas Scott but the more recent history of the North-West Rebellion. It was certainly a crime for Reil and his followers to take up arms against the government, but it was a crime against tyranny. Usually Canadians, as a freedom loving people, celebrate such a crime.

I will conclude with the words of Wilfrid Laurier:

 His whole crime and the crime of his friends, was that they wanted to be treated like British subjects and not to be bartered away like common cattle. If that be an act of rebellion, where is the one amongst us who if he had happened to have been with them would not have been rebels as they were?

Posted by Hugh MacIntyre on July 21, 2010 | Permalink


As for pardoning rebels, William Lyon Mackenzie took advantage of a general amnesty for the rebels of 1837 and eventually sat in the legislature of the province of Canada. There is even a statue of WLM at Queen's Park.

Posted by: Publius | 2010-07-21 6:22:01 AM

Statues as supportive footnotes to argument:

1_ Ramses I
2_ Joe Stalin
3_ Chairman Mao
4_ Elvis

Posted by: 419 | 2010-07-21 7:24:54 AM

Those pardons were issued to living persons, Publius, and Louis Riel rebelled not once, but twice, the second time after reneging on a promise to leave Canada. The American settlers would not have been pardoned either, if they had lost the Revolutionary War. If you're going to rebel, you’d better make damned sure you win, because the government is under no obligation to pat you on the head and send you on your way because you had a cause.

As for Iggy, this is definitely pandering, just as the whole long-form census flap is pandering. Honestly, who would have believed that such an incredible political tussle could result from reforming the EFFING CENSUS FORM? The sheer banality of this teapot tempest is stupefying. There aren’t words.

Posted by: Shane Matthews | 2010-07-21 10:38:09 AM

There is no limit to the depths to which the Liberals will stoop to try to obtain their "divine right" to power. As for Riel I have no problem if a pardon is granted or not granted, since it is really meaningless.

Posted by: Alain | 2010-07-21 11:31:13 AM

No, Mr. Matthews, Riel only rebelled once. He couldn't very well rebel in Manitoba, since he led the legitimate government there. It wasn't his fault that Canada threatened an illegal invasion and he had to resist it.

Otherwise, though, you've got it. I don't doubt that it would have been both humane and politically wise to have pardoned Riel, but the plain fact is that it wasn't done then, and for that very reason it can't be done now. Even to consider it is just plain stupid.

Let me speak in Mr Ignorantforeigner's defense, if only for the exercise. He didn't suggest or advocate pardoning Riel. There is a crackpot motion before the Commons seeking to have Riel declared innocent, despite the fact that he was obviously guity as charged. Someone asked Ignorantforeigner about it, and for once he had the good sense to recognize that anyone who cared about such a thing must be a crank, and returned a gentle, neutral and non-committal answer calculated not to offend or to trigger any ranting. And for his pains, his pals in the press jumped all over him. No, that really couldn't happen to a nicer guy, and it suits me fine, but let's be under no illusions as to what's really going on.

Posted by: ebt | 2010-07-21 12:34:39 PM

BQ are traitors too, I suggest we hang Duceppe.
And let Riel rest in peace, he doesn't care anymore.

Posted by: Johan i Kanada | 2010-07-22 9:33:08 AM

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