Debates of the House of Commons of Canada
35th Parliament - 1st and 2nd Sessions
PRIVATE MEMBERS' BUSINESS
Act To Revoke The Conviction Of Louis David Riel
Mrs. Suzanne Tremblay (Rimouski-Témiscouata, BQ) moved that Bill C-288, an act to revoke the conviction of Louis David Riel, be read the second time and referred to the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage.
She said: Mr. Speaker, on November 28, 1985, under Standing Order 22, better known today as Standing Order 31, the Deputy Prime Minister sought posthumous pardon for Louis David Riel. At that time, the hon. member for Hamilton East said, and I quote: ''Louis Riel, who died unnecessarily, deserves to be exonerated by the Government and recognized as a victim of wrongdoing''.
The aim of Bill C-288, an act to revoke the conviction of Louis David Riel, which is before the House in second reading today, is simply to exonerate the victim of a conspiracy. The members of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs representing the Liberal Party of Canada and the Reform Party joined forces and decided that this bill was not votable, despite the fact that a number of government members welcomed it enthusiastically.
It was not the intention of the Bloc Quebecois in introducing it to further complicate relations between whites and native peoples and between anglophones and francophones.
The Bloc Quebecois' action is in step with work begun by Canadian parliamentarians, who, for more than ten years, have been asking the members of this House to rise temporarily above partisan bickering and join together to revoke the conviction of Louis Riel.
Here is a brief history of the interventions preceding this one. On September 23, 1983, MP William Yurko tabled Bill C-691, an act to pardon Louis David Riel. He tried again on March 14, 1984 with Bill C-228.
A few months later, Les Benjamin, member for Regina-Lumsden, twice tabled a bill, this time to revoke the conviction of Louis David Riel-first on June 28, 1984 and then on December 13, 1984.
On September 16, 1987, the member for Kamloops tabled the same bill. On October 13, 1989, Mr. Skelly, member for Comox-Alberni, tabled a notice of motion to recognize Louis Riel as a Father of Confederation.
Lastly, on March 10, 1992, the Right Hon. Joe Clark, President of the Privy Council and Minister responsible for Constitutional Affairs in the Mulroney government and hon. member for Yellowhead, introduced a resolution, which was adopted, whereby the House recognized, and I quote: ''The unique and historic role of Louis Riel as a founder of Manitoba and his contribution in the development of Confederation'' and agreed to ''support by its actions the true attainment, both in principle and practice, of the constitutional rights of the Metis people''.
The bill currently being debated in the House is identical to the ones which have been introduced by the New Democrats over the past ten years. Furthermore, I have been told that, at one time, there was agreement between the three parties, Conservatives, Liberals and New Democrats, to pass the bill, but it was never pursued.
The bill we are considering today does not aim to rewrite history. That would be impossible. Riel is dead. And, anyway, the act to revoke his conviction aims to revoke his unjust conviction, 110 years after his death.
On November 16, 1885, Louis ''David'' Riel, the Metis hero, was hanged. At a time when means of communication were far from being what they are today, the unjust hanging of Riel upset an indignant population, even as far away as on Quebec's shores.
Less than one week after his hanging, on November 22, 1885, close to 50,000 people gathered in the Champ de Mars in Montreal, to hear the famous cry of Honoré Mercier, one of the greatest of all of Quebec's premiers: ''Riel, our brother, is dead''.
Premier Mercier's cry is how any free person would have marked the passing of any just woman or man who was unjustly assassinated. It also is a cry marking the passing of a man who fought injustice towards his people.
For this reason, the case of Riel is exemplary. I remember the resolution introduced in this House by the Right Hon. Joe Clark on March 10, 1992. Watered down to satisfy the Conservative and Liberal dinosaurs of the day, the resolution which was adopted unanimously recognizes that the Metis and Louis Riel had just cause to fight against the Canadian government. The resolution states, and I quote:
That this House take note that the Metis people of Rupert's Land and the North Western Territory through democratic structures and procedures took effective steps to maintain order and protect the lives, rights and property of the people of the Red River;
That this House take note that, in 1870, under the leadership of Louis Riel, the Metis of the Red River adopted a List of Rights;
That this House take note that, based on the List of Rights, Louis Riel negotiated the terms for the admission of Rupert's Land and the North Western Territory into the Dominion of Canada;
That this House take note that these terms for admission form part of the Manitoba Act;
That this House take note that, after negotiating Manitoba's entry into Confederation, Louis Riel was elected thrice to the House of Commons;
That this House take note that, in 1885, Louis Riel paid with his life for his leadership in a movement which fought for the maintenance of the rights and freedoms of the Metis people;
That this House take note that the Constitution Act, 1982, recognizes and affirms the existing aboriginal and treaty right of the Metis;
That this House take note that since the death of Louis Riel, the Metis people have honoured his memory and continued his purposes in their honourable striving for the implementation of those rights.
Twice, Riel defended the Metis against the Canadian government: in 1869 in Manitoba and in 1885 in Saskatchewan.
The legitimate, democratic and just nature of what he did must be emphasized. What Riel did was legitimate and has been recognized as such by all those who have made a careful analysis of the behaviour of the Canadian government's representatives in 1869. Even Macdonald later acknowledged that, in the circumstances, the inhabitants of the young colony had been obliged to form a government in order to protect their lives and their property.
What Riel did was democratic. At all stages, Riel ensured that the people were consulted and that anglophone and francophone groups were represented in equal proportions, even though francophones were the more numerous of the two groups at the time.
What Riel did was just. In his list of rights, Riel included representation in the government of Canada, guarantees of bilingualism in the provincial legislature, a bilingual chief justice and provisions for free farms and treaties with the Indians.
Riel was elected to the House of Commons three times as the representative for Provencher. In an upcoming book on Riel, Richard Saindon, a CBC journalist in Rimouski, tells how on March 30, 1874 the then member for Rimouski, Jean-Baptiste-Romuald Fiset, took a hooded Riel in through one of the concealed doors to be sworn in as a member of Parliament and sign the registry. On April 9, 1874 he was expelled from the House. The motion was re-introduced, and when he was re-elected in absentia on September 3, 1874 for the third time, he was prevented from taking his seat.
The strain of his battle for the Metis took a lasting toll on his mental health and he had to be hospitalized. He was admitted to the asylum at Longue Pointe, now Louis-Hippolyte Lafontaine, on March 6, 1876. In May of that year, in a move to outwit his political enemies, he was transferred to the asylum at Beauport, now Robert Giffard, which he left a year and a half later on the undertaking that he would lead a quiet life.
In July 1884, at the request of Metis, anglophones and Indians in Saskatchewan, Riel, who was then living in Montana, returned to Canada, to Batoche in Saskatchewan, to defend his people. On December 16, 1884, the organization representing the Metis and anglophones sent the Canadian government a long petition with 25 clauses, mostly about land claims, which outlined Metis and Indian grievances.
Representatives of the Saskatchewan people requested that they be allowed to send delegates to Ottawa with their List of Rights as in 1870, so that an agreement could be reached on their entry into Confederation, should they become a free province. Secretary of State Chapleau acknowledged receipt of the petition and then Prime Minister Macdonald, who later denied receiving it, passed it on to his Minister of the Interior, the hon. David Lewis Macpherson.
While Riel suffered renewed attacks of paranoia as a result of the tension, the federal government responded to the Saskatchewan people's fair demands by sending in the army. On May 15, 1885, Riel gave himself up.
As for the trial which led the Metis hero to the scaffold, it was full of irregularities. Let us look at the facts. Militia minister Joseph-Philippe-René-Adolphe Caron sent Riel to jail in Winnipeg. For his part, then Prime Minister John Alexander Macdonald wanted to ensure a unanimous verdict. He analyzed the situation. He knew that people in Regina did not like the accused, while Winnipeg residents were supportive of him. He therefore decided to have Riel tried in Regina instead of Winnipeg.
In fact, if Riel had been tried in Winnipeg, he would have been entitled to a 12-man jury, half of which could be made up of francophones. He would also have been entitled to a Superior Court judge whose independence is guaranteed by law and custom.
However, conditions were quite different in Regina: with no guarantee of bilingualism, the jury was composed of English-speaking Protestants. The only francophone out of the 36 people who were called had an accident and the only Catholic recused himself. A unilingual English judge, Richardson, was chosen. He owed his position to the federal government and could be summarily dismissed at any time.
Among the 84 accused rebels, Riel was the only one tried under a 1352 English law rather than the 1868 Canadian legislation. The former provided for compulsory capital punishment and the latter, for life imprisonment.
Although Mr. Roy, the Beauport asylum's medical superintendent, and Daniel Clark, the superintendent of the insane asylum in Toronto, recognized that Riel suffered from megalomania, preference was given to the evidence given by Wallace, medical superintendent of the insane asylum in Hamilton, who, on the basis of a half-hour interview, maintained that Riel was of sound mind.
In his address to the jury, Judge Richardson appeared strongly prejudiced against Riel, according to Thomas in the Dictionary of Canadian Biography. In fact, the Macdonald government sacrificed Riel to the powerful Ontario Orangemen's lobby.
To justify itself, cabinet goes as far as falsifying, in a report to this House, the report by Dr. Valade attesting that Riel was not guilty by reason of insanity. From 1885 to this day, every psychiatrist who reviewed Riel's case, with one exception, diagnosed the Metis leader as suffering from grandiose delusion. Finally, on the one hand, the Canadian justice system convicted 20 Metis and many Indians, but on the other hand, it acquitted two White settlers charged with a national security offence, namely Jackson and Thomas Scott.
Riel's assassination, while being the most visible manifestation of it, is but one of the elements of a national policy aimed at quashing any wish to have a distinct society west of Ontario.
Francophones account for only 1.9 per cent of all immigrants who settled in Western Canada. It is therefore no wonder that, today, francophones account for as little as 4.7 per cent of the population in Manitoba; 2.2 per cent in Saskatchewan; 2.3 per cent in Alberta; 1.6 per cent in British Columbia; 3.3 per cent in the Yukon and 2.5 per cent in the Northwest Territories, when in the days of Louis Riel, the francophone community was the largest community in Western Canada.
No wonder such an adverse immigration policy led to francophones becoming assimilated in a flash, as we can see from 1991 statistics, which indicate rates of assimilation of 52.1 per cent in Manitoba; 69.6 per cent in Saskatchewan; 66.9 per cent in Alberta; 75.2 per cent in British Columbia; and 56.6 per cent in the Yukon and the Northwest Territories.
In 1891, the Canadian government put a Quebec religious teaching order in charge of opening schools in the West to turn francophone Metis children into anglophones. A century later, at a mass celebrated on September 3, 1991, the Sisters of the Assumption recognized their participation in the cultural genocide of the Metis in Alberta.
Louis Riel was hanged for being a Metis and a francophone, for having advocated a distinct society. I had hoped that on the 110th anniversary of his assassination, this House would rise to the occasion and honour this man who devoted his life to championing the rights of his people. I must face facts and realize that it is no use.
To those who strongly object to such historical reminders, I simply want to remind that to deny the past is to fail to try to understand the present and, most importantly, to refuse to give ourselves a future.
We, in Quebec, have looked at these events of the past. What we understand about our present circumstances is that the rest of Canada denies our existence and refuses to see and accept us as different. That is why the only possible future for us rests in the courage and pride we will take in soon giving ourselves a country of our own.
Mr. Robert Bertrand (Pontiac-Gatineau-Labelle, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, I want to discuss private member's bill C-288, an Act to revoke the conviction of Louis David Riel, which was tabled by the hon. member for Rimouski-Témiscouata. The preamble of this bill states that Louis David Riel, Member of the House of Commons for the electoral district of Provencher from 1873 to 1874, was convicted on August 1, 1885 of high treason, sentenced to death, and was hanged on November 16, 1885, at Regina, North West Territories.
The bill also states that notwithstanding his conviction, Louis David Riel has become a symbol and a hero to successive generations of Canadians who have, through their governments, honoured and commemorated him in specific projects and actions. The purpose of this bill, is to revoke the conviction of Louis Riel for high treason. To that end, the hon. member who sponsors the bill refers to the role played by Louis Riel in Canadian history.
Louis Riel was elected three times to this House. His constituents considered him to be a guide who was reliable, intelligent and educated. Louis Riel worked in close co-operation with the members of his community to help them identify and state their claims and their objectives. Louis Riel played a major role in helping Manitoba become a member of Confederation as a province, not as part of the North West Territories, and in ensuring that the guarantees protecting religion and the language were enshrined in the Manitoba Act. I think we all recognize the very prominent role played by Louis Riel as protector of the interests of the Metis, as well as his contribution to the development of western Canada.
Some actions have already taken in the past to recognize the contribution of Louis Riel to the building of our country. Let me just briefly mention the issue of stamps, the erection of statues and the organizing of cultural events. Moreover, on March 10, 1992, the House of Commons passed a resolution, tabled by the then President of the Privy Council and Minister responsible for Constitutional Affairs, recognizing the role played by Louis Riel.
That resolution, which was passed by this House and the other place, received the support of the Metis nation of Canada and ended with these words: ''That this House recognize the unique and historic role of Louis Riel as a founder of Manitoba and his contribution in the development of Confederation; and that this House support by its actions the true attainment, both in principle and in practice, of the constitutional rights of the Metis people''. Members on this side of the House supported the resolution and recognized Louis Riel's contribution. Louis Riel paid the ultimate price as leader of a movement which fought to protect the rights and freedoms of the Metis people.
He was convicted of high treason, sentenced to death and hanged. This bill, which seeks to revoke the conviction of Louis Riel, raises important issues which must be carefully reviewed. As I said, it seeks to revoke the conviction of Louis Riel, an event which is also part of Canada's history. In conclusion, I suggest that we take a look to see how we could implement this initiative.
Mrs. Jan Brown (Calgary Southeast, Ref.): Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to Bill C-288, an act to revoke the conviction of Louis David Riel. I acknowledge and appreciate the point of view brought forward by my colleague and friend from Rimouski-Témiscouata.
As a member of Parliament from Alberta, I am well aware of the controversial role that Louis Riel played in the political development of the west. Some historians depict Riel as a traitor who openly rebelled against Ottawa. Others consider him a father of Confederation who in 1870 negotiated Manitoba's entry into the dominion. Still others consider him the founder of western alienation movements which have protested central Canadian political and economic power.
For over a century now this historiographical debate has been raging as to whether Riel was a traitor or a martyr. I do not believe we will resolve that debate today. Having said that, I believe it is inappropriate as well as unnecessary to revisit and to rewrite our national history. Granted, some of the decisions taken in the Riel trial are questionable, but I am not convinced this bill was put forward to simply right a perceived wrong.
Thus far in the 35th Parliament, two Bloc Quebecois initiatives with revisionist undertones have been debated. First there was Motion No. 257 which set out to officially sanction at the federal level Patriots Day. On November 1, 1994 I cautioned the House that if it adopted the motion of the hon. member for Verchères we would be galvanizing support for a celebration with sovereigntist undertones.
In addition to the examples I presented to the House last November, I have since discovered another one. It is in a scene from Denis Falardeau's latest film Octobre. As most of us know, its production was heavily financed by the National Film Board as well as by Telefilm. At one point in the film the FLQ kidnappers of Pierre Laporte made reference to their historical and emotional ties with the Patriotes' objectives during the 1837-38 rebellion.
Now the House is debating Bill C-288. Our hon. colleague from Rimouski-Témiscouata knows full well the controversy surrounding the conviction of Louis Riel and the national schism which followed his hanging and her eloquence was a statement of that. In 1885 there was a shared minority complex between the French Canadians and the Metis people. Both groups were francophone and both groups were Catholic.
Today some members of the Bloc Quebecois are siding with francophones outside Quebec in their fight for greater rights. Since the collapse of the États généraux du Canada-français in 1968 and more recently during the Mahé case heard by the Supreme Court of Canada, Quebec nationalists have not always stood up alongside the various francophone communities in their struggles against their respective governments. Now there seems to be a renewed sense of co-operation between the Quebecois and the francophone diaspora.
With this bill the Bloc Quebecois would more than likely win the support of the franco-Manitoban and Fransaskois communities as well as gaining some sympathy for their cessionist cause. The franco-Manitobans and the Fransaskois alike must not forget that the BQ is working toward separation. The BQ may be considered in this case a circumspect ally.
However, in 1885 the French Canadians were not circumspect allies of the Metis. They were genuinely outraged at the supposed mockery of justice perpetrated against Louis Riel.
Considered by the Metis people as a hero who negotiated the Red River colony's entry into Confederation, Riel was once again called upon by his people in 1884 to lead the newest struggle against Ottawa encroachment on their land.
Riel and his followers took up arms against federal troops. Outmanned and outgunned, Riel finally surrendered on May 15, 1885. The prisoner was subsequently transferred to Regina for his trial. On August 1, after only a half hour of deliberation, the jury found Louis Riel guilty of high treason. Under British law, high treason was punishable by death.
The conviction and subsequent hanging of Riel in Regina created great upheaval in Quebec. On November 17, the day following the execution, Honoré Mercier founded a new political party which included bleus as well as rouges outraged by Riel's hanging. The main objective of the new Parti National was to oust Sir John A. Macdonald and his cabinet. One of the Parti national's goals was to canalise and perpetuate the solidarity created among the French-speaking Canadians by the Riel affair.
A week after the hanging a rally at the Champs de Mars in downtown Montreal attracted thousands. The crowd gathered to express its frustration with how English Canada had treated one of its own in the west. Honoré Mercier started his now famous speech with a call for solidarity: ''Riel, notre frère est mort-''
Mercier went on to say: ''By killing Riel, sir John not only hit our race in the heart, but he mostly hurt the cause of justice and humanity, which, represented in all languages and blessed by all religions, appealed for clemency on behalf of the Regina prisoner, our poor brother from the Northwest''.
Also during the rally resolutions were passed which stated:
''Whereas it is obvious that the government used this execution purely for political gain; that it coldly calculated how many ridings would be lost to a policy of clemency and justice; that as a result of these calculations, it sacrificed our brother to the hate of fanatics, allowing them to turn against one another the various races who, in this country, live under the protection of the English flag; RESOLVED: That, by executing Louis Riel on November 16, the government of sir John A. Macdonald committed an inhuman and cruel act unworthy of a civilized nation, and especially deserves the reprobation of all citizens of this province''.
I am afraid Bill C-288 will evoke if not stir these sentiments of English Canada versus those of French Canada once again. On the eve of one of our country's most passionate debates the Bloc Quebecois perhaps is evoking controversial episodes of our national history, episodes that tore at the very fabric of our country. First there was motion 257 which dealt with the Patriots and now there is Bill C-288 which deals with Louis Riel.
Further to this discussion, Jeffrey Simpson stated in his December 20, 1994 article in the Globe and Mail entitled ''The Liberals refuse the queue that's trying to wag the government'':
History is always being rewritten, so that the devils of yesterday sometimes become the martyrs of today, and heroes in their time often lose their lustre with the passing of years. Understanding history is critical so that the errors of the past are not repeated, but retrospective justice asks today's Canadians to pay for decisions they had no part in making.
Jeffrey Simpson is right. We must understand our past so that we may forge ahead. The hanging of Louis Riel created a great uproar all across the land, especially in Quebec. Instead of evoking controversial elements of our past, should we not as legislators be looking for solutions to today's problems?
I find it regrettable that the House is spending this time debating issues such as these. All of us as parliamentarians should be concentrating our efforts on finding solutions to present day problems. By saying this I in no way mean that we should not be proud of our history, that we should not become more familiar with controversial episodes of our national history and that we should not forget where we come from because as Donald Creighton, one of Canada's foremost scholars, argues, for a solution to a political problem to be efficient, it must be based on a sound understanding of history.
When I say the House should be debating present day problems, I mean there are so many issues, political, economic, social, of great consequence. Even my colleagues in the Bloc Quebecois would agree these are the things we should be debating on the floor of the House instead of arguing whether Louis Riel was a martyr or a traitor. That task may be better left to historians.
Without a doubt Louis Riel is a controversial figure in Canadian history. Some consider him a traitor, others a martyr and still others consider him the founder of the western alienation movements.
Who are we as parliamentarians to revisit events which took place over a century ago and pass judgment on them?
Mr. Ronald J. Duhamel (Parliamentary Secretary to President of the Treasury Board, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, it is a great pleasure to address the House this afternoon.
I think that this initiative must be carefully examined.
My intention today is not to bring back the past. I do not know the answers. As we know very well, there are people who question whether or not justice was served. I honestly believe that a number of irregularities were committed which clearly show that justice was not served. But let us not join the debate. Let us look at the situation today, at what people believe happened to him. That is what I am mainly interested in.
There is a great deal of controversy surrounding Riel, and I think this is not the objective we have in mind. I could identify historians who could come and tell us what they believe is the truth about Riel. They are absolutely convinced that they are right, and I suspect that they would share to a certain extent the opinion of my colleague who spoke before me. Others would tend to side with the hon. member who delivered the first speech.
So I will put all that aside for now. I would like to focus on what we know, the facts on which we can agree. For example, I think that we agree on the fact that irregularities were committed during the trial. We heard all kinds of evidence and I will not go over it again. I think that we should talk, as I did, to the Metis in Manitoba and elsewhere about Riel, because he is still a hero to them. They know, admire and respect Louis Riel, who is a symbol to the Metis and a number of other groups, including francophones, at least francophones in my region-and I am not saying that to denigrate francophones elsewhere. The fact is that we may know him a little better because we lived with him.
He was elected three times to the legislature. There was a certain amount of respect on the part of the population. Whether or not we agree on his definition of society, he worked to define and formulate his constituents' demands and objectives. He was very sincere in doing this. We often forget that he wanted Manitoba to join Confederation and not the Northwest Territories. He wanted religious and linguistic guarantees in the Manitoba Act. He looked after, perhaps mainly, the interest of the Metis, but also that of the francophones, of course, and the anglophones as well because, as mentioned earlier, he was a man ahead of his time. Even at that time, he was a man with a very keen sense of justice, a judgment like we wish we could see more often in many sectors of our society today.
On March 10, 1992, the following resolution was introduced in this House, and I quote: ''That this House recognize the unique and historic role of Louis Riel as a founder of Manitoba and his contribution in the development of Confederation and support by its actions the true attainment, both in principle and practice, of the constitutional rights of the Metis people''. That is what this House declared on March 10, 1992. I was there. I even spoke on this resolution. If I am not mistaken-I did not have the time to go back and check- the majority, if not the vast majority, of the members present supported this resolution. I find this very commendable.
As I said earlier, I do not intend to try to change or rewrite history, because I do not have the answers. But what I will do is look at who Riel is today. I shared with you, Mr. Speaker, and my hon. colleagues of this House what I was told by the Metis people, the francophones who know him, and the historians who studied him.
This bill calls for Louis Riel's conviction to be revoked. As I said at the beginning of my remarks, I think this is something we should take a real good look at and I suggest that we appoint a committee, with perhaps one MP from each party, to determine whether or not this is feasible. Perhaps we could-and this is my wish and my distinct preference-find unanimous consent to do so.
I will sum up with these few words in English:
Louis Riel is a hero, a symbol. He was a political personality and a leader who became a victim because of a number of situations in which he found himself. Let us not kid ourselves.
He was not treated like just any other individual.
We know that. We know it deep down in our hearts.
We know it very well. We know that he was a Metis and a Catholic and that he spoke French. And we know the at the time it was very difficult to be these three things.
I said in 1992 and I will say again that Mr. Riel was a unique person, a historical personality. He was recognized as the founder of Manitoba. He has to be appreciated for his contribution to this confederation.
I will repeat my proposal that we seek the possibility of forming a committee with at least one member from each party to see whether we can make this project a reality or come to some sort of satisfactory conclusion.
Mr. Stéphane Bergeron (Verchères, BQ): Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to add my comments to those of the hon. member for Rimouski-Témiscouata who introduced Bill C-288, an Act to revoke the conviction of Louis David Riel who was unjustly accused of high treason.
The man who was hanged in Regina nearly 110 years ago today has become a truly historic figure in this country. He profoundly affected the course of events in his time and continues to do so today, in 1995 as we talk about him in this House, since his memory and his efforts to defend the rights of Canada's francophones and Metis live on in our hearts and in our history. That man was Louis David Riel.
The story of Louis Riel is one of famous speeches, of noble resolutions to support human rights and of battles that made him the hero of many generations of Metis and francophones and of the entire population of Manitoba.
As you know, Louis Riel was convicted of high treason on August 1, 1885. He was subsequently sentenced to death and hanged on November 16 that same year, at the age of 41. Those are the facts, but what did this man do to be accused of high treason? What did he do to incur this conviction and punishment? The reason we are still talking about the case of Louis Riel today, after so many years, is that many people still feel he was the victim of a miscarriage of justice.
To this day, the Canadian government has never challenged the verdict of guilty pronounced against Louis Riel, despite all the manipulation around his trial. Now that the values on which the judicial system at the time was based have changed, it is high time the Canadian government made a symbolic gesture by agreeing to revoke the conviction of Louis Riel.
Many people, and I am one of them, believe that the injustice done to Louis Riel, which continues today, arose from the very nature of the charges brought against him. Even in this House, the memory of Louis Riel has given rise to many discussions and to several unsuccessful attempts to do justice to this remarkable man, in the light of the extremely positive judgment passed by history.
I am referring, for instance, to the bills tabled in September 1983 and March 1984 by the Progressive Conservative member for Edmonton East, William Yurko, the purpose of which was to pardon Louis Riel. The memory of the Metis leader did not share the fate of the two bills which died on first reading. In December 1984, the NDP member for Regina-Lumsden, Les Benjamin, made another attempt, also unsuccessful, with a bill to revoke the conviction of Louis Riel.
On November 28, 1985, the present Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of the Environment and member for Hamilton East spoke out in favour of a review of the conviction of Louis Riel. She said in this House, and I quote: ''Mr. Speaker, we are now in November and one hundred years have gone by since the hanging of Louis Riel. I now ask that this Conservative Government exonerate the victim of the conspiracy of another Conservative Government''. The hon. member for Hamilton East went on to say, and I quote: ''Louis Riel, who died unnecessarily, deserves to be exonerated by the Government and recognized as a victim of wrongdoing''.
The search for justice is irrepressible, hard to put down as we would say, since, in 1987, the present member for Kamloops-Shuswap tabled a new bill to revoke the conviction of Louis Riel for high treason. This bill, along with the motion tabled in November 1989 by the New Democratic member for Comox-Alberni, Robert Skelly, to recognize Louis Riel as a Father of Confederation, shared the unfortunate fate of previous attempts.
The memory of Louis Riel was finally honoured on March 10, 1992 by this House, when it adopted a motion by Conservative minister Joe Clark to recognize the unique and historic role of Louis Riel as founder of Manitoba and his contribution in the development of confederation.
The motion was to the effect that the House also take note, and I quote, ''That the Metis people of Rupert's Land and the North Western Territory through democratic structures and procedures took effective steps to maintain order and protect the lives, rights and property of the people of the Red River''.
With this motion of March 10, 1992, the House also took note that, in 1870, under the leadership of Louis Riel, the Red River Metis adopted a list of rights and that, based on this list of rights, Louis Riel negotiated the terms for the admission of Rupert's Land and the North Western Territory into the Dominion of Canada. These terms of admission today still form part of the Manitoba Act. In addition, the House took note in adopting this motion that, after negotiating Manitoba's entry into Confederation, Louis Riel was elected three times to the House of Commons.
More importantly still, the House took note that, in 1885, Louis Riel paid with his life for his leadership in a movement which fought for the maintenance of the rights and freedoms of the Metis people. This was a clear affirmation, with no hint of criticism of the deeds of Louis Riel, quite the contrary. Lastly, the motion noted that since the death of Louis Riel, the Metis people have honoured his memory and furthered his purposes in their honourable striving to have us respect the rights for which he so dearly paid.
A little closer to home now, the current member for Saint-Boniface, the riding in which the body of Louis Riel is buried, would go even further and would demand that we recognize the Metis leader as one of the ''Fathers of Confederation''.
If Louis Riel has remained a hero for so many generations of Quebecers and Canadians, it is because of the reasons listed earlier and officially recognized by the House of Commoms. This House must be consistent in its own decisions and admit that it cannot recognize Louis Riel's role as founder of Manitoba and his contribution to the development of the Canadian Confederation, while still tolerating that his conviction for the offence of high treason stand.
Riel was not convicted of murder, theft or vandalism. He was convicted of high treason. But how can a traitor later be recognized as the founder of one of the provinces of the country which convicted him? If he was even guilty of any crime, might I suggest that he was probably convicted of the wrong indictment for the wrong motives. We must therefore do him justice and revoke the conviction of high treason which continues to taint his memory.
This is not rewriting history. This is simply repairing, in the light of historical facts themselves, an injustice done to Louis Riel. We must avoid giving the issue our attention only when it is convenient to do so, given popular opinion on the matter. By the same token, we must also avoid glancing selectively at the life of Louis Riel, retaining only the points which would allow us to make a hero out of him. Louis Riel cannot at the same time be both traitor and hero.
As long as this historic paradox is not eliminated, members from all parties, perhaps even Reform members, will rise in this House to ask that we put an end to it. I am hopeful that, some day, justice will be done for Louis Riel. As we know, this issue goes far beyond ideological and partisan considerations.
On February 28, the president of the Ukrainian Canadian Civil Rights Association, Mr. Gregorovich, sent a letter to every MP, asking them to support this bill. As Mr. Gregorovich pointed out, this legislation does not seek to grant a posthumous pardon to Louis Riel, but simply to strike down the conviction of high treason.
It is in that spirit that I ask for the unanimous consent of the House, so that this bill can pass second reading and be referred to the Standing Committee on Justice and Legal Affairs.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Kilger): Is there unanimous consent of the House to pass the motion tabled by the hon. member for Verchères?
Some hon. members: Yes.
Some hon. members: No.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Kilger): Order. There is not unanimous consent. Resuming debate.
Since no other member wishes to take the floor, and since the motion will not be put, the period provided for the consideration of Private Members' Business has now expired and the item is dropped from the Order Paper, pursuant to Standing Order 96.