Louis Riel was a Canadian political activist and resistance leader living in Manitoba in the 1800’s. He is now considered to be Manitoba’s first leader. During his life he was considered to be a traitor to Canada and was convicted of high treason, a criminal offence. He is now widely deemed a Métis hero. Louis was born in St. Boniface, Manitoba. He fought to preserve Métis rights and lives in their homeland against colonizing Canadians. As pro- Canadians attempted to settle the West killing and running out indigenous Métis people, Louis led two resistance movements. These movements are known as the Red River Rebellion in Manitoba in 1869-1870 and the Northwest Rebellion in Saskatchewan in 1885.
Louis and his followers established a provisional government in Manitoba during the Red River Rebellion. Shortly thereafter Louis executed Thomas Scott, who was a member of a pro-Canadian faction attempting to establish federal authority who had resisted Louis’ government and had threatened to kill Luis. Following Thomas’ execution the Federal forces took over Manitoba. Louis was wanted for high treason. He fled to the United States to escape his death.
In 1884 Métis in Saskatchewan asked Louis to help protect their rights from Canadians. Louis returned to Canada to assist the resistance. This resistance would become a military operation, with the resistance fighting against the Canadians. Louis would eventually be captured by Canadians. He was hanged in 1885 for the criminal offence of high treason. At the time he was viewed by Canadians as a criminal, deemed guilty of a criminal offence and consequently executed.
“He was a defender of the fundamental values that Canadians hold dear, including equality and social justice. All Canadians, whether they are Métis or not, can be proud of what Louis Riel accomplished,” Carolyn Bennett, minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs.
Canada is now of the view that Louis was unjustly murdered by Canadians at that time. He was unquestionably innocent. He was fighting for the Métis people. Today Luis’ views and what he was fighting for align with current Canadian values.
In the 1980’s there was a call to pardon Lois. However it was thought that by granting Louis a pardon, there would be an assumption of his guilt. It was deemed that for that reason an exoneration is necessary. Canada needs to acknowledge his actions as heroic rather than criminal and allow Louis to take his place in the history of Canada.
High Treason Criminal Code of Canada
- 47 (1) Every one who commits high treason is guilty of an indictable offence and shall be sentenced to imprisonment for life.
- Marginal note:Punishment for treason
(2) Every one who commits treason is guilty of an indictable offence and liable
- (a) to be sentenced to imprisonment for life if he is guilty of an offence under paragraph 46(2)(a), (c) or (d);
- (b) to be sentenced to imprisonment for life if he is guilty of an offence under paragraph 46(2)(b) or (e) committed while a state of war exists between Canada and another country; or
- (c) to be sentenced to imprisonment for a term not exceeding fourteen years if he is guilty of an offence under paragraph 46(2)(b) or (e) committed while no state of war exists between Canada and another country.
- Marginal note:Corroboration
(3) No person shall be convicted of high treason or treason on the evidence of only one witness, unless the evidence of that witness is corroborated in a material particular by evidence that implicates the accused.
- Marginal note:Minimum punishment
(4) For the purposes of Part XXIII, the sentence of imprisonment for life prescribed by subsection (1) is a minimum punishment.