Coalition calls for exoneration of Louis Riel

·3 min read

A national coalition on Monday is calling on the Government of Canada to exonerate Louis Riel by Nov. 16, the 135th anniversary of the execution of Louis Riel.

A virtual press conference was held with notable speakers such as the President of the Union nationale métisse Saint-Joseph de Manitoba Paulette Duguay, President of British Columbia Metis Federation Keith Henry, and Montreal City Councillor Marvin Rotrand.

These Métis and First Nations leaders have sent several letters to the Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller as well as Carolyn Bennett, Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations, to propose the exoneration of Louis Riel in Parliament.

“We are very strongly pushing to have Louis Riel exonerated because it was an injustice … The fact remains that Louis Riel was hung using a five-hundred-year-old law that had no relevance in Canada,” said Henry during the conference.

“Louis Riel wasn’t fighting against Canada he was fighting to protect the land and to enter into confederation.”

The Métis leader was hanged on Nov. 16, 1885, for leading the Metis people during the Northwest Rebellion. Many leaders are now stepping up and claiming that his execution was illegal and that he should be declared innocent.

Verna George of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association called upon everyone to see Louis Riel’s life and death as emblematic of the struggles against cultural genocide and ongoing struggle today for reconciliation.

“If Louis Riel committed treason then I confess to doing the same. Both of us, Indigenous, dared to fight for promises made and broken by Canada,” said George.

“Riel lived for the Metis people, and he refused to bow down to the Canadian authorities and died for that. The Metis’ unresolved grievances with Canada are as long as his wrongful conviction and execution for treason.”

George believed that his status as a traitor still reflects Canada’s broken promises to all Indigenous people.

It is said that upon Louis Riel’s conviction, one of the jurors sent a letter to Parliament writing that had the government done their duty and address the grievances of the Metis in Saskatchewan, there would have never been a rebellion and consequently, there would be no prisoner to condemn.

Since 1892, the Minister of Justice has had the power to review a criminal conviction under federal law to determine whether there may have been a miscarriage of justice. Leaders in the coalition believe that the time has now come for Attorney General David Lametti to do just that.

“There are over 600,000 Metis people in Canada, and they are to be found across the country. I hear it all the time that people are wondering, ‘If not now, when?’ This is a unique opportunity, let us not lose it,” said Rotrand.

Historian, activist and author of Louis Riel: Let Justice Be Done, David Doyle noted that the view of his exoneration is critical to the whole question of systemic racism.

“The fact that Louis Riel was denied his position in Parliament, outlawed and then taken to trial and executed in a vicious and unjust manner,” said Doyle.

Doyle added that Louis Riel should be recognized as the Father of Indigenous rights in Canada as well as Canada’s Indigenous Metis Father of Confederation.

— Nicole Wong is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Winnipeg Sun. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.

Nicole Wong, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Sun