Skip to content

Historic hanging focus of debate

Riel still relevant to Canadians
Kyle Wells

Over 125 years after Louis Riel was hanged for treason experts will come together in Powell River to discuss his life and the question: did Riel deserve to hang?

The Riel Commemorative Evening at Powell River Community Resource Centre on Friday, April 8 will give Powell River residents a chance to hear the facts on Riel’s case and engage in a conversation about this highly influential historic event.

Louis Riel, Metis leader and a founder of Manitoba, was executed for treason in 1885 for his part in inciting the Northwest Rebellion. The uprising was in support of Metis rights and against Prime Minister John A. Macdonald’s government’s disinterest in the issue. Both Canadian soldiers and Riel supporters died in the fighting, which lasted less than two months. Riel’s guilty verdict and execution have long been questioned and no pardon or exoneration has ever been granted.

Authors George and Terry Goulet will take part in the event to argue on the side of Riel. Together they have undertaken extensive research into the case and have written the book The Trial of Louis Riel: Justice and Mercy Denied. George, a former lawyer, and Terry, a scholar specializing in Metis history, have devoted a considerable amount of their retirement diving into the controversial trial and execution and believe that from both a legal and moral standpoint the execution was wrong.

The Goulets are advocates for the exoneration of Riel, rather than a pardon, which would establish his innocence. Their research has led them to believe that many injustices and legal errors occurred during the trial and the evidence that exists leads to the conclusion Riel should not have been hung.

“It encompasses not just...the Metis, who are recognized in the constitution of Canada today,” said George, “the question of fairness and justice applies universally. If someone has been treated unjustly or unfairly then it cries out for correction.”

“Everybody makes mistakes and if Canada made mistakes in hanging Louis Riel then it must recognize this, learn from it and not repeat it again,” said Terry. “Therefore it is pertinent to continue to look into this type of situation.”

David Doyle will also be screening his film On the Trail of Louis Riel at the event. The video is a series of vignettes of the northwest, telling stories of key events of the 1885 resistance. Doyle, too, sees the exoneration of Riel as an important step for Canada in recognizing its history and learning from its mistakes.

“It’s still highly important for us to recognize Riel’s role in history. It’s also a great thing to recognize that we have a history,” said Doyle. “He is still considered a traitor in history and the exoneration is the process by which history can be rewritten.”

Riel Commemorative Evening starts at 7:15 pm.