November 16 marked the 127th anniversary of the hanging of Louis Riel, a fascinating and important figure in Canada’s, and especially in Manitoba’s, history. Much has been written about him, the Northwest Rebellion, the creation of the Province of Manitoba, his dealings with the federal government, his mental state and his trial and execution. The controversies surrounding his trial have still not died away, and re-enactments and mock trials continue to be performed, sometimes with “not guilty” verdicts being delivered. There is a wealth of information available at York and Osgoode on Riel, from his times, causes and trial, from contemporary reports and transcripts and his diaries to modern analyses to plays, a musical drama, to a graphic novel about his life. CBC’s Canada, A People’s History naturally includes Riel (video available through the library), and in 1985, the CBC also broadcast a panel discussion on whether Riel should be pardoned. In 2002 it televised a re-trial of Riel, “starring” Eddie Greenspan as Riel’s counsel, Alan Lenczner for the Crown, Mr. Justice Thomas Berger as the judge and Guy Bertrand as Riel himself. As you can see from the news clipping below, even the mock trial caused controversy.
I have assembled a small subset of the multitude of resources available through YUL on Riel. Decide for yourself whether he was mad, wrongly convicted, a traitor or a founder of Canada:
A re-enactment of the trial of Louis Riel, based on Canadian law of the present day. The case is argued by Edward Greenspan for the defence and Alan Lenczner for the prosecution and is presented before former B.C. Supreme Court Judge Thomas Berger. Both lawyers present their arguments, cross-examine Riel, played by Quebec lawyer Guy Bertrand, and give their closing arguments. Louis Riel addresses the jury, and the judge gives his summation of the case.