Was Louis Riel guilty or not?

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pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Louis Riel was clearly guilty of treason because he unquestionably led an armed uprising against the government of his country.  There is no way to argue that he did not do this.  Therefore, he was factually guilty of treason.

However, there are reasons to believe that his trial was in some ways unfair or that it did not end up with the most just result.  Three things to consider are:

  • Riel's possible insanity.  There was strong evidence that Riel was no completely sane.  If the court had agreed, he could have been found not guilty by reason of insanity.  However, it is partly his own fault that the court did not rule this way.  After all, Riel rejected the idea that he was insane quite passionately.
  • The composition of the jury.  All of the members of the jury were white Anglo-Saxon Protestants while Riel was a Metis and a Catholic.  The prosecution seems to have deliberately worked to have such a jury, which would be seen today as an unjust thing to do.
  • Finally, there is the fact that the jury asked for mercy for Riel because the government's dealings with Indians and Metis were less than fair.

Taken altogether, these factors do not indicate that Riel wasn't guilty.  However, they do indicate that his trial and the punishment handed down was less than just.

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