The vice-president of the Metis National Council (MNC) and president of the Manitoba Metis Federation (MMF), wants Quebec to stand down on the issue of exonerating Louis Riel, believing a pardon or exoneration of the Metis leader will “wipe out the history.”
“You’ll hear a couple of people claim to be Metis leaders and you jump behind it and say ‘oh this is the voice of the West coming in?’ Riel’s family spoke against this, and they still stand against it,” said David Chartrand.
The province of Quebec announced that it’s on-board with the campaign to have Riel exonerated in time for the 135th anniversary of his execution.
A motion calling for a pardon from Canada was passed unanimously in the National Assembly earlier this week.
On Wednesday morning, Alexandre Leduc – an MNA with the Quebec Solidaire Party – presented a motion requesting Quebec commemorate the 135th anniversary of Riel’s execution on Nov. 16, and request an official pardon from the federal government – mainly Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller and Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations Carolyn Bennett.
Leduc’s motion supports the demands for exoneration made by a recently-formed “national coalition” of Metis and non-Metis representatives, senators, and civil libertarians.
“We are thrilled that this motion has been adopted, and we urge the government of Canada to respond positively to the growing national campaign to exonerate Louis Riel, which now has the formal support of Quebec,” Paulette Duguay, president of the Union nationale metisse Saint-Joseph du Manitoba, said in a statement.
“The death of Louis Riel remains the source of deep division in Canadian Society and has led to a profound sense of injustice among the Metis people which still echoes today,” Duguay said. “It is time to put that behind us and work toward real reconciliation.”
Keith Henry, president of the British Columbia Metis Federation, said Canadians want to see Riel exonerated and “deemed innocent of the charge of high treason.”
“MNA Leduc’s motion and Quebec’s support gives us hope,” Henry said in a press statement.
Montreal City Coun. Marvin Rotrand – who helped the coalition mobilize in recent weeks – says Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s exoneration of Chief Poundmaker in 2019 could serve as a model by which to exonerate and “overturn the long-standing injustices committed against Louis Riel.”
He says he plans on presenting a similar motion for support at Montreal City Council next week.
Chartrand says although there are Metis leaders campaigning for Riel’s exoneration as part of this new coalition, their demand is not supported unanimously by Metis across Canada.
“They don’t represent no one – they’re not elected by the people,” Chartrand explained. “I have a government that I represent and I’ve been president now going on six or seven terms. I have 125,000 people I speak for, I have an annual assembly of 3,000 people who agree with me, that this cannot happen.
“This exoneration, really, is a negative process. Whether a pardon or exoneration, whatever verbiage you use in law – it really sets the foundation for being forgiven for wrong, and it doesn’t set [right] the matter in its entirety.”
This is not the first time officials in Quebec have petitioned to pardon Riel.
While serving as a federal MP in the late 1990s, former Montreal mayor Denis Coderre introduced Bill C-417, An Act respecting Louis Riel, in hopes of exonerating him.
In the end, Parliament did not pass the bill.
Similar attempts to exonerate Riel – including one made by the Union National Metisse Saint-Joseph du Manitoba during the 150th anniversary of confederation – were unsuccessful.
Riel – now dubbed “the father of Manitoba” – was found guilty of treason and executed despite a recommendation of mercy made to the presiding judge at the time.
The way Chartrand sees it, Riel was the victim of a flawed judicial process meant to end in an execution.
“Why they took it to the [Northwest] territories, which was not yet part of Canada – they had ruling English law. And in there, guilty of treason, meant execution,” Chartrand explained. “He did not go to trial in Canada – and so Canada will exonerate themselves, and pardon themselves of their wrongdoing.”
As an alternative act of reconciliation, Chartrand says the MMF is working on having a statue of Riel erected in Parliament to acknowledge his contributions to confederation.
“I would send this message to the people of Quebec: you stood with us back with the prevention of the execution – the murder – of Riel, you stood along with us as a people, and now you don’t even come to the people of the Metis governments for follow-through of Riel, and you don’t take the time and the liberty to even check what our position is, and why we fight vigorously against this,” Chartrand told APTN News.
“We all know the harm [a pardon] will do to the history of Riel, we know the future of what will happen to Riel, and that’ll he’ll be forgiven – mercy – and people will one day tell a story amongst themselves that the country gave him mercy, and we forgave him.
“That’s the story that’ll come, and you cannot turn that around after the fact once it’s done.”
Chartrand says he will be penning a letter to the Quebec Premier Francois Legault urging him to reconsider the demand before bringing it to the federal government.