Louis Riel - The Trial

On July 6, 1885, Riel was charged with high treason.

The trial opened on July 20, with Riel pleading not guilty. This trial was to have disastrous consequences for Riel and for Canada. The jury was entirely Anglo-Saxon and Protestant. Riel's lawer wanted to plead that Riel was insane and not responsible for his acts. Riel was so opposed to this strategy that his lawyers had the judge rule that he did not have permission to speak.

The lawyers were not allowed to speak of the grievances which had led to the rebellion, as the judge declared that it was Riel, not the Government of Canada,who was on trial. The witnesses' testimonies were damning. They insisted that Riel had been mentally unstable before and during the rebellion. Towards the end of the trial, Riel was allowed to speak.

After a moment of prayer, he reviewed the troubles in the North-West, beginning with the sufferings his people had endured and the government's inactivity. He maintained with dignity that he was not insane and that he did not want to be acquitted by reason of insanity. He did not deny that he had previously been committed to a mental hospital, but pointed out that the doctors had certified that he was cured.

Did visions, prophecies and missions signify insanity? He closed with a few eloquent comments on the sacrifices he had made and asked for justice.


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