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SIR WILFRID LAURIER
that when on duty the heart feels and the mind thinks; and it may be fairly presumed that those who were on duty in the Northwest last spring thought and felt as a great soldier, a great king, King Henry IV. of France, thought and felt when engaged in battle for many years of his life, in fighting his rebellious subjects. Whenever his sword inflicted a wound he used these words :
“The king strikes thee, God heal thee."
It may be presumed that perhaps our soldiers, when fighting the rebellion, were almost animated by a similar spirit, and prayed to God that he would heal the wounds that it was their duty to inflict, and that no more blood should be shed than the blood shed by themselves. The Government, however, thought otherwise. The Government thought that the blood shed by the soldiers was not sufficient, but that another life must be sacrificed. We heard the Minister of Public Works attempting to defend the conduct of the Government, and stating that its action in this matter was a stern necessity which duty to our Queen and duty to our country made inevitable. Mr. Speaker, I have yet to learn-and I have not learned it from anything that has fallen from the lips of gentlemen opposite—that duty to Queen and country may ever prevent the exercise of that prerogative of mercy which is the noblest prerogative of the Crown. The language of the honorable gentleman was not the first occasion when responsible or irresponsible advisers of the Crown attempted to delude the public, and perhaps themselves as well, into the belief that duty to Queen and country required blood, when mercy was a possible alternative.
When Admiral Byng was sentenced to be shot for no other crime than that of being unfortunate in battle, there were men at the time who said to the King that the interests of the country required that the sentence should be carried out; though the court, which had convicted him, strongly recommended him to mercy. Those evil counsels prevailed, and the sentence was carried out; but the verdict of history, the verdict of posterity -posterity to which honorable gentlemen now appeal-has declared long ago that the carrying out of the sentence against Admiral Byng was ao judicial murder. And I venture to predict, Mr. Speaker, that the verdict of history will be the same in this instance. In every instance in which a Government has carried out the extreme penalty of the law, when mercy was suggested instead, the verdict has been the same. Sir, in the province to which I belong, and especially amongst the race to which I belong, the execution of Louis Riel has been universally condemned as being the sacrifice of a life, not to inexorable justice, but to bitter passion and revenge.
SIR WILFRID LAURIER
Indeed the Government have convinced all the people here mentioned, the half-breeds, the Indians, the white settlers, that their arm is long and strong, and that they are powerful to punish. Would to Heaven that they had taken as much pains to convince them all, half-breeds, Indians and white settlers, of their desire and willingness to do them justice, to treat them fairly. Had they taken as much pains to do right, as they have taken to punish wrong, they never would have had any occasion to convince those people that the law cannot be violated with impunity, because the law would never have been violated at all.
But to-day, not to speak of those who have lost their lives, our prisons are full of men who, despairing ever to get justice by peace, sought to obtain it by war; who, despairing of ever being treated like freemen, took their lives in their hands, rather than be treated as slaves. They have suffered a great deal, they are suffering still ; yet their sacrifices will not be without reward. Their leader is in the grave; they are in durance ; but from their prisons they can see that that justice, that liberty which they sought in vain, and for which they fought not in vain, has at last dawned upon their country. Their fate well illustrates the truth of Byron's invocation to liberty, in the introduction to the “Prisoner of Chillon":
Eternal Spirit of the chainless mind !
SIR JOHN THOMPSON (1844-1894)
A NOVA SCOTIAN PREMIER AND ORATOR
IR JOHN THOMPSON, a native of Halifax, Nova Scotia, began
his political career in 1877, in the legislature of that province.
Subsequently entering the Dominion Parliament, he became a prominent and active Conservative member of that body. An earnest and able orator, and a statesman of excellent powers, he won a position of leadership in his party, and in 1892 was called upon to form a Cabinet, and accept the post of Prime Minister of Canada. He died two years later, at Windsor, while on a visit to England.
THE EXECUTION OF RIEL [On March 22, 1886, Thompson made a long and able speech before the House of Commons, in response to those of Laurier and Blake on the subject of the execution of Louis Riel, the half-breed leader of insurrection. As a favorable example of his manner we append some passages from this speech.)
Let me call the attention of the House to one point with regard to the fairness of the trial which strikes me as absolutely conclusive. That is, that if there had been an unfair ruling in that trial from beginning to end, either on the application to postpone, or on a question of evidence, or on any part of the judge's charge, it would have been laid open by the prisoner's counsel on their appeal to the Court of Queen's Bench in Manitoba. The prisoner had an advantage which no man has who is tried in the older Provinces. He had a right to appeal to a Bench of judges sitting in another Province, far removed from the agitation in his own country, an appeal on every question of the law and fact involved.
Every lawyer knows that a prisoner in the Provinces has only these chances of appeal ; he has his chance of a writ of error, to bring up defects shown by the record, and as regards any objections to the evidence or to the rulings of the judge, the judge may himself decide whether he shall have an appeal or not. Louis Riel was not in that position. He
SIR JOHN THOMPSON
had the right to bring before the Bench in Manitoba every question of the law or fact that arose on his trial, and when he took that appeal, he was represented by the best counsel, I suppose, that this Dominion could have given him, and yet not a single exception was taken to the fairness of the trial, or the rulings of the judge. The prisoner took this additional step, which is a very rare one in connection with the criminal justice in this country ; he applied to Her Majesty to exercise the prerogative by which Her Majesty, by the advice of Her Privy Council, is able to entertain an appeal in a case connected with the criminal jurisdiction from any one of her subjects in the Empire ; and how is it that in the petition that was prepared to enable the prisoner to take the judgment of that high tribunal which had to make its report to the fountain of justice itself in the British Dominions--how is it that neither the prisoner's counsel nor himself, nor the petition, nor anything said on trial in his favor, urged a single objection to the fairness of the trial, the rulings of the judge at that trial, or the way in which the judge had directed the jury? I should suppose, sir, that that was exceedingly significant. We were told, the other night, that the judgment of the Privy Council said nothing about the procedure of the trial, that it was silent on that point. The significance of that silence is all we want. When a man has a full opportunity to appeal, and takes his appeal, and makes no complaint about the fairness of a ruling which would have given him his liberty if he could establish its error, I want to know if we need any more than the silence of the able counsel by whom he was advised and represented, to satisfy us that exceptions were not taken in the highest Court of Appeal in the Empire for the simple reason that they did not exist.
And yet, sir, because we administered in the case of Louis Riel, the judgment which the law pronounced, the confidence of this House is asked to be withdrawn from the Government. I must read from the Winnepeg Free Press an extract which was read to the House once or twice before, and which I am, therefore, almost ashamed to repeat, but which I must repeat, because it applies directly to the point in hand, and comes from a newspaper as hostile to this Government as any newspaper in the Dominion. It was published on the 17th of December, immediately after the execution. Some papers have been accused of inconsistency in advocating Riel's execution beforehand, and taking the opposite ground afterwards, but after his execution the Winnipeg Free Press said: “Riel was fairly tried, honestly convicted, laudably condemned, and justly executed."
But, sir, if our confidence in the tribunals themselves be not sufficient, if the fact that the courts of appeal before which the case was taken, ruled
SIR JOHN THOMPSON
that the trial was fair, and that justice had been done, be not sufficient, I ask honorable gentlemen opposite if, with any sense of candor or fair play, they can ask that this government should be condemned for not changing the sentence on the ground that the trial had been unfair, when there has not been down to this hour a petition or request presented to the Government, either from Louis Riel, from his counsel, from his ecclesiastical superiors, or from any of the advisers or sympathizers he has had throughout this country, for the commutation of the sentence on the ground that the trial was in any sense unfair. And yet, sir, after the decision of the jury, and the decision of the judge ; after the decision of the Court of Queen's Bench in Manitoba, where, as I have said, he had an extraordinary advantage; and after the disposal of his case before the judiciary committee of the Privy Council; and without a single utterance from anybody, either himself or any sympathizers, that anything was unfair, this House is asked to carry this resolution on the ground that his trial was unfair, and give what Riel never asked, redress on the ground that he had been unfairly tried.
[In regard to the plea of insanity which had been brought forward in Riel's trial, Sir John, after considering it at some length, concluded as follows:]
Upon that subject I might cite at some length, but I refrain from doing so. The celebrated case which was tried in the United States a few years ago, and with relation to which the man who was condemned, if the evidence is to be believed, had a tenfold stronger case on which to base a plea of insanity than Louis Riel. I refer to the case of Guiteau. The treatment which he received at the hands of the law and of the Executive, notwithstanding his strong political and religious delusions, is well known, and met with very slight, if any, condemnation, either in the United States or here. On the 24th of January, 1882, a journal which exercises a great influence in this country, and speaks, or professes to speak, for a political party in this country—the journal which I heard an honorable member declare the other night, penetrated to the utmost recesses of the earthused this language with regard to the case of Guiteau, and I cite it because it is peculiarly applicable to the case of Riel, although the conductors of the journal do not seem to think so now. Speaking of the comments which an observer might make in Guiteau's case, they said, and honorable gentlemen will see as I progress :
“If sufficiently credulous to accept the murderer's asseverations as anything more than a piece of arrant hypocrisy, an artifice of his cunning little mind to save his neck from the gallows; if he could bring himself to credit the wretch with sincerity, he could not resist the inference that the inspiration was from beneath and not from above, and that having done