A JUDICIAL MURDER—
THE TRIAL OF LOUIS RIEL

Lewis H. Thomas

The courtroom was small, unadorned, and primitive in its facilities; located in a building which possessed no symbols of a great tradition, it was the office block of the Canada North-West Land Company. The site was the village of Regina, a settlement of some five hundred to six hundred people and still struggling to divest itself of its original name "Pile of Bones". Yet it was in this setting that the most important Canadian state trial of the nineteenth century took place—"the most serious trial that has ever probably taken place in Canada," one of the Crown attorneys declared. This was the trial of Louis Riel, charged with high treason by attempting to "deprive and depose our said Lady the Queen of and from the style, honor and kingly name of the Imperial Crown of this realm in contempt of our said Lady the Queen and her laws ..." and "did then maliciously and traitorously attempt and endeavor by force and arms to subvert and destroy the constitution and government of this realm as by law established ...." 1

The charge was laid under the ancient treason statute, 25 Edward III (1352), which carried a mandatory death penalty for those adjudged guilty of high treason. An alternative charge of treason-felony could have been laid under the 1868 Canadian statute, 31 Vict., Cap. 69, where the penalty was imprisonment. Of the seventy-two trials for treason which stemmed out of the rebellion, only Riel was charged with high treason; all the others, including two English Canadians, were tried for treason-felony. The difference between the two charges was explained by the presiding judge in one of these cases:

The difference between the crime of treason-felony and the higher crime of treason is this: that in treason it is necessary to show that the prisoner charged with such a crime actually levied war; in treason-felony it is only necessary to show that he designed and

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