Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

'Riel was a hero, not a traitor'

Métis leader must be exonerated: MP

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OTTAWA -- One-hundred-and-twenty-five years ago, Louis Riel was executed for treason.

Manitoba NDP MP Pat Martin wants the current government to set the record straight.

In a news conference staged to coincide with the anniversary of Riel's hanging, Martin demanded Prime Minister Stephen Harper exonerate Riel, recognize him as a father of Manitoba and a champion of the Métis people. "Louis Riel was a hero, not a traitor," Martin said.

Riel was hanged on Nov. 16, 1885, a sentence imposed after he was convicted of treason for leading rebellions against Canada.

Martin said history has since been corrected to note Riel wasn't leading a rebellion against Canada but defending the Métis against an impending attack by Canadian forces.

"Surely this is a case of justice and mercy denied," Martin said of Riel.

He stressed he doesn't want Riel pardoned, he wants his conviction overturned and the government to acknowledge he was not guilty.

NDP deputy leader Thomas Mulcair said professional historians have proven "it's not a fair portrayal by any historical standard to simply write it off as being high treason."

Martin said exonerating Louis Riel would serve as a prerequisite to responding to other grievances with the Métis people, just as Canada's apology for residential schools was a step to reconciling with First Nations.

"It would be an expression of goodwill," Martin said.

Martin has been pushing a private member's bill to exonerate Riel. He said he has support from MPs from all three other parties in Parliament but noted it can take a long time for a private member's bill to pass.

Harper can take immediate steps to get Parliament to exonerate Riel.

"We're asking the prime minister today to not wait for a bill like this to make its way through Parliament," Martin said.

The PMO did not respond to a request for comment.

Neither of the two Métis members of Parliament, Manitoba Conservative MPs Rod Bruinooge and Shelly Glover, were available to comment.

Glover, Saint Boniface MP and parliamentary secretary for Indian and Northern Affairs Canada delivered a member's statement in the House of Commons marking the anniversary of Riel's death. "Although today is a solemn declaration of his death, we are proud as Canadians to reflect on Louis Riel's accomplishments and his efforts to ensure justice and recognition for all Métis people."

mia.rabson@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 17, 2010 A6

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