House of Commons, 4 April 1870, Canadian Confederation with Manitoba

828 COMMONS DEBATES April 4, 1870


Mr. Mackenzie—Before the orders of the day are called, he desired to ask the leader of the Government whether he was prepared to place any information before the House regarding recent events in Red River territory. We have most painful accounts in public newspapers of an atrocious murder being committed by men—ruffians I might say—(hear, hear), who are at the head of forces there, that calls for the most extraordinary exertions on the part of our Government, (hear, hear), and in order to know exactly what the House and country ought to do, the Government, I think, are bound to place in possession of this House all the information they have with regard to that murder. We know that other persons were held prisoners there besides the unfortunate gentleman who was murdered, and what security have we in this country that others of our fellow-subjects shall not be murdered as well as poor Scott? In order to ascertain what course we ought to take, I think the Government is bound to place before us all information in their power to obtain, and while the hon. gentleman is replying, I would like him to state if in the special instructions given to the parties sent by the Government to that country if power was given them to negotiate with regard to the prisoners, if parties have been imprisoned there for their loyalty to the British Crown, and if so, our Government ought to take the strongest possible measures in order to ensure the safety of these prisoners' lives. I am anxious to know what steps the Government have taken in order to obtain this necessary and desirable result.
Hon. Sir John A. Macdonald—With respect to the first point referred to by the member for Lambton, I may say that I am not at all sur— prised at his making the enquiry respecting the murder which no doubt has taken place at Red River. The Government as yet have no written report on the subject; but Mr. Smith who went to that country as a Special Commissioner, on behalf of the Canadian Government, arrived here on Saturday afternoon and left the same night so as to be with his family over Sunday.
He leaves Montreal to-night, and will be here to-morrow morning. On his return he will, I have no doubt, prepare a report of all the circumstances connected with his mission, and connected with this most deplorable affair to which the hon. gentleman has alluded. There can be no doubt of the murder, though I hoped against hope, that the rumour of his death was erroneous, so many rumours from that country having been proved subsequently to be untrue. There can be no doubt that this man after the sentence of a trial by court martial, was shot in pursuance of some sentence of this self-constituted court martial. All the facts that are within Mr. Smith's cognizance will, I have no doubt, be produced immediately on his return. And the Government will lay before the House such portions of them as can be laid before the House without prejudice to public interests. With respect to the last part of the hon. gentleman's enquiry, I may simply say that the Commissioners and all parties sent on behalf of the Canadian Government to Red River were sent there for the purpose of conciliation, for settling all disturbance and removing any apprehensions that the people might have entertained of not being treated as British subjects. The necessary consequence of such conciliation would, of course, be a discharge of any prisoners. We had no power to order the discharge of these prisoners, that country not being under our Government. We had no right to command their discharge, and any threat would have been impolitic, for in that case we would on the one hand have offered conciliation, and on the other hand destroyed it. A threat would have been of no value—a mere brutum fulmen. We have no means of enforcing such threats, and under such circumstances they would have prevented any hope of conciliatory measures being carried out. I believe that the prisoners are now all discharged. Half of them were discharged before Mr. Smith left, and the remainder were to be discharged a day or two afterwards. I believe also that the delegates who were originally chosen may be expected any time. Mr. Smith was not aware when they were to leave. I do not know exactly under what circumstances they do come. The fact, however, that Judge Black has consented to be one of them—although at first he declined— shows that in his opinion—and he is a man of high standing—matters may yet be settled. This is all the statement I can make just now. I hope Mr. Smith will be here to-morrow, and his first duty will be to prepare a report, and the facts, in full detail, so far as it can be done, will be laid before the House as soon as that report is received.
830 COMMONS DEBATES April 4, 1870
Mr. Mackenzie—I have simply to express the hope that the facts will be laid fully before the House. The time is now past for hiding anything connected with these people, (hear, hear), and when they have resorted to the outrage of murdering our fellow subjects, there is to be no further squeamishness on the part of the people of this country in the matter. (Hear, hear.) I have merely to say this, within the last day or two I have received two letters from old men in Western Canada who have sons in Red River, and who believe them to be still imprisoned and in danger of their lives. Nothing can be more painful than to read the letters of these old men.
Hon. Dr. Tupper—I regret I was not in the House when the statement was made by the leader of the Government, and I would like to ask whether the Government have any information from any person who saw the murder committed?
Hon. Sir John A. Macdonald—No.
Hon. Dr. Tupper—I have no hesitation is saying that, until some person who saw the murder committed, until some person who is not in the interest of Riel, testifies to the fact, I shall cherish the hope that no such execution took place. The reason I have to say so is, that we know of a case which occurred some time ago, that of Goudy, that he was ordered for execution but it was generally believed he was not executed. Captain Cameron has this moment received a letter from Mr. Provencher, at Pembina, who states that until he gets further information he is inclined to believe that Riel was attempting to establish his authority by a sham execution. Mr. Provencher's letter is dated 14th, and says that the guns were only loaded with powder, but he says at the close of the letter that this rumor was contradicted, and that Scott's life was actually taken. Until we get information from some person present I shall cherish the hope that it was an attempt of Riel to strengthen his power and produce a reign of terror, as it would be the most effective means of preventing any reaction. I presume there is no difference of opinion, that if so foul and brutal a murder has taken place, the sentiments expressed by the hon. member for Lambton will be felt and re-echoed by every man in Canada, (hear, hear); that there will be an uniform feeling of asserting the authority of the Crown at all hazards, and in the most effectual manner. (Hear, hear.)
Hon. Sir John A. Macdonald—I have just received a note from a friend in the reporters' gallery stating that the New Nation of the 4th of March contains a report of the execution.
Hon. Dr. Tupper—The report in the New Nation does not weaken in the least the view I take. What I hope was done is that the man was concealed away somewhere and that every means possible was taken to create the universal opinion that he was executed; and until we have the information of some person who saw the execution, that it did actually take place, I shall cherish the hope that so extreme a step has not been taken.


The Bill intituled: "An Act to amend the Act intituled, An Act to incorporate the Sun Insurance Company of Montreal" was read a third time and passed on motion of Mr. Workman.


The House went into Committee, and passed the Bill intituled: "An Act to provide for the Amalgamation of the Canadian Bank of Commerce, and the President, Directors and Company of the Gore Bank", on motion of Mr. Angus Morrison.
Hon. Sir Francis Hincks said there would be no objection to the bill passing this stage, provided it was not passed further, till after the Government policy on the subject was brought down.
The Bill passed through Committee, and amendments were read a first and second time.


The Bill intituled: "An Act to incorporate the Society of Canadian Artists" was moved into Committee.
Mr. Bodwell moved an amendment to strike out the fifth clause, which allowed of disposing of their works by lottery.
Mr. Workman explained that the object of the Bill was to establish a taste for arts, and also a fund for the relief of artists' widows, etc.
Mr. Morris explained that the Bill had been fully considered in the Private Bill Committee, where it was found that the same privilege of disposing of pictures by lottery was in existence in England and the United States. An amendment was made to provide that the society should submit to any future legislation on the subject by this Parliament, and it could be deprived of its power if the liberty granted by the clause was in any way abused. He could see no objection to the Bill as it stood.


Canada. House of Commons Debates, 1870. Edited by P.B. Waite. Ottawa: Queen's Printer, 1979. Original scans accessible at: http://parl.canadiana.ca/.



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