House of Commons, 6 April 1870, Canadian Confederation with Manitoba

890 COMMONS DEBATES April 6th, 1870


Hon. Mr. Abbott moved the second reading of the Bill intituled: "An Act respecting the Canada Central Railway Company".
Hon. Mr. Macdonald (Cornwall) said he would propose certain amendments when the Bill went into Committee, and would then take occasion to express his views on that kind of legislation, which did not insist upon any security that the work would be done. He would always raise his voice against any scheme which had for its object self-aggrandizement and jobbery. These schemes prevented honest companies from building Railways. He did not expect to succeed in his opposition, as no doubt the Government would support this scheme as all Governments did Railway schemes. Before he retired from the arena of politics he wished to see the system adopted in England with regard to Committees adopted in Canada, viz.: That members of the Committee should sit judicially and not as partisans.
Hon. Mr. Abbott said he would be prepared to answer the hon. gentleman when the Bill went into Committee.
The Bill was read the second time.


Hon. Mr. Cameron—I am exceedingly anxious to know from the Government whether they have had any additional intelligence from Fort Garry, and whether they are in a position to give to the House any further information in respect to the barbarous murder which has so short a time since taken place there. I am also desirous of knowing whether the first Minister is in a position to inform the House what the Government intend to do in reference to that matter, as there has been no subject since Confederation, or for many years before, which has so agitated the whole of the Dominion, and more particularly that portion of it from which I come, than the whole question of the North-West, particularly connected with the great tragedy so recently enacted. I am quite aware that the Government of the Dominion must necessarily have certain difficulties in reference to the question, and there must be probably a certain amount of reticence connected with it. That we can all understand and appreciate, but there are certain things which the Government must be enabled to tell this House, and which I shall expect and the country will expect they will tell this House. It is clear that the country still belongs to Great Britain in an Imperial sense, and has not been ceded over to us in the manner, which, at one time, it was supposed it would be ceded. It is therefore clear that the British Government 891 are in the first instance the parties who are interested in bringing to a close any revolutionary movement, which may have taken place there, and therefore we can naturally understand why it would be that this Government should desire that the Imperial Government would in the first place explain very clearly and distinctly what it intends to do before the Dominion Government should state in the most explicit manner what its views would be in reference to the question; but although that is the case, and although we know that the territory belongs to the Imperial Government, there are certain responsibilities which attach to our Government, and which Government cannot by any possibility ignore, and which we, the representatives of the people of the Dominion, demand that they shall not ignore in which we are all interested as Canadians, and which require that we should adopt a certain and determined course, (hear, hear). There can be no doubt whatever, there can be but one feeling, not merely amon st all members of this House, but amongst l the inhabitants of this country, that a barbarous murder has taken place in that territory, (hear, hear). That a man who has gone forth from here under the belief, no doubt, that he would be as well protected there as in any other part of Her Majesty's Dominions, has suffered with his life, because he has been loyal and true to the flag of his country, and we cannot help feeling that whatever the connection may be between the British Government and the Dominion Government in relation to the manner in which what has taken place here shall be accounted for, that we ourselves and the Government have resting upon us, the responsibility which the people of this country must require at their hands, totally irrespective of any action by the Imperial Government. Not that I would for a single moment interfere with the Imperial authority, but we must all recollect the position which our Government has taken. We must remember that we sent an agent out to that Western Territory, with all the preparations, and with a Commission to take the place, of the Government of that Territory. We must remember that large numbers of persons knowing perfectly well that that Territory was soon to come under our jurisdiction, went there with the full belief that they would be as safe out in that Western Territory, as they would be in the City of Ottawa, Montreal or Toronto, and that, therefore, our Government and we ourselves did assure to those people certain responsibilities, which by no possibility can we get rid of, (hear, hear). Now, Sir, what one desires to know is this—what are the views of our Government in respect to this matter? If the British Government are still possessors of the territory because we have not 892 COMMONS DEBATES April 6th, 1870 paid over the three hundred thousand pounds that we contracted to pay, if they are still responsible for the due administration of law and the protection of life in that country, if they are the persons to put down insurrectionary movements, then, of course, it is quite right that we should have an opportunity of understanding and knowing that. If they require that we should pay the three hundred thousand pounds and that we should take upon ourselves the responsibility, I say for one that I am prepared to take my portion of the responsibility in saying, that in the dawning birth of this new Dominion that the life of one of our people was worth three hundred thousand pounds (cheers), and that we should not for one moment allow, if it becomes necessary to assert our authority, and if any question arose with reference to our position with regard to that and to whether the expenses were to be borne by the Imperial Government or ourselves, that we should be prepared to show that we are enabled as a people—as we know in the opinion of some people, almost an independent people—that we are ready to take our part in defending not merely the property, but what is of more importance, the lives of our people, against any attempt which may be made by any insurrectionary party which may spring up in any part of the country, (hear, hear). And what I think we ought to have, and what I think we may fairly ask for, I and the gentlemen on this side of the House who are in the habit of supporting the Government, believing that they have the interests of the Dominion at heart, what we really require from them is to know whether when these people have gone to that territory under the idea that they were to be protected, whether when these insurrectionists have taken up arms in the manner that they have done, whether when the difficulties have arisen that have culminated in the barbarous murder of this man, when all these things have taken place we would desire to know whether the Government are determined, whatever may occur, to endeavour, so far as in their power, to meet the exigencies of the case and to exercise whatever influence and power the Dominion may have, in order that they may be so met, and we would desire to know very clearly and distinctly, whether any difficulty whatever is to be thrown in the way, in reference to that; whether these people who have gone out there are to consider themselves as protected; whether Government, if they are in a position to state so, are so ready to assume the responsibility which may be cast upon them; whether they are prepared to follow up what must necessarily take place in reference to this matter, and whether if these self-styled deputies should come down here to treat as if they were the ambassadors of a 893 civilized country, whether they are to be treated after the manner of truculent rebels who have not merely demanded what they call a Bill of Rights, which we as their fellow countrymen would be perfectly willing to give them if they have any grievance under which they suffer, but who have dared to steep their hands in the blood of an unoffending man who came from this country. If these men up there fancy that they have rights in the soil, that they are entitled to have all that property, that they have a right to do with it as they please, and that we are not to go there and that we have no right in it whatever, and they are sending down people to treat with us, as if they had the right to treat with us, in a manner in which they might say they would have, if they were fairly coming before us with claims which we might meet, but if these men are delegates from those who with a self-styled and so-called court-martial have dared to doom a man to death, and thereby murdered him, I say I hope that our Government will be in a position to say, that although prepared to concede, as we all hope that they will concede, everything honourable and just to the people of that territory, that they will take care not to treat with men who come here with their hands red with blood, red with the blood of an unoffending fellow citizen; a man who went there with the guarantee of the Government, under the belief that everything would be rightly and properly conducted, and who had laid down his life because he believed that the same power which protected the poor captive in Abyssinia, would protect the free man in Red River. Now, I hope that the hon. Minister will give us an answer that will set the feelings of the people at rest, knowing as he does that the feelings of the people of the country is excited to a red hot heat, (cheers).
Hon. Sir John A. Macdonald—My hon. friend commenced his remarks by asking the Government and myself, whether we had any later news to give relating to this deplorable event, the murder of this man, than we had when I addressed the House last on the subject. I have simply to state that we have no further intelligence, but the intelligence is complete as to the fact of the man having been shot by a party of men calling themselves a Court Martial. That the man was murdered there can be no doubt. I stated that I would have full information from the Commissioner, who was sent on behalf of the Government on a mission of conciliation, and for the purpose of assisting Governor McTavish to restore order. That gentleman is now in this city, and is preparing a report, and so much of it as can be properly laid before this House will be laid on the table. I suppose that will be done in a 894 COMMONS DEBATES April 6th, 1870 very short period. So much for the information. The hon. gentleman asks me to give further information as to the course the Government is about to pursue. I can only say to my hon. friend and to the House, and both he and the House will fully appreciate the reticence which I feel it my duty to observe in the matter, I can only say that the Government are fully aware of, and appreciate the gravity of the position, and have been so through the whole of this winter, and since the events which occurred about the end of October, they understand and fully appreciate the responsibility that rests upon them. They have been in constant communication with Her Majesty's Government on the subject, and I may say that the two Governments are acting in accord and unison— (hear, hear)—and with the one object in view, that of retaining that country as a portion of Her Majesty's Dominions, and of restoring law and order therein. We are acting in complete unison with Her Majesty's Government, and the line of conduct has been settled upon. What that line of conduct may be, must be for the present withheld from the House. It would simply be giving information at an improper time, and it would soon arrive at improper quarters. But I am glad to say that Her Majesty's Government are acting in accord with us, and have adopted our suggestions and have approved of the course we have devised, and that course I am sure will be carried out to a successful completion at no distant day. Further I cannot say. It would be improper for me to say any more, and I am quite sure the House will not ask nor expect me to say more. With respect to the delegation the hon. gentleman has spoken of, I can only say that if they arrive here they will be received and heard, and there will be attentive consideration given to whatever they may say in the matter. One hon. gentleman has spoken—and I see the press has spoken in the same sense—as if this delegation were coming from the persons who are the instigators and accessories of the murder of this man, and therefore should not be received. I do not understand that there are any such persons coming here, (hear, hear). There was a meeting held, as the House and country knows, months ago, composed of representatives elected of the resident inhabitants, both English and French. That meeting was held for the purpose of conferring—you may call it a conference in fact—as to the state of the country, and what their claims should be before assenting to come into the Union. That body I believe was elected by the people, and was composed of a respectable body of men as a whole. The delegates I understand were selected by this meeting, and you will at once see there can be no assassin among them when I tell you that Judge Black is at their head, a gentleman who 895 has presided at the court there of the largest criminal and civil jurisdiction, and who enjoys the confidence and respect of all parties—even of the persons who are now insurgents. He is at the head of the deputation, and any imputation or insinuation that he could in any way countenance any such outrage as that spoken of, is, of course, out of the question. I may say further, in order to show the character of the delegation, and how it is esteemed by the people there, that when Judge Black thought at first that he could not come here in consequence of private and personal matters, it was settled that the Anglican Bishop of Rupert's Land, Bishop Macrae, should go in his place. Of course from his position it would be understood that he is a gentleman of the highest character, and I believe he is regarded as an honour to his Church and his profession. However, Judge Black found it possible to come, and, I believe, he will be here with the rest. They will be heard; and so much importance, I may say, is attached to the fact that this body is coming here—this body of quasi ambassadors—that Sir Stafford Northcote, who is Governor of the Hudson Bay Company, is coming out here for the very purpose of meeting them. They will be heard, and their representations will receive every consideration, and possibly the result of the conference may be the subject of discussion in this House before the end of the present session. I do not know that it is necessary, or that it would be proper or expedient for me to say anything more in answer to my hon. friend. If there is anything I have omitted I will be very glad to supplement my present statement.
Mr. Mackenzie—There are one or two points upon which I would like further information. When I asked the Government two days ago the questions that have just been more fully asked by the hon. member for Peel, I said I was led to believe from the letters received, and from information in the newspapers, that there were still more prisoners confined there, and that I had some apprehension for the safety of these prisoners in the hands of such desperate men as seem to have control of affairs there at present. I have seen stated that this unfortunate gentleman who was murdered, asked leave before his murder to take a farewell of his fellow prisoners, and that at that time there were forty-seven persons in prison. Now, the hon. gentleman has not stated whether he has any further information as to the fate of the forty-seven, who were undoubtedly in prison when this man was murdered. I asked that question two days ago.
Hon. Sir John A. Macdonald—It was my impression that I had answered it.
896 COMMONS DEBATES April 6th, 1870
Mr. Mackenzie—The answer given was, that there would not be any definite information until they had the report from Mr. Donald A. Smith. I am very glad to hear that this Government and the Imperial Government are in accord in the determination to assert the supremacy of the British Crown in that territory. But I have noticed a statement in the telegraphic reports this morning that Mr. Monsell, the Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies, stated in his place in the English House of Commons on Monday night, that the demands made upon the Imperial Government for Imperial troops to go to Red River, were then under consideration of the Government, (hear). So that it is quite evident that on Monday night, at last, there is some discrepancy between Mr. Monsell's statement and the one the hon. gentleman opposite just made. Of course I accept the statement just made, but I mention this to show that there is some misunderstanding.
Hon. Sir John A. Macdonald—No, no, (hear).
Mr. Mackenzie—Very well, I am very glad to hear it, (hear). With reference to the delegates I am bound to take the statement of the hon. gentleman, that Judge Black in coming, as I have no information from the papers or otherwise, but I fully endorse the sentiments of the member for Peel regarding the two other persons who are coming here, and who were so intimately connected with the persons in rebellion, and I think they ought not to be received. We have first to vindicate the British law and supremacy in that country before we can hold communication with the people in rebellion. I have seen it stated that Riel has been issuing decrees and assuming supreme power—not assuming the functions of a Provisional Government but the functions of a permanent Government, and acting as if no election of delegates had taken place. I have seen it stated that two of the delegates were appointed actually by force, that the inhabitants present were overawed by those who had power at the moment, and that the whole proceeding was merely to gain time until they could obtain assistance from the filibusters and others in the United States, with whom we know they have been in active communication since the beginning of the insurrection. I wish to know further from the hon. gentleman whether any delay is to take place in forwarding the preparations that must be made—for there must be no squeamishness in this matter—until these delegates should come here, until Sir Stafford Northcote should come here, until there should be ample time to discuss these matters with these people, such delay as would prevent the 897 departure of the forces necessary, in order to enforce order there. It is known now sir, that navigation will soon open on the upper Lakes, and within three or four weeks it will be possible for vessels to traverse Lake Superior to Thunder Bay; and I trust nothing will prevent the execution by the Government of everything necessary to forward forces there at the earliest possible moment, (hear). This is a matter, of course, in which I am aware the Government have difficulties to contend with; and I am quite disposed to make every allowance for those difficulties; and I hope nothing will prevent the Government adopting an energetic course, (hear).
Hon. Sir John A. Macdonald—With regard to the statement in the telegraphic news respecting the statement of Mr. Monsell, I can merely say that the telegraph is not usually very accurate. I do not know what explanations he may have made in the House of Commons, and can only repeat what I have said, that the two Governments are quite in accord as to the policy pursued, and that policy is one of action, (hear).
Mr. Mackenzie—I am very glad to hear that.
Hon. Sir John A. Macdonald—With regard to the prisoners, I can only repeat the statement I made before. Mr. Smith understood that half of them had been discharged or were to be discharged as soon as he left, and the remainder in a day or two.
Mr. Mackenzie—Have you any positive information that they were discharged?
Hon. Sir John A. Macdonald—I am sure they are all discharged by this time.
Mr. Mackenzie—Then does the Government intend to delay active proceedings in the meantime?
Hon. Sir John A. Macdonald—I have told my hon. friend that the two Governments are quite in accord, and that our policy is one of action—(cheers)—and I think my hon. friend ought to be satisfied with that. Judge Black was coming down at once, and asked Mr. Smith to make arrangements for him, and Mr. Smith did make arrangements for him, sending conveyances en route. Mr. Smith left on the 19th of March, and Judge Black was shortly to follow him, but he did not make any arrangements for the others, as they did not ask him. He had made arrangements for conveyance to St. Paul, and from St. Paul still further this way.
898 COMMONS DEBATES April 6th, 1870
Hon. Sir A. T. Galt—Has any information been received of Judge Black's arrival at St. Paul? Mr. Smith left St. Paul a number of days ago, and it is possible that these gentlemen hearing of this deplorable event, will not now come at all. I think while this House is in session, it is absolutely necessary that the Government should before the House closes, put the House in full possession of the course it proposes to take. I can quite understand that a certain amount of reticence is absolutely necessary and is desirable, but at the same time when the representatives of the people are here assembled, I think the Government cannot with any propriety ask that this question should remain over until Parliament rises, for we are told that Parliament may rise shortly, and that the Government intend to bring it to a close as speedily as possible. I think we should have the assurance that whatever course is pursued, this House should be informed of it. I think there can no doubt whatever that the Rubicon has been passed, by the execution, the homicide of Scott, and as these individuals have appealed to force, my conviction is that force must be resorted to. For my own part there is no one more willing to meet any reasonable complaint or remove any reasonable misapprehension that these people may be labouring under, but I do think that when, without any provocation, as far as we can judge from the information before us, they have slain men, the responsibility now rests with our Government, with the Imperial Government and with us (hear), and that we cannot divest ourselves of that responsibility by simple acquiescence with what the Government may consider right, (hear). I think the Government should give the House an opportunity of affirming or disapproving the policy they may see fit to adopt, (hear).
Hon. Sir John A. Macdonald—Of course the Government is in the hands of the House, and any hon. member can bring this subject up whenever he pleases. We must make such efforts as we think it our duty to do, we must take such a course and abide the consequences of approbation or disapprobation.
Hon. Sir A. T. Galt—I hope the hon. gentleman does not misunderstand me. I only wish to know if the Government would announce their policy before the House rises.
Hon. Sir John A. Macdonald—I really hope and believe that before this Parliament rises, matters will be in such a state that the Government can, without injury to public interests, but rather in promotion of public interests, take, as it were, the House into our confidence, 899 if I may use such an expression, and show what the policy of the Government is, (hear). Of course events changing every day may change the course this Government now think fit to pursue. I think if the Government do not make a full statement to the House before the prorogation, they are bound to make such a statement as will meet the approbation of the House, (hear).
The matter was then dropped.


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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