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Dr. Lynch on the Red River Amnesty

Letter from Dr J. S. Lynch to Governor-General Sir John Young, July 1, 1870.

I have on several occasions had the honor of addressing Your Excellency on behalf of the loyal portion of the inhabitants of the Red River Settlement and having heard that there is a possibility of the Government favoring the granting of an amnesty for all offences, to the rebels of Red River, including Louis Riel, O'Donoghue, Lepine and others of their leaders, I feel it to be my duty on behalf of the loyal people of the Territory, to protest most strongly against an act that would be unjust to them and at the same time to place on record the reasons which we consider render such clemency not only unfair and cruel but also injudicious, impolitic and dangerous. I therefore beg most humbly and respectfully to lay before Your Excellency on behalf of those whom I represent, the reasons which lead us to protest against the leaders of the rebellion being included in an amnesty, and for which we claim that they should be excluded from its effects.

1. A general amnesty would be a serious reflection on the loyal people of Red River Settlement who, throughout this whole affair, have shewn a true spirit of loyalty and devotion to their Sovereign and to British institutions. Months before Mr. McDougall left Canada it was announced that he had been appointed Governor. He had resigned his seat in the Cabinet, and had addressed his constituents prior to his departure. The people of the Settlement had read these announcements, and on the publication of his Proclamation in the Queen's name, with the Royal Arms at its head, they had every reason to consider that the Queen herself called for their services. These services were given cheerfully, they were enrolled in the Queen's name to put down a rising that was a rebellion that was trampling under foot all law and order and preventing British subjects from entering or passing through British territory. For this they were imprisoned for months, for this they were robbed of all they possessed, and for this -- the crime of obeying the call of his Sovereign -- one true-hearted loyal Canadian was cruelly and foully murdered. An amnesty to the perpetrators of these outrages by our Government we hold to be a serious reflection on the conduct of the loyal inhabitants and a condemnation of their loyalty.

2. It is an encouragement of rebellion; Riel was guilty of treason when he refused permission to Mr. McDougall, a British subject, to enter British territory, and drove him away by force of arms; he set law at defiance, and committed an open act of rebellion. He also knew that Mr. McDougall had been nominated Governor, knew that he had resigned his seat in the Cabinet, knew that he had bid farewell to his constituents, yet he drove him out by force of arms; and when the Queen's proclamation was issued -- for all he knew by the Queen's authority -- he tore it up, scattered the type used in printing it, defied it, and imprisoned, robbed and murdered those whose only crime in his eyes was that they had obeyed it.

It may be said that Riel knew that Mr. McDougall had no authority to issue a proclamation in the Queen's name; a statement of this kind would lead to the inference that it was the result of secret information, and of a conspiracy among some in high positions. This had sometimes been suspected by many, but hitherto has never been believed. An amnesty to Riel and other leaders would be an endorsation of their acts of treason, robbery, and murder, and therefore an encouragement to rebellion.

3. An amnesty is injudicious, impolitic and dangerous if it includes the leaders -- some of these who have been robbed and imprisoned, who have seen their comrade and fellow prisoner led out and butchered in cold-blood, seeing the law powerless to protect the innocent and punish the guilty, might in that wild spirit of justice called vengeance, take the life of Riel or some other of the leaders. Should this unfortunately happen, the attempt by means of law to punish the avenger would be attended with serious difficulty, and would not receive the support of the loyal people of the Territory, of the Canadian emigrants who will be pouring in, or of the people of the older Provinces -- trouble would arise and further disturbances break out in the settlement. It would be argued with much force that Riel had murdered a loyal man for no crime but his loyalty, and that he was pardoned, and that when a loyal man taking the law into his own hands executed a rebel and murderer in vengeance for a murder, he would be still more entitled to a pardon, and the result would be that the law could not be carried out when the enforcement of the law would be an outrage to the sense of justice to the community the law would be treated with contempt. A full amnesty will produce this result, and bitter feuds and a legacy of internal discussion entailed upon the country for years to come.

4. It will destroy all confidence in the administration of law and maintenance of order; there would be no feeling of security for life, liberty or property, in a country where treason, murder, robbery, and other crimes had been openly perpetrated, and afterwards condoned and pardoned sweepingly by the highest authorities.

5. The proceedings of the insurgent leaders, previous to the attempt of Mr. McDougall to enter the Territory as well as afterwards, led many to expect that Riel and his associates were in collusion with certain persons holding high official positions, although suspected it would not be believed. An amnesty granted now including every one would confirm these suspicions, preclude the possibility of dissipating them, and leave a lasting distrust in the honor and good faith of the Canadian Government.

In respectfully submitting these arguments for Your Excellency's most favorable consideration, I wish Your Excellency to understand that it is not the object of this protest to stand in the way of an amnesty to the great mass of the rebels, but to provide against the pardon of the ringleaders, those designing men who have inaugurated and kept alive the difficulties and disturbances in the Red River settlement, and who have led on their innocent dupes from one step to another in the commission of crime by false statements and by appealing to their prejudices and passions.


Source: Report of the Select Committee on the Causes of the Difficulties in the North-West Territory in 1869-70, Journals of the House of Commons 1874, Vol. 8, Appendix 6, p. 195.

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