TOPICS OF THE WEEK - 10 SEPTEMBER 1885

RIEL'S counsel in appealing against his conviction insist strongly upon his alleged insanity. The only chance for the defence was to prove that he was insane when he started his second insurrection. But instead of doing so, they undertook to prove that he was insane several years ago and that he is not much better now. Comte was insane in early life, but even the dubious value of the Positive Philosophy does not prove that he was insane when it was written. Riel's counsel missed the only opportunity they could ever have of proving that he was not responsible when he planned the Duck Lake massacre and plunged the country into the horrors of insurrection; and the natural inference is that the means of proof were wanting. To set up inferential insanity last March, when Riel possessed unusual mental resource, is a plea in opposition to the facts offered as substitutes for evidence. In doing this, the privilege of counsel is stretched to its utmost limit; and when men who took part in his defence assert, at public meetings, the unsound mental condition of their client they pass the uttermost bounds of excusable license. In political cases some latitude may be allowed; but the attempt to bring popular prejudice to bear upon the Crown in favour of Riel introduces a new method of conducting a defence. The sympathizing habitant implicitly believes Riel's counsel on their word; he looks on them as exceptionally good authority on the point, and when he is told that Riel is insane, he is horrified at the prospect of an irresponsible man being hanged, and he is ready to sign all the petitions for clemency that may be presented to him. Petitions got up in this way lose all their value. The pretence that Riel has not had a fair trial greatly swells the list of petitioners, and it is wholly unfounded. It is quite clear that most of the petitioners signed under a misapprehension of the facts: a consideration which deserves great weight in any estimate of the nature of the popular demonstration which these petitions are assumed to embody. But the duty of the Executive lies out of the path of the petitions and is altogether apart from them.


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