TOPICS OF THE WEEK - 17 DECEMBER 1885

IN an answer to the Government Memorandum on Riel, Mr. Girouard has formulated the complaint of his French-Canadian compatriots; and, we cannot but think, a weaker case was never presented for public judgment. His contention is, in substance, that a criminal, in order to save himself from due punishment, has only, when no other loophole of escape remains open, to offer to submit to justice; that when a jury recommends to mercy, this recommendation, as part of the verdict, must not be set aside; that the Indian massacres, being legitimate from the point of view of the Indians, we must, to estimate the degree of their guilt, descend to their level of civilization; that Riel and the insurgents did not commit high treason, but were guilty at the most of a riot when they took up arms, as is proved by their design to capture General Middleton, and hold him as a hostage to assist them in making better terms with the Government; and, finally, that the man who organized the rebellion, carried it on for months, and wrote its history, was insane. To any candid mind these propositions carry their own refutation. But there is one argument advanced by Mr. Girouard about which there may be some difference of opinion. It is that an official enquiry, not a confidential one, should have been made by Government into Riel's alleged insanity. But we all know what this would have resulted in. Both sides would have been represented on the Commission, contrary opinions would have been expressed, and each opinion would have been as valueless as the other. To any one whose judgment may be at any time disturbed as to the criminality of the accused in such cases, we commend the following excerpt from an article by Baron Bramwell in the Nineteenth Century for December: -

“It is said and contended that medical men, especially those who have experience in dealing with insane persons, have a special right to give opinions when a question of insanity is raised; that it is a question for experts, and that they are experts. I wholly deny it. I have heard Lord Campbell, the Chief Justice, say the same, and object to a question, ‘Was the man sane?’ saying that is for the jury to answer. Insanity is no more a question for an expert than lameness. Is the man lame? is he mad? are equally questions of fact, to be judged of as a matter of fact. . . If the man walks lame, I could not helping thinking so, even if Paget said he was not; it would in such a case turn out that we saw differently, or meant different things by lameness. There may be a corresponding difference as to insanity. But it is not for the medical man to lay down the law on this subject, and say what is madness. I will not pretend to say or define what is; nor would I lameness. But I say it is a question for ordinary persons, and not for experts; and so is the question whether it


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