3d Day: 27 January

Previous page: 2d Day 26 January

Court House, Upper Fort Garry

Thursday, 27 January 1870[1]

Half-past Eleven — French and English Representatives again in session.

Contested Election Cases

Mr. Bunn reported that in the case of the Winnipeg election, Mr. Scott had been declared by the English delegates the duly elected representative.

Mr. Riel reported that in the St. Charles election case the matter had been left to the settlement of the electors of the parish.

Mr. Grant produced a document with a number of signatures, the majority being for Messrs. Grant and McKay.

A discussion ensued, among the French representatives, as to the validity of the latter election; and ultimately it was proposed to leave the matter to be settled at the next adjournment.

Mr. Bunn said, that as it was twelve o’clock [illegible] to adjourn for an hour, in order to enable the French representatives to settle their difficulty and to dine. He therefore moved an adjournment, seconded by Mr. Ross.

On the suggestion of Mr. Sutherland the interval was made an hour and a half.

The Chairman hoped that these delays, which were unavoidable, would have no depressing effect upon members. So far the proceedings had been marked by unanimity and cordiality, and he hoped this would continue to the end. Having deprecated personalities, the Chairmen expressed a hope that the proceedings throughout would be conducted in such a manner, as to show to the outside world that the people of Red River were worthy of the rights which they claimed (cheers).

Convention then adjourned.

~~~

Four o’clock, P.M.— Minutes of the first day’s meeting read and confirmed.

On motion of Mr. Riel, seconded by Mr. Ross, papers 1 and 5 were taken up for consideration.

Letter No. 1, from Hon. J. Howe to D.A. Smith, was read in English and French, paragraph by paragraph.

Mr. Riel addressed the Convention in French.

Mr. Ross, in translating the remarks into English, said, Mr. Riel, in translating this paper — which he did admirably — called attention to the importance of this peculiar document,— Mr. Smith’s Commission. Many things applicable when that gentleman was sent would hardly be applicable now, seeing that Mr. McDougall was not here. At the same time, Mr. Riel says, there is ample ground in this document for the belief that Canada is disposed to do us justice. She has shown a disposition, a willingness, a readiness to do us justice (cheers). Mr. Riel calls particular attention to the expression occurring near the close of the Commission, that,— as the communication with Canada was necessarily imperfect, and circumstances in Red River were continually changing,— Mr. Smith was to act according to the best of his judgement. To these words Mr. Riel attaches, he says, very great importance. In connection with [t]his first paper, Mr. Riel asks that paper No. 5 be read. It would seem, he says, that at the first the Canadian Government forgot to speak to us of certain of our rights. But later events refreshed their memory and caused them to recollect what they were ready to do for us. In this connection he alluded to the Customs duties, &c.

Document No. 5 from Mr. Howe to Mr. McDougall, dated Ottawa, December 7, was read in French by Mr. Riel, and commented on.

Mr. Ross in translating into English said,— Mr. Riel calls special attention to Article 8, which specifies that the present Government, that is to say the McDougall Government, “is to be considered as merely provisional and temporary, and that the Government of Canada will be prepared to submit a measure to Parliament granting a liberal constitution so soon as you as Governor, and your Council have had the opportunity of reporting fully on the wants and requirements of the Territory.” Mr. Riel says thereupon, that it is clear from that, that the Canadian Government authorises and requests us to ask all that is reasonable,— all that we, as British subjects, can reasonably ask. At the same time, we are not to ask anything that is utterly unreasonable. This document, he says, affords hope, and, coming through Mr. Smith, and not Mr. McDougall, is welcome. If Mr. Howe, the writer of that document, said all that is written there, some guarantee is given for our confidence; for the Canadian Government would never promise in this full and explicit manner what it is not ready to fulfill (cheers).

Mr. Riel moved that Mr. Smith be requested to come before the Convention as Commissioner, in order to say what he can do for us, as such, and what, according to the best of his judgment, ought to be done under present circumstances, to secure us our rights.

Mr. Ross said he would second Mr. Riel’s motion, but before doing so, desired to call attention to the fact that one document, referred to in Mr. Smith’s Commission, had never yet been before the people of Red River. It was a proclamation issued by the Governor-General to the inhabitants of the North-West, by command of Her Majesty and from all he could gather was based on a telegram from Earl Granville of the 26th November.

The Chairman said that Mr. Riel’s motion appeared to him so much in place, that had not Mr. Ross seconded it, he (the chairman) would have done so. With regard to the proclamation spoken of, he had a word to say. It was quite possible, from the date at which it was supposed to have been issued, that it might have as little direct and immediate bearing on the transfer of the country as Mr. McDougall’s commission. Still he desired to put this view before the Convention:— Seeing that this proclamation was based on the gracious message from Her Majesty — that the Canadian Government, had informed us, as they had done, of the views of her Majesty,— and that the Governor-General in compliance with the instructions received by telegraph, had thought it his duty to issue something which he believed of importance to the people of this country,— seeing that this was the case, the Chairman put it to the Convention — even though the proclamation had no direct and immediate bearing on the transfer of the country — whether as subjects of a sovereign to whom we were all loyal, it was respectful in us, when she sends a message, and when her representative issues a proclamation, to evince only a feeling of indifference as to what these illustrious persons had to say.

Mr. Riel — Of course I am a British subject; but I am not a Canadian subject yet: and for that reason the Governor-General of Canada has no business with me yet, and I have no business with him — only with his Commissioner. If he has a proclamation, let him proclaim.

Mr. Riel’s motion having carried, a deputation of two of the delegates was sent to Mr. Smith with a request that he would favor the Convention with his presence, in the terms of the resolution.

Mr. Smith, soon after, entered the room and was loudly cheered by the delegates, and  introduced to the Convention, pro forma.

The Chairman addressed Mr. Smith, briefly, explaining why he had been requested to attend. By a portion of your Commission, which Mr. Riel pointed out, said the Chairman, you appear to have very considerable power vested in you, and it was considered desirable that you should meet the Convention to give the public representatives such information as you can on the points concerning which they are most anxious.

Mr. Riel translated into French, with some additional remarks, which Mr. Ross put into English. This Settlement, said Mr. Riel, has been long in a state of commotion, doubt and hesitation with reference to this transfer to Canada; and it was proper that this state of things should have arisen under the circumstances,— not only so far as we ourselves were concerned, but also looking to the interests of posterity. This feeling in the Settlement resulted, after various changes, in the present movement, which was conducted by forty representatives. We are here on most important business,— business affecting the welfare of the country; and if, says Mr. Riel, I could regard Mr. Smith as in a position to concede to us all the rights we desire or deserve,— or assure us that he would put us in a way to get them,— or assure us we would get even the most important of them — I would welcome him in the most hearty manner (loud cheers). But we must not allow the rights of the people to be jeopardized by our mode of treating them at this meeting. We are to be firm (cheers). We are to stand as a rock in defence of the rights and liberties of the country. Canada at the outset ought to have known our wishes and respected the people of this country; but she had not done so in a satisfactory manner. Now that she begins to respect us, we are not unwilling to meet these advances and consider them fairly and justly (cheers). Mr. Riel concluded by saying that being now in a position to get our rights, he could heartily welcome Mr. Smith to this country (cheers).

Mr. Smith said — Mr. Chairman and gentlemen, in addressing you now, I may say that it is my duty to give you every information in my power; and, coming as I do, as a Commissioner from the Canadian Government, it will give me the utmost pleasure to do so (cheers). I need hardly say now, that Canada is not only disposed to respect the people of this country; but is most desirous of according to them every privilege enjoyed by any Province of the Dominion,— all the rights of British subjects, in fact, which are enjoyed in any portion of the Dominion (cheers). I will be happy to answer any questions put to me; and, after ascertaining the desires of the Convention, will point out, as far as I can, whether the Canadian Government will accede to them or not (cheers).

Mr. Ross — I beg to ask one question. I see by various expressions in Mr. Smith’s Commission, that he is here to act in concert with Mr. McDougall, and, in some cases, with Governor Mactavish, and, again, with both. In view of this, I would like to ask Mr. Smith how far he is authorised to act here alone,— seeing that Mr. McDougall has gone to Canada?

Mr. Smith — I may say in reply, that when I left Canada, I think it was the 12th or 13th December, very little indeed was known respecting the state of affairs in Red River. What action Mr. McDougall had taken was unknown: consequently it was considered necessary that I should ascertain from him what he had done. This is all that is meant by the “acting in concert with him,” alluded to. I was merely to see him and ascertain from him how far he had proceeded. As regards Mr. Mactavish, of the Hudson [sic] Bay Company, I may say that that gentleman having had such a lengthened experience of the country and, people, it was thought that it would be of very great benefit to me to consult him: and fortunately he is still here. That Mr. McDougall has gone, makes not the slightest difference to me, or the powers delegated to me by the Government of Canada (cheers). When in Ottawa, I put the question, and it was expressly understood that I should receive no instructions whatever from Mr. McDougall, and have nothing to do with him in this matter, further than to ascertain from him what he had already done, so that I might be in a position to act.

Mr. Riel — And as to Governor Mactavish?

Mr. Smith — As to him I had nothing further to do than avail myself, as far as would he would allow me in a friendly manner, of his knowledge of the country and people.

Mr. Riel — A list of rights was made up by myself and friends. If Mr. Smith has seen that list, I would like to know how far he is in a position to grant them. Something might be added to that list, and again something might be subtracted. But the question is how far could Mr. Smith assent to such a list; and how far can he give us a guarantee that what he assents to, will be granted by the Parliament of Canada.

Chairman — This covers almost all the ground. The question is not only very important and comprehensive, but the answer to it must necessarily be very important and comprehensive. Putting the question in that light, I would ask the Convention whether it might not be worth while,— seeing the proceedings are so far advanced and that it is getting late — that Mr. Smith should have the rest of the evening for considering the question and carefully preparing an answer.

Mr. Riel interpreted into French and added a few remarks, which Mr. Ross gave in English. In view of the suggestion for delay Mr. Riel desired to be explicit. The list of rights, he desired to explain, was not final and might be curtailed or extended. It was merely given Mr. Smith to afford him an idea of what was aimed at.

Mr. Boyd — Although not a representative at last Convention I desire to say that the representative from our parish had no power to demand rights. He was simply sent to see what the French representatives said.

[Missing lines?]

In reply to Mr. Touron, Mr. Smith said — As to the extent to which I can go on the part of Canada, it is difficult for me to say. I have seen the list of rights spoken of, but from memory, cannot give an opinion concerning them. In a matter of such vital importance I should certainly prefer some little time for consideration; and if the Convention would be good enough to place in my hands a paper stating the rights claimed, I shall be most happy to give such answers as I believe will be in accordance with the views of the Canadian Government,

Mr. Flett saw that it would be very difficult for Mr. Smith, in a matter of this kind, to act from mere memory. A list of rights has been drawn up, but it might be very desirable to draw up a new list altogether. A committee of six or seven ought to be appointed to draw up such a list, taking into account that first made out. This would facilitate matters and enable Mr. Smith to say at once how far he could go.

The Chairman thought that the list might be curtailed in some points and very materially extended in others. Let us look, he said, at what has been done in the other Provinces. The settling of a list of rights formed the subject of long, difficult and delicate deliberation, not only in Canada but England, as far as the provinces in Confederation were concerned. It may therefore be very difficult to define all the minutiae of the rights belonging to this country. It may, however, appear to the Convention that it would be sufficient if Mr Smith gave pretty distinct assurances respecting what may be called the main lines — if he can assure us of all those things which justice and reason seem to demand. What I apprehend our French friends peculiarly desire, is assurances respecting the cardinal points — the great principle of a full representation in the direction of the affairs of the country, for instance, and other important points.

Mr. Riel translated into French and added, as interpreted by Mr. Ross — I wish to say explicitly that it is not Mr. Smith who is to have the power of adding to or subtracting from the bill of rights, but that only the representatives here should have that right.

Mr. O’Donoghue said — Mr. Smith could be provided with a copy of the printed list of rights to-morrow, and could give an opinion as to what he could guarantee. With reference to Mr. Boyd’s remark regarding the power of the delegates, Mr. O’Donoghue entered into a statement to the effect that at the last Convention the list of rights was discussed by all the delegates except Mr. Ross and Mr. Gunn, and was adopted by a majority of the representatives. He then moved that a copy of the printed list of rights be placed in Mr. Smith’s hands at once, with a view to his considering them and addressing the Convention on the details of the list to-morrow morning.

Mr. Tait seconded the motion.

Dr. Bird, seconded by Mr. Fraser, moved in amendment,— That any bill of rights presented to Mr. Smith be revised by this Convention,— either by committee or by the whole meeting — and, in the event of being so presented, that he be allowed a reasonable time to prepare his answer.

The Chairman called attention to the fact that this amendment did not call for any list of rights, but merely laid down a certain course, if any list were presented. He suggested that a committee be appointed from both sides to prepare what the Convention think a reasonable list of rights, place it in the hands of Mr. Smith, and get from him at as early a date as possible the necessary guarantee as to what he can do for the Convention.

Mr. K. McKenzie said he had not seen the former list of rights and hoped a committee would be appointed to draw up a new one.

Mr. Cummings never saw the bill of rights, either, nor did he think any of his constituents had done so. He was therefore in favor of a new one being drawn up.

Mr. Riel — In preparing the first bill of rights I never had any intention of accepting it as all I would ask; it was framed in order to give a general idea of what was wanted.

Donald Gunn — I have seen the bill of rights, and was here when it was discussed. At the meeting at which it was adopted I was present, but my constituents had given me no power to vote for such a bill. They merely sent me there to watch the proceedings, and report to them what was going on. We, English delegates, believed that our rights would be granted to us. But still we met our French friends here, although, as I have said, neither Mr. Ross nor myself took any active part in the discussion,— believing that we had at that time no authority to transact business. In conclusion Mr. Gunn urged the formation of a committee to reconsider the list of rights and frame a new one for Mr. Smith.

Mr. Ross having expressed the desirability of letting the past be past, hoped that as they were met there on an independent basis, they would act on such basis, except in so far as taking up the list of rights passed at the last Convention was concerned (cheers).

Mr. O’Donoghue withdrew his amendment.

Mr. Ross, in order to hasten matters, urged that they should enter heartily on the work of drawing up a list of rights. Let a committee of four or six from each side be appointed at once to draw up a list — bring it forward next day — and [at] its approval by the Convention, let it be presented to Mr. Smith as a list of rights and a final one (cheers).

Dr. Bird withdrew his motion.

The Chairman suggested that Mr. Smith should consider the printed list to night, and if he thought it desirable to have a revised list, that he should say so to-morrow morning; and perhaps the Convention would be very much guided by his wishes in the matter.

Mr. Riel — I do not think, with all due respect, that this assembly is going to be guided by Mr. Smith. We are guided by the people and will put their wants through Mr. Smith.

The Chairman — I meant to say that we would be very much guided by any expression of opinion from Mr. Smith on this point.

Mr. Smith retired at this stage.

Mr. Riel, seconded by Mr. Ross, then moved that a committee, consisting of three from each side, be appointed to meet at nine o’clock A.M. to-morrow in the Court-house, to draw up a bill of rights in accordance with the wishes of the people, and that said committee be allowed all necessary time to frame such a bill well.

Mr. Sutherland regretted that they had not found out from Mr. Smith how far he would be disposed to go, without committing themselves to a final bill of rights.

Xavier Pagee suggested that none but natives of the country should be appointed on the committee.

The following committee was then struck:— Thomas Bunn, James Ross, Dr. Bird, Louis Riel, Louis Schmidt, and Charles Nolin.

The Convention adjourned at ten minutes to seven, to meet to-morrow at one P.M. — the interval of meeting being lengthened to give time for preparing the list of rights.

~~~

Next Page: 4th Day: 28 January


[1] “Convention at Fort Garry,” New Nation (28 January 1870), 2–3; HBCA, E.9/1, 6.

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