#List(s) of Rights, Tabled before the Assembly

Previous List: #List of Rights, revised version of March 1870


On 5 May 1870 Louis Riel, President of the Provisional Government of Assiniboia, promised to table a printed ‘List of Rights’ before the Legislative Assembly. He described it as the version given to the delegates to Ottawa — who had a hand in its making.[1] This was presumably the document “D” noted by Thomas Bunn in his “Sessional Journal of the Legislative Assembly of Assiniboia.”[2] Although it is likely that Bunn meant the list to be consulted in conjunction with the text of the Assembly debates, he does not clearly state when the list was tabled; nor is the document archived with the journal. There is no way of knowing, therefore, what exactly the list of rights tabled before the Assembly contained.[3]

There is evidence that a revised, twenty-point Bill of Rights was in fact read in the Legislative Assembly. According to one account, as early as 20 March 1870, the Provisional Government of Assiniboia “distributed a revised ‘list of rights,’ printed in both English and French.”[4] Other accounts indicate, however, that no list was actually put before the Assembly until 7 May 1870.[5]

The List of Rights immediately below was reportedly put before the “Legislature at Fort Garry,” a copy carried to St. Paul’s MN, and subsequently published in the British Colonist on 6 June of 1870. The article states “This document is not the Bill of Rights drawn up by the Convention [of Forty], which went no further than to ask a Territorial government with a local Legislature, but is an entirely new set of demands drawn up by Riel on his executive responsibility as a protocol of treaty to be negotiated with Canada and then referred to the local Legislature for ratification.”[6]

  1. That the Territory known as Rupert’s Land and the Northwest shall not enter the confederation of the Dominion of Canada except as a province, to be styled and known as the Province of Assiniboia, and with all the rights and privileges common to the different provinces of the Dominion.
  2. That we have two Representatives in the Senate and four in the House of Commons of Canada until such time as an increase of population entitle the province to a greater representation.
  3. That the province shall not be held liable at any time for any part of the public debt of the Dominion contracted before the date the said province shall have first received from the Dominion the full amount for which the said province is to be held liable.
  4. That the sum of $80,000 be paid annually by the Dominion to the local Legislature of the province.
  5. That all properties, rights and privileges enjoyed by the people of the province up to the date of our entering the confederation be respected, and that the arrangement and confirmation of all customs, usages and privileges be left exclusively to the local Legislature.
  6. That during a period of five years the people of Assiniboia shall not be subjected to any direct taxation, except such as shall be imposed by the local Legislature for municipal or other local purposes.
  7. That a sum of money equal to eighty cents per head of the population of this province be paid annually by the Canadian government to the local Legislature, until such time as the population shall have increased to 600,000.
  8. That the local Legislature shall have the right to determine the qualifications for members in the Parliament of Canada and the local Legislature.
  9. Same qualification for voters as passed in Convention [of Forty].
  10. That the bargain of the Hudson [sic] Bay Company, in respect to the transfer of the government of the country to the Dominion, be annulled, so far as it interfered with the rights of the people of Assiniboia, and so far as it would affect our further relations with Canada.
  11. That the local Legislature of the province has full control of all the public lands of the province, and the right to annul all rights or arrangements entered into with reference to the public lands of the province.
  12. That the government of Canada appoint a commission of engineers to explore the various districts of the province and lay before the local Legislature a report of the mineral wealth of the province within three years from the date of entering the confederation.
  13. That treaties be concluded between Canada and the several Indian tribes of the province, by and with the co-operation and advice of the local Legislature.
  14. That an uninterrupted communication from Lake Superior to Fort Garry be guaranteed to be completed within five years.
  15. That all public buildings, bridges, roads and other public works be at the cost of the Dominion.
  16. That English and French be common in the Legislature, and that all public documents be printed in both languages.
  17. [Apparently this text was abridged by the paper’s editor] After several resolutions this concludes by demanding that the Governor speak English and French.
  18. That the Judges of the Supreme Court speak English and French.
  19. That all debt contracted by the provisional government of the Northwest Territory in consequence of the illegal and inconsiderate measures adopted by Canadian officials to bring a civil war in out midst, be paid out of the Dominion treasury, and that none of the members of the provisional government, or any under them, be liable or responsible for any movement or any action that led to the present negotiation.
  20. This article, same as before [meaning previous versions of the list], in relation to no extra tax for five years except on liquor.

In 1875, Archbisop A.-A. Taché, first published the text of the first nineteen clauses of a list purportedly given to delegate Rev. N.-J. Ritchot to take to Ottawa in 1870.[7] This list was subsequently republished in Winnipeg newspapers in 1899.[8] One conspicuous difference from the list attributed to Riel and shown immediately above is the reference in the list provided by Taché to languages of instruction and funding for schools. In 1899, a James Taylor[9] objected to Taché’s version of the list, avowing he (Taylor) was in possession of a different list, “copied by Mr. Thomas Bunn, secretary of state for the Provisional government.”[10]

Taché was not surprised that Taylor would have a different list, noting:

I believe you without hesitation. There were so many essays prepared, rejected and amended that there is no wonder at all that one or perhaps several of those essays, copied by Mr. Bunn [deceased], remained in his possession, and are now in yours; however, be sure your Bill of Rights is no more than mine — the one one that was drawn up by the representatives of the people in any public meeting assembled. There were two Bills of Rights framed and agreed upon in public meetings; one in November, 1869 [the Council of Twenty-four], and the other at the convention in January and February, 1870 [the Convention of Forty]. Every one acknowledges that the first was not acted upon; the second was presented to Mr. Donald A. Smith, was attached by himself to his own report, but was never handed to the delegates to be carried to Ottawa. I know perfectly well that the general impression was that this last bill of rights was the one given to the delegates to be used in Ottawa … I dispelled that idea fifteen years ago … [and indeed] the bill you contend was handed to the delegates contained conditions which are in no way and nowhere to be found in the bill framed by the convention [of Forty] … [specifically] clauses one and eleven. …

Our two bills have the same origin: they both emanate from the Provisional Government, having been prepared by the executive of that body … both were unknown by the general public previous to this discussion. Of necessity the one was substituted for the other, but observe, was substituted by the same authority which had prepared both. … [Like it or not] it is well known that the executives of governments, legal or illegal, do not always publish their actions; it is very seldom that the instructions to delegates are made public, especially in excited times and difficult negotiations.[11]

Further, Taché asserts he was an eyewitness to the events involving the delegates, whereas Taylor was not:

I saw myself the documents handed over to Rev. Mr. Ritchot and Judge Black by the officials of the Provisional Government. I had heard some of the objections made by them to certain articles of a first essay, and I saw some modifications made in my presence by the said officials. I heard the delegates declare that they would take … [the list shown below] as the basis of their negotiations; on their return the Rev. Mr. Ritchot and Mr. Scott affirmed repeatedly that they had acted accordingly.[12]

Finally, Taché noted that, when it came right down to it, there was nothing in Taylor’s copy of a List of Rights that proved when or why Bunn might have written it.[13]

In a letter to Taché, N.-J. Ritchot confirmed that the lists published by Taché were “exactly similar to the correspondent articles of the List of Rights which had been finally handed to me, as well as to my co-delegates, when we started to Ottawa.” Ritchot added, however, the observation that “I have not seen in Your Grace’s publication the 20th article of our List of Rights, though the article existed.”[14] Ritchot therefore furnished Taché with that text. Taché admitted that he had inadvertently misplaced the piece of paper on which it had been written and had not noticed the omission (the article not being one that had struck him as remarkably important). The complete twenty-point list is shown below.[15]


Bill of Rights

“Prepared by the executive of the provisional government and handed over to the Northwest delegates.”[16]

1. That the territory of the North-West enter into the Confederation of the Dominion of Canada as a province, with all the privileges common with all the different provinces in the Dominion.

That this province be governed:

1. By a Lieutenant-Governor, appointed by the Governor-General of Canada.

2. By a Senate.

3. By a Legislature chosen by the people with a responsible Ministry.

2. That, until such time as the increase of the population in this country entitle us to a greater number, we have two representatives in the Senate, and four in the House of Commons of Canada.

3. That in entering the Confederation, the Province of the North-West be completely free from the public debt of Canada; and if called upon to assume a part of the said debt of Canada, that it be only after having received from Canada the same amount for which the said Province of the North-West should be held responsible.

4. That the annual sum of $80,000 be allotted by the Dominion of Canada to the Legislature of the Province of the North-West.

5. That all properties, rights and privileges enjoyed by us up to this day be respected, and that the recognition and settlement of customs, usages and privileges be left exclusively to the decision of the Local Legislature.

6. That this country be submitted to no direct taxation except such as may be imposed by the Local Legislature for municipal or other local purposes.

7. That the schools be separate, and that the public money for schools be distributed among the different religious denominations in proportion to their respective population according to the system of the Province of Quebec.[17]

8. That the determination of the qualifications of members for the Parliament of the Province, or for the Parliament of Canada be left to the Local Legislature.

9. That in this province, with the exception of the Indians who are neither civilized, nor settled, every man having attained the age of twenty-one years, and every foreigner being a British subject, after having resided three years in this country, and being possessed of a house, be entitled to vote at the elections for the members of the Local Legislature, and of the Canadian Parliament, and that every foreigner other than a British subject, having resided here during the same period, and being proprietor of a house, be likewise entitled to vote on condition of taking the oath of allegiance.

It is understood that this article is subject to amendment by the Local Legislature exclusively.

10. That the bargain of the Hudson’s Bay Company with respect to the transfer of government of this country to the Dominion of Canada, never have in any case an effect prejudicial to the rights of North-West.

11. That the Local Legislature of this province have full control over all the lands of the North-West.

12. That a commission of engineers, appointed by Canada, explore the various districts of the North-West, and lay before the Local Legislature, within the space of five years, a report of the minerals wealth of the country.

13. That treaties be concluded between Canada and the different Indian tribes of the North-West at the request and with the co-operation of the Local Legislature.

14. That an uninterrupted steam communication from Lake Superior to Fort Garry be guaranteed to be completed within the space of five years, as well as the construction of a railroad connecting the American railway, as soon as the latter reaches the international boundary.

15. That all public buildings and constructions be at the cost of the Canadian exchequer.

16. That both the English and French languages be common in the Legislature and in the courts; and that all public documents as well as the Acts of the Legislature, be published in both languages.

17. That the Lieutenant-Governor to be appointed for the Province of the North-West be familiar with both the English and French languages.

18. That the Judge of the Supreme Court speak the English and French languages.

19. That all debts contracted by the Provisional Government of the Territory of the North-West, now called Assiniboia, in consequence of the illegal and inconsiderate measures adopted by Canadian officials to bring about a civil war in our midst, be paid out of the Dominion Treasury, and that none of the members of the Provisional Government, or any of those acting under them, be in any way held liable, or responsible, with regard to the movement, or any of the actions which led to the present negotiations.

20. That in view of the present exceptional position of Assiniboia, duties upon goods imported into the province shall, except in the case of spirituous liquors, continue as at present for at least three years from the date of our entering the confederation, and for such further time as may elapse until there be uninterrupted railroad communication between Winnipeg and St. Paul, and also steam communication between Winnipeg and Lake Superior.


 The Manitoba Act, 1870*


[1] See Louis Riel, quoted in “Session 2, Day 9: 5 May,” this site, who stated,

I would take the liberty of asking of the hon. gentlemen one thing. We have just learned by mail that something is going on in the other provinces of Confederation, which concerns us. Threats are being made; but I do not know how far these threats are going against us. For my own part I do not attach much importance to them; and I have been the more inclined to this view, in consequence of a telegram which has just been received by His Lordship Bishop Tache from Father Richot and the other Commissioners. They announce that they are urging a settlement with Canada, and that there is no danger (loud cheers). But at the same time I have observed in the other reports which have reached us that some importance is attached to one idea, namely, that the people here are divided, and that the conditions on which we were prepared to receive Canada had been changed before they left here, with the Commissioners. It is true there has been a change, but it is, I think, one for the better, as the terms proposed in the long run could more easily be assented to, than those agreed on in the Convention. Some changes were found to be necessary by the Executive, and they had to be quickly decided on, as the Commissioners were expected in Canada, and the people here were anxious to see them starting to Ottawa. Hence the manner of making the alterations. But I would like to place them before the House, so that hon. members might judge for themselves. Hon. Mr. Bunn, the Secretary, was with us while the alterations were being made, and so limited was our time for the work that we had to work day and night in order to finish and enable the Commissioners to start at the time they did. The Commissioners, of course, had certain power in regard to these demands, but before anything was finally settled, they were instructed that the approval of the Legislative Assembly of this country was necessary,— so that, while complying with circumstances we had at the same time a saving clause that the ratification of the action of our Commissioners depended altogether on the will of the Legislature of this country (cheers). To-morrow, if it is the wish of the House, I will place on the table the List of Rights as given the Commissioners, printed in English and French (hear, and cheers). I have to thank you hon. gentlemen for the attention you have given me with regard to the executive appointments. We must, of course, bear in mind, that they are merely provisional in their nature. It is said that we are going to fight with England, but we have not that pretension (hear, hear),— and some may find out that the present arrangement, such as it is, is more provisional than they think (cheers).

[2] Archives of Manitoba [AM], MG3 A1-15, Red River Disturbance fonds 1869-1870, “Seasonal [sic: Sessional] Journal of the Legislative Assembly of Assiniboia,39. On the basis of comparison — of handwriting in  documents held by the Archives of Manitoba that, according to archival notation, have been “authenticated” as belonging to Thomas Bunn — with the handwriting in the “Sessional Journal of the Legislative Assembly of Assiniboia,” I have concluded that Bunn was the author of the Journal. See Norma Hall, “Hon. Thomas Bunn (St. Clements),” doing canadianhistory n.0 site, for a list of handwritten documents attributed to Bunn. In my attribution of authorship of the Journal, I might be mistaken — if, for example, the handwriting I used for comparison, though “authenticated” by the Archives, is not in fact Bunn’s. See also the comments posted by Archives of Manitoba subsequent to my research having been conducted and communicated. On the basis of chain of provenance, the Archives concludes the author of the Journal was William Coldwell. I am nevertheless holding with my initial surmise until such time as I have sufficient and compelling evidence to conclude otherwise (perhaps, for example, someone will find a sample of William Coldwell’s handwriting). Provenance of ownership alone (even when bolstered by coincidence), does not prove authorship. Given that Bunn died in 1875, I see no reason why Coldwell might not have come into possession of the Journal at that time. He might well have acquired it earlier. In 1874, Bunn was apparently unsure of the whereabouts of “the record of proceedings of the Provisional Government” — presumably referring to the Journal. See Report of the Select Committee on the Causes of the Difficulties in the North-West Territory in 1869-70, 122; and A.-A. Tache, Separate Schools, Part of the Negotiations in Ottawa, 1870 (St. Boniface: Canadian Publishing Company?, 1900?), 1.

[3] AM, MG3 B1-5, James Taylor Collection, contains lists of Rights, in English and in French, but the French-language version appears to be merely a draft, being only 14 points long. As to the English list, see Taché’s comments above, referenced in n. [12] below. No printed version of the List of Rights has survived that can be shown conclusively to be the one Riel referred to as being made for the members of the Legislative Assembly. Had Bunn’s Journal survived with its accompanying documents intact, greater certainty would be possible. As it is, the only known printed-in-Red River version was a French-language list, dated 23 March 1870, described by George Bryce, “Two Provisional Governments  in Manitoba, Containing an Interesting Discussion of the Riel Rebellion, With an Appendix Embodying the Four Bills of Rights Verbatim,” Manitoba Historical Society Transactions ser. 1, no. 38 (read 9 January 1890), and assumed by him to have remained unrevised prior to the departure of the delegates and therefore sent with them.

[4] Edmund A. Aunger, “Justifying the End of Official Bilingualism: Canada’s North-West Assembly and the Dual-Language Question, 1889-1892,” Canadian Journal of Political Science/ Revue canadienne de science politique 34, no. 3 (September 2001), 460. See also “#List of Rights, revised version of March 1870,” this site.

[5] W.L. Morton, ed., Alexander Begg’s Red River journal: and other papers relative to the Red River resistance of 1869-1870 (Toronto: Champlain Society, 1956)  369 n.1, cites H.M. Robinson, U.S.N.A., Department of State, Consular Reports, Winnipeg, I, May 10, 1870, No. 35. See Hartwell Bowsfield, ed., transcript of letter, “H. M. Robinson, Vice Consul, to J. C. B. Davis, May 10, 1870. No. 35,” The James Wickes Taylor Correspondence, 1859-1870 (Altona MB.: D.W. Friesen and Sons, 1968), 160.

[6] “News From Red River,” Halifax NS Daily British Colonist (6 June 1870), 2.

[7] A.-A. Taché, The Amnesty Again, or Charges Refuted by His Grace Archbishop Taché of St. Boniface, Manitoba (Translated from the French; Winnipeg: printed by The Standard, 1875), 95.

[8] N.-J. Ritchot, quoted in A.-A. Taché, Separate Schools: Part of the Negoiations at Ottawa, 1870 (St. Boniface: 1900?), 2, refers to the Free Press (27 December 1899), and the Manitoba [sic: Manitoba Free Press] (31 December 1899); see also A.-A. Taché, ed., Écoles Separées: Partie des Négociations a Ottawa en 1870 (St. Boniface: 1900?), 1, 9.

[9] James Taylor was recording secretary of the Manitoba Historical Society (1888), which Taché characterized as being, as of 1900, under “the dark cloud of prejudices too often.” Taylor is not to be confused with James Wickes Taylor, who died in 1893. The allegations that Taché was refuting in Separate Schools included those published in Bryce, “Two Provisional Governments  in Manitoba,” which apparently were also published in the Winnipeg Daily Sun (c. 1889). Bryce’s remarks were not backed by careful and logical application of historical method and they were rude (“suivant sa triste habitude, s’est permis des affirmations sans preuve, et ce, dans un langage qui est loin de convenir dans une discussion sérieuse, et quand on s’adresse à un public que l’on respecte”). Taché declined to address Bryce directly. See Taché, ed., “Refutation des Objections de M. James Taylor et Autres,” Écoles Separées, 9.

[10] James Taylor, quoted in Taché, Separate Schools, 1.

[11] Taché, Separate Schools, 1.

[12] Ibid., 2.

[13] Ibid.

[14] N.-J. Ritchot, quoted in Taché, Separate Schools, 2.

[15] The 20th article is taken from the list printed in John Skirving Ewart, The Manitoba School Question: Being a compilation of the legislation, the legal proceedings, the proceedings before the Governor-General-in-Council (Toronto: Copp Clark Company, 1894), 364–369.

[16] Taché, Separate Schools, 9.

[17] As Taché, Separate Schools, 3-4,  points out, “The Catholics are largely in the majority in the province of Quebec, consequently the system of separate schools, in that province, is almost entirely in favour of Protestants” in terms of protecting their rights. Taché therefore argues, “When the delegates of Red River went to Ottawa, asking for the establishment of a province which would cover the whole of the Northwest, the majority of the inhabitants of the intended province were Catholics, so it was proof of good will towards Protestants on the part of the framers of the Bill of Rights in asking for separate schools, and if the majority had continued to be Catholic, the old and new Protestant settlers would find the provision very wise and very convenient.” Here, Taché’s theoretical argument seems thin — it is likely that most people anticipated an inundation of Protestants that would dwarf the Catholic population.


Published 7 July 2011; updated 19 July 2016


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