Skip to main content

Guest Post by George and Terry Goulet

We are independent Métis historians, authors, public speakers, and advocates for justice and equal rights for all Indigenous Peoples from sea to sea to sea.  Among the books, chapters of books, and articles that we have written is our 1999 book The Trial of Louis Riel: Justice and Mercy Denied.  Louis Riel was put on trial and executed under a 534 year old English Statute for High Treason.

Among other matters this book provides a critical legal analysis of the charges under this archaic law, and other statutes, and case law.  The conclusion from our fully documented extensive research was that at the time of his trial the charges under that ancient Statute were inapplicable in Canada.  Consequently Louis Riel was wrongfully charged, wrongfully tried and wrongfully executed.  In order for Canada to rectify this travesty of justice Louis Riel must be exonerated.

George is a retired lawyer and has a Master of Laws degree majoring in constitutional law, and Terry is a retired legal editor of an international legal publishing firm.

A coalition has been formed of Métis groups in Quebec, Manitoba and British Columbia calling for the federal government to exonerate the iconic Métis leader Louis Riel. Among these organizations is the Union nationale metisse du St. Joseph du Manitoba, founded in 1887 by among others Louis Riel’s Brother Joseph and George Goulet’s great grandfather Pierre Delorme who had been a member of Louis Riel’s Provisional Government.  George’s great-uncle was the Métis Martyr Elzear Goulet, who was stoned to death in 1870 for his involvement in the Red River Resistance.

Since we are Independent Métis historians we are NOT hindered by financial ties or petty Métis politics. We have joined this coalition in order to provide a voice for all the Métis Peoples and non-Métis Peoples from sea to sea to sea who believe that Justice and Métis Rights Matter and who support the Exoneration of Louis Riel.

Exoneration will not result in any financial costs to the federal government. The Coalition requests anon-financial support and assistance for obtaining justice for Louis Riel and the Métis Peoples of Canada by having Louis Riel exonerated.  Riel was convicted of High Treason and executed in 1885 under a 534 year old ancient statute of Great Britain that was inapplicable in Canada. His trial was unjust, unfair and illegal.

Riel fought for democracy and basic human and other rights not only for the Métis but for all the residents in Western Canada. There are hundreds of thousands of grass roots Métis Citizens and non-Métis Canadians and organizations that believe Métis Rights Matter particularly with respect to justice and exoneration for Louis Riel.

Riel’s great-grandniece Jean Teillet as well as the President of the Manitoba Métis Federation have made certain statements that mix the facts concerning the exoneration of Louis Riel with Métis politics. Here is one example of their misguided opinions.

Ms. Teillet states “It does nothing good. I don’t want to whitewash history, and I don’t think it accomplishes anything,” Ms. Teillet told paNOW. “It doesn’t clear his name. Pardons or exonerations are not about justice but political expediency.” This is her personal badly flawed opinion.

Analyses between Pardon and Exoneration

For many years there has been a misinterpretation of the significant difference between “pardon” and “exoneration” with respect to the great Métis hero Louis Riel. However dictionary definitions show that these terms are like night and day.  “Pardon” means to “forgive” someone who has committed a crime or wrongdoing and involves mercy and clemency.  “Exoneration” means to declare a person free from guilt, innocent of any crime, and their conviction is reversed. It is decidedly not an act of mercy, clemency or forgiveness as pardon is.

Pardon means the person was guilty of an offence, has paid his dues to society, and is forgiven for the offence.  Since a pardon requires that a criminal offence must have been committed, it is provided for in the Criminal Code of Canada or the Criminal Records Act.  A discussion of pardon or forgiveness is NOT relevant to declaring Riel innocent and exonerating him.

Exoneration means that the person was never guilty of the offence in the first place.  It is not provided for in the Criminal Code of Canada or the Criminal Records Act.   The Government of Canada can exonerate Louis Riel by various methods that will reverse his conviction for High Treason and declare him innocent.

We know of four specific sources from the past that stated the RIEL FAMILY SUPPORTED EXONERATION of Louis Riel. They do not support his pardon since that would leave Riel with a criminal record and imply forgiveness and mercy which Riel does not require.  Exoneration and pardon are exact opposites. Exoneration means that one’s conviction is reversed and one is declared innocent of the charges.

Under Canadian law right now, today, Louis Riel is a CONVICTED CRIMINAL TRAITOR. This stain must not remain. Riel must be exonerated in the name of Justice.

Here are citations for the Riel Family supporting (NOT opposing) Exoneration.

i)     Article titled “Riel Family presses for Exoneration of Metis Leader”. This appeared in the Alberta Sweetgrass magazine in Vol. 5, Issue 6, 1998 with a St. Boniface byline. It can be accessed at>publications>alberta-sweetgrass>riel-family. Leo Teillet is quoted in it.

ii)    67 Sask L. Rev. 359, 2004. See page 363 where the Riel Family is quoted in a Statement that it wants a Parliamentary Bill reversing Riel’s conviction and will not support a pardon. They obviously know the profound difference between Exoneration and Pardon.

iii)    In a 2016 book by the notable Professors Gerhard Ens and Joe Sawchuk titled “From New Peoples to New Nations, Aspects of Metis History….” the authors write the following: “Metis Senator Thelma Chalifoux feels that Metis leaders who oppose the bills aimed at exonerating Riel are ‘out of touch with Metis people’. There may be something to that charge. When Denis Coderre [former Member of Parliament and Mayor of Montreal] was trying to get support for his private member’s bill, he was able to claim the support of about 100 members of Riel’s family”.

We should add that Senator Thelma Chalifoux from St. Albert, Alberta, whom we knew well, was Chair of the Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples, and was a true giant and forward thinker among the Metis community. We profiled her in our 2006 bestselling book “”The Metis. Memorable Events and Memorable Personalities” and found that she had a winning personality and a real sense of humour. Sadly she passed away within the last decade.

iv) In the May 2014 obituary of Winnipeg Metis lawyer Leo Teillet, a former director of the Manitoba Metis Federation, it stated “Leo was a direct descendant of Louis Riel whom he defended through legal channels to exonerate the long standing charges of treason.”

As for Riel’s trial itself, our 1999 book is a fully factual – referenced historical book that exposed the injustice, unfairness and illegality of Riel’s trial, conviction and execution for High Treason in 1885. It also shone a glaring light on the political, judicial and legal improprieties surrounding Riel’s trial from the highest levels down starting with Prime Minister John A. Macdonald and confirmed everything with sources. Our three Metis books, among others, are available in many public and university libraries. We are hoping to finish our fourth Metis book shortly.

We end these comments by stating that “Justice for Louis Riel Requires Exoneration” is the title of an article we wrote. Exoneration will be a first step towards Reconciliation of Canada and the Metis People who are among the First Peoples of Canada.


We hereby recognize the Sechelt Nation on whose unceded lands we are writing this article. We are situated on the Beautiful Sunshine Coast of British Columbia.

en_CAEnglish (Canada)