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Thursday, May 17, 2012

Free UTP article on Louis Riel's legal status available online

The U of T Press journals division has the happy practice of providing pdfs of older articles from one of the UTPs many journals that can be accessed online without a subscription. Free samples, I guess. Those of us with university library privileges don't need the extra free access, but it's great to get notice of articles that may have escaped attention the first time around.

This week one of the highlighted items is of interest to Canadian legal historians, an article from the Canadian Historical Review volume 88 #2 (June 2007) by Jeremy Ravi Mumford, entitled "Why Was Louis Riel, a United States Citizen, Hanged as a Canadian Traitor in 1885?" This question is one that has intrigued students at all levels of study of one of the great set pieces of the national narrative, and it's great to get some answers, or at least guesses as to the legal and political reasons behind the conundrum.

Here's the abstract:

In what sense was Louis Riel, a foreign citizen who had formally renounced his allegiance to Britain, a traitor to the Queen? And why did his adopted country, the United States, do nothing to protect him? Since the Canadian Naturalization Act of 1881 for the first time permitted emigrants to renounce their British allegiance, Riel's legal status was no different from that of any foreigner, and to charge a foreigner with treason was unusual and controversial. The United States, furthermore, had a history of advocating aggressively for citizens charges with crimes abroad, even when they were clearly guilty, and especially for political militants in Britain and Canada. Yet for a number of independent reasons, including decisions of courtroom strategy and the internal politics of the United States in 1885, Riel's lawyers and his adopted government chose not to raise his citizenship as an issue. The surprising silence about his US citizenship at the end of his life has distorted our historical understanding of Riel as a figure of the nineteenth-century Canadian-American borderland.

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