The story of Louis Riel, M.P., began in February, 1872, when the leader of the Northwest Rebellion was set to contest the federal election in Provencher, Manitoba against the provincial attorney general, Henry Clarke.

But the polls in Manitoba opened ten days after those in eastern Canada. When George Etienne Cartier was defeated in Montreal East, both Riel (pictured, circa 1880) and Clarke were persuaded to withdraw in his favour, and Cartier was quickly nominated and elected by acclamation.

Cartier died of Bright's disease in May of 1873, just months before the Pacific Scandal fell Macdonald's government. In the January, 1874, federal election, Riel ran and this time he was elected.

On March 30, 1874, a harried clerk of the House received two members from Quebec that wanted to witness the swearing-in of the new member for Provencher. Word of his presence in Ottawa swept through the House like rapid-fire.

Louis Riel, abt 1880Within minutes of the opening of the First Session of the Third Parliament, Conservative Mackenzie Bowell summoned the Attorney General of Manitoba to the bar of the House. The very next day, the clerk read to Clarke a number of questions prepared by Bowell:

CLERK OF THE HOUSE (Alfred Patrick): Did you, as attorney general of Manitoba, prefer an indictment against Louis Riel for the murder of Thomas Scott?
ATTORNEY GENERAL OF MANITOBA (Henry J. Clarke): At the November term of the Manitoba Court of Queen's Bench, an indictment was laid against Louis Riel. A bench warrant was issued on that indictment. The sheriff, detectives and police officers of Manitoba have been in search of Louis Riel and he has evaded their pursuit. Steps have been taken by me, as Crown prosecutor, to obtain the outlawry of Louis Riel, in consequence of his having evaded the pursuit of justice and refused to come and take his trial.

The House then took recess over the Easter holiday.

Rumours ran rampant through Ottawa that Riel was in hiding at a Hull convent, waiting for the result of Bowell's resolution. His benefactors let it be known that if an amnesty was granted to him, that he would gladly attend the House. On April 9, Clarke reappeared before the bar of the House of Commons.

JOSEPH-ALDERIC OUIMET (Laval): Did you ever see Riel?
MR. CLARKE: The first time I saw him was at the palace of Archbishop Tache when he returned to Manitoba under pretext that he had come home to die. I believe it was August, 1871.
MR. OUIMET: Did not Louis Riel appear in public without hindrance?
MR. CLARKE: Mr. Riel appeared on the east side of Red River. That is the French side. I am not aware that he ever came to the west or English side of that river.
ROBERT CUNNINGHAM (Marquette, MAN.): Did you ever visit Riel in his own house?
MR. CLARKE: I did. The object of the visit was to try to dissuade him from offering himself as a candidate, which action might produce a civil commotion.
MR. CUNNINGHAM: Did you offer to fight Riel on that occasion at twelve paces? Why did you do that and where was your warrant?
MR. CLARKE: There was an arrangement come to between Riel and myself which he broke. When I did offer to fight him, it was because he was impertinent. There was no warrant until September, 1873. No one made a deposition or a complaint or asked for a warrant.
LOUIS-FRANCOIS-GEORGES BABY (Joliette): At whose complaint was the warrant issued against Louis Riel?
MR. CLARKE: On the information of a one "Farmer", whose Christian name I cannot remember. He is an employee of the government in Ottawa; one of Mr. Mackenzie's employees, I believe, in the land office.Riel and MacDonald political cartoon
MR. CUNNINGHAM: Did you ever propose the health of Louis Riel, at a civic public meeting where you spoke of him in most laudatory terms and pledged to stand by him no matter what occurred?
MR. CLARKE: On one occasion, several merry gentlemen were enjoying themselves over a bottle of champagne. Several healths were drunk; Riel's, I suppose, among the rest. I have no doubt that any other's health would have been drunk on the same occasion. I did not propose Riel's health that I am aware of.
MR. CUNNINGHAM: You acknowledge there was an agreement between you and Riel. What was that agreement? You said he had broken an agreement.
MR. CLARKE: The agreement was that he pledged not to state to anybody that I had been to see him, and within two hours, he proclaimed it around the country!

On April 16, 1874, based on the evidence of Henry Clarke, Bowell's motion was put to the House and carried 124 to 68.

According to the memoirs of Richard Cartwright:

"Every single French member, and probably every Catholic member, voted against the expulsion of Riel, and every English and Protestant member, with the exception of a few from Quebec, voted for it."

A new writ was issued for the riding of Provencher and Riel was again voted in by acclamation. In February, 1875, this time having been officially declared an outlaw by the Manitoban courts, Mackenzie led the House in again expelling Riel. A further court decree exiled him from Canada for five years. Although he would never again run for a seat in the House of Commons, Canada had not seen the end of Louis Riel.


  • Cartoon dated 1885. Caption on the horses reads "English influence" and "French influence".