Volume 37, Issue 3 (May 1992)
The Trial of Louis Riel: A Study in Canadian Psychiatry
The Riel case in 1885 is one of the most striking cases in the history of forensic psychiatry. On the one hand, Riel was the hero of the underprivileged, French Canadian-Indian halfbreeds whose futile revolt in the Canadian Northwest captured the imaginations of French Canadians in Quebec, for whom he became a hero and a martyr. Prior review in this journal has detailed the clinical data referable to his mental condition. This paper reviews the actual trial, the questionable management by the defense, and the inadequate preparations by the defense psychiatrists. Subsequent to the sentence of death, the Canadian prime minister, Macdonald, ordered a medical review, more or less dictating the result. For whatever reason, the medical reports when made public did not fully reflect the actuality of what occurred. The result was a questionable execution, the creation of a martyr, and a spark for the cultural conflict that continues to bedevil Canada.