Testimony of Father Alexis Andre
July 30, 1885


Examined by MR. LEMIEUX: (Mr. F. R. Marceau being interpreter.)

Q. What is your name and religion? A. Alexis Andre, Oblat. I would prefer to speak in French. I understand the English very well, but speaking it is quite a different matter.
Q. You are the superior of the Oblats in the district of - ? A. Of Carlton.
Q. For how long? A. Since seven years.
Q. Since how long have you been living in the country? A. I lived in the country since 1865, in the Saskatchewan.
Q. Do you know the population and habits of the people? A. For twenty-five years I have been continually with the half-breeds of the Saskatchewan above and below. I was four years with the same population in Dakota.
Q. You have been with the half-breeds, Catholic and Protestant? A. They were mixed up in the colony, and I knew a great many both of the Catholic and Protestant half-breeds, and had a great many friends among the Protestants.
Q. Do you remember 1884 and 1885? Do you remember the events of those years? A. Yes, very well.
Q. Do you remember the circumstances under which the prisoner came into the Saskatchewan country in 1884? A. Yes, I remember very well.
Q. At that time there was an agitation in the Saskatchewan about certain rights the half-breeds claimed they had against the Federal Government? A. Yes, about three months before there was an agitation amongst the English and French half-breeds.
Q. State what were the claims of the half-breeds towards the Federal Government? A. At first I did not know what was the cause of the agitation in the country.
Q. Afterwards? A. After, we knew from questioning the half-breeds that they were going to see Riel.
Q. And finally Riel came into the country? A. Yes.
Q. In what month? A. About the 1st of July 1884.
Q. During the first months that he was in the country was there a constitutional agitation going on? A. Yes, there were meetings held amongst the French and English half-breeds, and at Prince Albert there was a meeting at which I was present myself.
Q. Do you know that resolutions were passed and sent to the Federal authorities? A. I did not know that resolutions were passed at the meeting.
Q. Did you know of petitions and requisitions being sent to the Federal Government? A. At that time I did not know of any, only of the meetings and the speeches.
Q. At the assembly you were at did you take part? A. No. I was there as a spectator and did not speak.
Q. You did not take any part? A. I was only there as a spectator.
Q. Did you yourself communicate with the Dominion Government? A. At what time?
Q. I mean in regard to the rights and claims of the half-breeds. A. Yes, I communicated.
Q. At what time? A. I am not sure at what time - in 1882 I did communicate.
Q. Since that have you communicated? A. Not directly.
Q. How did you communicate? A. I communicated directly in regard to Riel.
Q. Can you tell me in what manner you communicated? A. I communicated in December when Riel said he wanted to go out of the country because of the agitation that was existing in the country.
Q. Did you communicate after that? A. No. I communicated after the rebellion.
Q. With whom? A. The Minister of Public Works.
Q. The Hon. Mr. Langevin? A. Yes, asking help for those who were in distress.
Q. What were the claims of the half-breeds? A. Since when; you must distinguish.
Q. From 1884 until the time of the rebellion? A. Since the arrival of the prisoner in the country?
Q. Yes? A. It would be difficult to tell that; they changed from time to time since the arrival of the prisoner.
Q. Before his arrival? A. They demanded patents for their land, demanded frontage on the river, and the abolition of the taxes on wood, and the rights for those who did not have scrip in Manitoba.
Q. In what way did the half-breeds put forth their rights before the arrival of the prisoner? A. By public meetings, at which I assisted several times myself.
Q. Did you take part yourself? A. Yes; at all those meetings.
Q. Were communications made with the Dominion Government, resolutions and petitions? A. I remember three or four times that there was.
Q. Did you get any answer to your communications? A. I think we received an answer once - perhaps we received an answer once.
Q. Was the answer favorable? A. No; it was an evasive answer, saying they would take the question into consideration.
Q. That was the only answer to a number of communications? A. Yes. I know of another communication made by Monsignor Grandin to the same effect.
Q. Did he get a favorable response? A. No; I do not know of any.
Q. Do you know if there was an answer sent to Charles Nolin in regard to a petition sent to the Government? A. It was in regard to those meetings I was making reference. I only know as to one answer.
Q. Finally, after these petitions and resolutions had been adopted at the public meetings and sent to the Government, was there a change in the state of things that existed then? A. The silence of the Government produced great dissatisfaction in the minds of the people.
Q. Today are the people in a better position than they were before in regard to the rights they claim? A. They have not yet received the patents for their land on the South Saskatchewan.
MR. OSLER: I must object to this class of questions being introduced. My learned friends have opened a case of treason, justified only by the insanity of the prisoner; they are now seeking to justify armed rebellion for the redress of these grievances. These two defences are inconsistent. One is no justification at all. We are willing to allow all possible latitude, but they have gone as far as I feel they should go. We have allowed them to describe documents which they have not produced, and answers in writing, so that they might not be embarrassed, and that the outline of the position might be fairly given to the jury, but it is not evidence, and if my learned friend is going into it in detail, I think it is objectionable.
HIS HONOR: Supposing they are going to produce these writings?
MR. OSLER: They could not be evidence. They would not be evidence in justification; that is admitted. It cannot be possible for my learned friends to open the case on one defence and go the jury indirectly upon another. Of course, it is not really any defence in law, and should not be gone into with any greater particularity. If this is given in evidence, we would have to answer it in many particulars, and then there would be the question of justifying the policy of the Government.
HIS HONOR: It would be trying the Government.
MR. OSLER: It is as it were a counter-claim against the Government and that is not open to any person on trial for high treason. We have no desire to unduly limit my learned friend, but I cannot consent to trying such an issue as that here.
MR. LEMIEUX: I do not want to justify the rebellion. I want to show the state of things in the country so as to show that the prisoner was justified in coming into the country and to show the circumstances under which he came.
HIS HONOR: Have you not done that already?
MR. LEMIEUX: I have, perhaps, to the satisfaction of the court, but, perhaps, others may not be so well satisfied.
MR. OSLER: If you do not go any further we will withdraw our objection.
MR. LEMIEUX: I want to get further facts, not in justification of the rebellion, but to explain the circumstances under which the accused came into the country. I had a right to prove what I have already proved a minute ago, I am entitled to prove other facts. If I was right a moment ago, I should be allowed to put similar questions now.
HIS HONOR: The objection is not urged until you have gone as far as the counsel for the Crown thought you ought to go.
MR. LEMIEUX: It is rather late now to object.
MR. OSLER: I warned my learned friends quietly before.
MR. LEMIEUX: Well, I will put the question and it can be objected to.
Q. Will you say if the state of things in the country, the actual state of things in the country in 1882, 1883 and 1884, and if today the state of things is the same as in 1882, 1883 and 1884?  If justice has been done to the claims and just rights of the people?
MR. OSLER: That question must be objected to, it could not have had anything to do with bringing the prisoner here. I object first, as a matter of opinion. Second, that it is a leading question. And third, that it is irrelevant to the issue.
MR. LEMIEUX: The most important objection is that it is leading. As to the opinion of the witness, I should think his opinion is valuable, it is facts I want from the witness. I suppose he can give his opinion based on the facts. If he says no, or yes, I will ask him why and he will give me his reason why.
HIS HONOR: That will be a matter of opinion.
MR. LEMIEUX: I will put the question and you can object to it.
Q. Do you know if at any time the Dominion Government agreed or acceded to the demands made by the half-breeds and clergy relative to the claims and rights that you have spoken of in the preceding answer.
MR. OSLER: I do not object to the question if confined to a date prior to the 1st of July, 1884, the time he was asked to come into the country, although the question is really irregular. I am not going by strict lines, but I do object to his asking as regards the present state of things. I do not object if he confines his questions to the time prior to the prisoner coming to the country.
MR. LEMIEUX: My question will show that the prisoner had reason to come, if the people had confidence in him he had a right to come and help them to try and persuade the Federal Government to grant what had been refused them so far.
HIS HONOR: Your question is what, Mr. Lemieux?
MR. OSLER: I am willing that the question should be allowed if limited to the time prior to July 1884.
HIS HONOR, to MR. LEMIEUX: Is that the way you put it?
MR. OSLER: Then we withdraw the objection.
HIS HONOR: Then we will have his answer.
MR. LEMIEUX: I want to put the question generally.
MR. OSLER: It is so general and difficult to grasp in any way I won't object.
MR. LEMIEUX: Perhaps it is difficult to you but not to the witness.
Q. Will you state if since the arrival of the prisoner in the country up to the time of the rebellion, the Government has made any favorable answer to the demands and claims of the half-breeds?
A. Yes, I know that they have acceded to certain demands in regard to those who did not have any scrip in Manitoba. A telegram was sent on the 4th of March last, granting the scrip.
Q. Before that time? A. Yes, regarding the alteration of the survey of lots on the river, there was an answer from the Government saying they would grant it, and that was an important question.
Q. What question then remained to be settled? A. The question of patents, that has been settled also in a certain way, because Mr. Duck was sent and I went with him as interpreter.
Q. What other question remained? A. Only the question of wood, timber.
Q. You know now that there is a commission sitting in regard to the claims and petitions of half-breeds? A. Yes.
Q. Do you know how many claims and demands have been settled by that commission since it has been in existence? A. In what place? Is it in the North-West or in the district of Carlton?
Q. Generally? A. I do not know. I know for my own district.
Q. What do you know? A. I know that at Batoche they gave three scrips.
Q. Since the rebellion? A. About three weeks.
Q. At Duck Lake? A. Forty.
Q. Since the rebellion? A. Yes, about the same time.
Q. Do you know of any others? A. No, not in that district.
Q. You have had occasion to meet the prisoner between July 1884, and the time of the rebellion? A. Yes.
Q. What is the name of your parish? A. Prince Albert.
Q. You saw the prisoner there? A. Yes.
Q. Did you see him elsewhere? A. At St Laurent several times. I don't know how often, and I saw him at Batoche also.
Q. Have you had occasion to speak often to him on the political situation and on religion? A. Frequently, it was the matter of our conversation.
Q. Do you like to speak of religion and politics with him? A. No, I did not like to.
Q. Will you give me your reasons why you did not like to speak of politics and religion with him? A. Politics and religion was a subject he always spoke of in conversation, he loved those subjects.
Q. Did he speak in a sensible manner? A. I wish to say why I did not like to speak to him on those subjects. Upon all other matters, literature and science he was in his ordinary state of mind.
Q. Upon political subjects and religion? A. Upon politics and religion he was no longer the same man. It would seem as if there were two men in him, he lost all control of himself upon these questions.
Q. When he spoke of religion and politics? A. Yes, on those two matters he lost all control of himself.
Q. Did you consider after the conversations you have had with him that when he spoke on politics and religion he had his intelligence? A. Many times, at least twenty times, I told him I would not speak on those subjects because he was a fool. He did not have his intelligence of mind.
Q. Is that the practical result that you have found in your conversation with Riel on political and religious questions? A. It is my experience.
Q. You have had a good deal of experience with people, and you have known persons who were afflicted with mania? A. Before answering that, I want to state a fact to the court regarding the prisoner; you know the life of that man affected us during a certain time.
Q. In what way? A. He was a fervent Catholic, attending the church and attending to his religious duties frequently, and his state of mind was the cause of great anxiety. In conversation on politics and on the rebellion, and on religion, he stated things which frightened the priests. I am obliged to visit every month the fathers (priests) of the district. Once all of the priests met together, and they put the question: Is it possible to allow that man to continue in his religious duties? And they unanimously decided that on this question he was not responsible, that he was completely a fool on this question, that he could not suffer any contradiction. On the question of religion and politics we considered that he was completely a fool. In discussing these questions, it was like showing a red flag to a bull, to use a vulgar expression.

Cross-examined by MR. CASGRAIN:

Q. I believe in the month of December 1884, you had an interview with Riel and Nolin with regard to a certain sum of money which the prisoner claimed from the Federal Government? A. Not with Nolin. Nolin was not present at the interview.
Q. The prisoner was there? A. Yes.
Q. Will you please state what the prisoner asked of the Federal Government? A. I had two interviews with the prisoner on that subject.
Q. The prisoner claimed a certain indemnity from the Federal Government, didn't he?
A. When the prisoner made his claim I was there with another gentleman, and he asked from the Government $100,000. We thought that was exorbitant, and the prisoner said: Wait a little, I will take at once $35,000 cash.
Q. And on that condition the prisoner was to leave the country if the Government gave him the $35,000? A. Yes, that was the condition he put.
Q. When was this? A. That was on the 23rd December 1884.
Q. There was also another interview between you and the prisoner? A. There has been about twenty interviews between us.
Q. He was always after you to ask you to use your influence with the Federal Government to obtain this indemnity? A. The first time he spoke of it was on the 12th December, he had never spoken a word about it before, and on the 23rd December he spoke about it again.
Q. He talked about it very frequently? A. On these two occasions only.
Q. That was his great occupation? A. Yes, at those times.
Q. Is it not true that the prisoner told you he himself was the half-breed question?
A. He did not say so in express terms, but he conveyed that idea. He said, if I am satisfied, the half-breeds will be. I must explain this - this objection was made to him, that even if the Government granted him $35,000, the half-breed question would remain the same, and he said, in answer to that, if I am satisfied the half-breeds will be.
Q. Is it not a fact he told you he would even accept a less sum than the $35,000?
A. Yes. He said, use all the influence you can, you may not get all that, but get all you can, and if you get less we will see.
Q. When he spoke of religion, the principal thing of which he spoke was it not the supremacy of Pope Leo the XIII? A. Before the rebellion, he never spoke directly on that question as to the supremacy of the Pope.
Q. On that question he was perfectly reasonable? A. On religious questions, before that time, he blamed everything. He wanted to change mass and the liturgy, the ceremonies and the symbols.
Q. Do you pretend that every man who has strange ideas on religious matters is a fool? A. No, I don't pretend that.
Q. A man may have particular views on religious matters and still retain all his reason and intelligence? A. That depends on the way in which he explains his ideas, and by his conduct in expressing them.
Q. A man may be a great reformer of great religious questions without being a fool? A. I do not deny history, but the reformer must have some principle which the prisoner never had.
Q. Is it not true that the prisoner had fixed principles in his new religion? A. He had the principle that he was an autocrat in religion and politics and he changed his opinions as he wished.
Q. Do you say he changed his religion as he wished? A. His ideas changed. To-day he admitted this and to-morrow denied it. He was his own judge in these matters. He believed himself infallible.
Q. Is it not a fact that the half-breeds are a people extremely religious? A. I admit the fact, very religious.
Q. Is it not true that religion has a great influence upon them? A. Yes.
Q. Is it not true that a man who tried to govern them by inducing them to completely change their religion or to do away with it would have no influence with them at all? A. Exactly, it was just because he was so religious and appeared so devout that he exercised such a great influence over them. I wish to explain this point, because it is a great point. With the half-breeds he never was contradicted, and consequently he was never excited with them and he appeared in his natural state with them. He did not admit his strange views at first. It was only after a time that he proclaimed them and especially after the provisional government had been proclaimed.

Re-examined by MR. LEMIEUX:

Q. Is it not a fact that if any proposition was made to Riel, he became irascible and violent and almost uncontrollable? A. As far as personal experience goes he would not allow the least opposition at all. Immediately his physiognomy changed and he became a different man.

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