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CHAPTER IV

THE IDEMNIFICATION ACT

THE

HE legislature opened on January 18th, 1849, when Lord Elgin had the gratification of informing French Canadians that the restrictions imposed by the Union Act on the use of their language in the public records had been removed by a statute of the imperial parliament. For the first time in Canadian history the governor-general read the speech in the two languages; for in the past it had been the practice of the president of the legislative council to give it in French after it had been read in English from the throne. The session was memorable in political annals for the number of useful measures that were adopted. In later pages of this book I shall give a short review of these and other measures which show the importance of the legislation passed by the LaFontaine-Baldwin ministry. For the present I shall confine myself to the consideration of a question which created an extraordinary amount of public excitement, culminated in the destruction of valuable public property, and even threatened the life of the governorgeneral, who during one of the most trying crises in Canadian history, displayed a coolness and patience, an indifference to all personal considera

tions, a political sagacity and a strict adherence to sound methods of constitutional government, which entitle him to the gratitude of Canadians, who might have seen their country torn asunder by internecine strife, had there been then a weak and passionate man at the head of the executive. As it will be seen later, he, like the younger Pitt in England, was "the pilot who weathered the storm." In Canada, the storm, in which the elements of racial antagonism, of political rivalry and disappointment, of spoiled fortunes and commercial ruin raged tumultuously for a while, threatened not only to drive Canada back for years in its political and material development, but even to disturb the relations between the dependency and the imperial state.

The legislation which gave rise to this serious convulsion in the country was, in a measure, an aftermath of the rebellious risings of 1837 and 1838 in Upper and Lower Canada. Many political grievances had been redressed since the union, and the French Canadians had begun to feel that their interests were completely safe under a system of government which gave them an influential position in the public councils. The restoration of their language to its proper place in a country composed of two nationalities standing on a sure footing of equal political and civil rights, was a great consolation to the French people of the east. The pardon extended to the rash men who were directly concerned in

REBELLION LOSSES

the events of 1837 and 1838, was also well calculated to heal the wounds inflicted on the province during that troublous period. It needed only the passage of another measure to conceal the scars of those unhappy days, and to bury the past in that oblivion in which all Canadians anxious for the unity and harmony of the two races, and the satisfactory operation of political institutions, were sincerely desirous of hiding it forever. This measure was pecuniary compensation from the state for certain losses incurred by people in French Canada in consequence of the wanton destruction of property during the revolt. The obligation of the state to give such compensation had been fully recognized before and after the union.

The special council of Lower Canada and the legislature of Upper Canada had authorized the payment of an indemnity to those loyal inhabitants in their respective provinces who had sustained losses during the insurrections. It was not possible, however, before the union, to make payments out of the public treasury in accordance with the ordinance of the special council of Lower Canada and the statute of the legislature of Upper Canada. In the case of both provinces these measures were enacted to satisfy the demands that were made for compensation by a large number of people who claimed to have suffered losses at the outbreak of the rebellions, or during the raids from the United States which followed these risings and which kept the country

in a state of ferment for months. The legislature of the united provinces passed an act during its first session to extend compensation to losses occasioned in Upper Canada by violence on the part of persons "acting or assuming to act" on Her Majesty's behalf "for the suppression of the said rebellion or for the prevention of further disturbances." Funds were also voted out of the public revenues for the payment of indemnities to those who had met with the losses set forth in this legislation affecting Upper Canada. It was, on the whole, a fair settlement of just claims in the western province.

The French Canadians in the legislature supported the measure, and urged with obvious reason that the same consideration should be shown to the same class of persons in Lower Canada. It was not, however, until the session of 1845, when the Draper-Viger ministry was in office, that an address was passed to the governor-general, Lord Metcalfe, praying him to take such steps as were necessary "to insure to the inhabitants of that portion of this province, formerly Lower Canada, an indemnity for just losses suffered during the rebellions of 1837 and 1838." The immediate result was the appointment of commissioners to make inquiry into the losses sustained by "Her Majesty's loyal subjects" in Lower Canada “during the late unfortunate rebellion." The commissioners found some difficulty in acting upon their instructions, which called upon them to distinguish the

THE REBELLION LOSSES COMMISSION cases of those "who had joined, aided or abetted the said rebellion, from the cases of those who had not done so," and they accordingly applied for definite advice from Lord Cathcart, whose advisers were still the Draper-Viger ministry. The commissioners were officially informed that "it was his Excellency's intention that they should be guided by no other description of evidence than that furnished by the sentences of the courts of law." They were further informed that it was only intended that they should form a general estimate of the rebellion losses, "the particulars of which must form the subject of more minute inquiry hereafter, under legislative authority."

During the session of 1846 the commissioners made a report which gave a list of 2,176 persons who made claims amounting in the aggregate to £241,965. At the same time the commissioners expressed the opinion that £100,000 would be adequate to satisfy all just demands, and directed attention to the fact that upwards of £25,503 were actually claimed by persons who had been condemned by a court-martial for their participation in the rebellion. The report also set forth that the inquiry conducted by the commissioners had been necessarily imperfect in the absence of legal power to make a minute investigation, and that they had been compelled largely to trust to the allegations of the claimants who had laid their cases before them, and that it was only from data collected in

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