One of the most famous names in Canadian history is Louis Riel. I know this because I just read the entire Wikipedia entry about the man. Prior to beginning my research for this Shatner appearance, I honestly had no idea. So, Canadians, please forgive me my ignorance.
Because I’m obviously not an expert on him or on Canadian history in general, I’m going to try and hit on the highlights of Riel’s life and times as briefly as I can before discussing the production of “The Verdict Was Treason” itself. Oh…and spoiler alert. The verdict was treason.
Born in the Red River Settlement near what is today modern Winnipeg, Manitoba, Louis Riel was of Franco-Métis descent, an ethnic group composed of mixed Cree, Ojibwa, Saulteaux, French Canadian, Scottish, and English peoples. After growing up and traveling around Canada for a bit, Riel returned to the Red River Settlement in the late 1860’s and found that there was a lot of discord and unrest between the Métis people living there (many of whom were Franco-Catholic) and the new influx of Anglo-Protestant settlers arriving from the East.
Riel became a leader of the resistance there, helping to set up and lead a provisional government to negotiate with Ottawa. Although diplomatic efforts to resolve the situation proceeded apace, conflict between the Canadian party and the provisional government eventually led to the former having a number of men arrested in Manitoba. Riel had one of the men, Thomas Scott, executed by firing squad after being tried for insubordination. This riled up Protestant Canada to such a degree that they created a Canada First movement to oppose Riel.
Still, after more diplomacy with Ottawa, most of the demands of the Métis were met and the ensuing agreements formed the basis of the Manitoba Act which formally admitted Manitoba into the Canadian confederation. However, Riel was not granted amnesty for his execution of Scott and was forced into exile in the US and various parts of Canada.
During some of these years in exile, he began to exhibit meglomaniacal tendencies, most notably believing himself to be the divinely chosen leader of the Métis, even making some attempts to start his own religion. He eventually holed up in Montana and had three kids with a woman of Métis descent. In 1884, however, he was asked back to Manitoba to help spearhead some complaints between the Métis there and Ottawa. Westward expansion, the thinning of the buffalo herds and more governmental interference was once again conspiring to severely impact and marginalize the Métis way of life.
This time, however, Riel managed to alienate much of his support with his meglomania, rages and general erratic behavior. He basically broke with the Catholics, the Anglophones (which included a large number of Métis) and much of the native Indian tribes. His remaining supporters eventually took up arms, but were rather swiftly dispatched by Canadian troops. Riel surrendered, and was tried for treason.
Riel rejected his lawyer’s strong suggestion that he plead Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity, even though he was being tried in Regina by an all-Protestant jury. As you may have guessed, he was found guilty and sentenced to hang (even though the jury recommended mercy.) Riel allegedly regretted not using insanity as a defense and tried to get a new trial, but was totally cock-blocked by the Prime Minister, John A. Macdonald, who hated Riel’s damn guts as did much of Anglo-Protestant Canada who were still upset over the execution of Thomas Scott years earlier. In fact, Macdonald is famously quoted as saying “He (Riel) shall die though every dog in Quebec bark in his favor.” As you can imagine, the Franco-Canadians in Quebec (and around the country) didn’t really take too kindly to that.
Anyway, Riel was hanged for treason (spoilers!) and his life and death have had significant repercussions throughout all of subsequent Canadian history. Decried as a madman and a traitor by many, he has also been hailed as a hero and resistor, a champion of native rights and a symbol that resonated with much of French Canada. His ultimate defeat meant that the west would be primarily settled by English Canadians, marginalizing the Franco influence during the remaining westward expansion.
So. That’s what I assume this episode of Scope would have been about. It was the second and final time Shatner would appear on Scope, which isn’t surprising considering that the series only ran for one year. As it was a half-hour anthology program, my guess is that this episode focused on the trial of Riel, and its subsequent verdict.
P.S. The verdict was treason.
It’s time to detail all of the connections between Scope’s “The Verdict Was Treason” and other Shatner appearances!
Lots of connections with this one, starting with the fact that this would not be the last time that Shatner appeared in a production about Louis Riel; in 1979 he would have a very small part in the 2 1/2 hour movie, Riel.
Robert Christie worked with Shatner at the Stratford Festival in a number of productions over all three years that Shatner was there: Measure for Measure, The Taming of the Shrew, Oedipus Rex, Julius Caesar, King Oedipus, The Merchant of Venice, Henry V and The Merry Wives of Windsor. He also went to Broadway with Shatner in the short-lived 1956 run of Tamburlaine the Great and had previously appeared with The Shat in a 1954 episode of CBC Theatre, “The Man Who Ran Away.” Finally, he would last work with Shatner in the 1957 film version of Oedipus Rex.
Similarly, Eric House also worked with Shatner at the Stratford Festival in those same productions: Measure for Measure, The Taming of the Shrew, Oedipus Rex, Julius Caesar, King Oedipus, The Merchant of Venice, Henry V and The Merry Wives of Windsor. He also went to Broadway with Shatner in the short-lived 1956 run of Tamburlaine the Great. and would again work with Shatner in the 1957 film version of Oedipus Rex. Finally, he would appear in the 1960 TV movie, Point of Departure.
Jack Creley previously appeared with Shatner in the General Motors Theater episodes “The Big Leap” and “The Black Eye.” After this, he would have one more appearance with Mr. Shatner in another General Motors Theatre episode, “Forever Galatea.”
Jean Gascon, the man who would play Riel in this episode, would appear just once again with Shatner in the 1956 Stratford production of Henry V.
Patrick Macnee (yes, that Patrick Macnee of The Avengers fame) would appear with Shatner one more time in “Billy Budd,” a General Motors Theatre production that aired just a few weeks later.
This was the first time that Larry D. Mann would appear with Le Shat, but not the last. He would next be seen with Shatner in a five part episode of 77 Sunset Strip in 1963 entitled “5” (Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, & 5.) Ten years later he would be seen again with Shatner on the Police Surgeon episode “Ten Kilos to Nowhere” and then once more in 1978 for an episode of How the West Was Won, “Amnesty.”
E.M. Margolese had previously appeared with Shatner in the General Motors Theatre episode, “The Big Leap.”
Barry Morse would go on to star with Shatner in a 1962 episode of The Naked City, “Portrait of a Painter,” The Fugitive episode “Stranger in the Mirror,” that 1979 Riel movie mentioned above and finally in 1994’s Tekwar: The Movie.
William Needles also worked with Shatner for those three seasons The Shat was at Stratford (1954-56.) This included the productions of Measure for Measure, The Taming of the Shrew, Oedipus Rex, King Oedipus, and Henry V. He also appeared with Shatner on an episode of General Motors Theatre, “Never Say No.”