HC Deb 19 August 1836 vol 35 cc1319-22
Mr. Hume

presented a Petition from Mr. Charles Duncombe, Member for Oxford, Upper Canada, in the newly-elected Assembly, transmitted to him on that morning by the petitioner, who had come to this country to represent to his Majesty and the House the dreadful state of affairs in the colony. If the statements made in the Petition could be substantiated, as he believed they could be, it was impossible that Government could allow Sir Francis Head any longer to retain the office of Lieutenant-Governor in Upper Canada. The petition complained of unconstitutional outrages on the electors, sanctioned by Sir F. Head, and those under his immediate control, for the purpose of obtaining a majority in the new House of Assembly. It complained of the new patent votes created by Mr. Ritchie, Government agent for the sale of land, who had given grants of land gratis to many persons, for which those individuals immediately voted. It stated, that at several places the reforming candidates had been driven from the hustings by bands of Orangemen, armed with clubs and knives. By these, and many other unconstitutional acts, encouraged by the Governor, the reforming electors had been overpowered, and deterred from exercising their franchise. The petitioner concluded by praying the House to adopt such measures as should give justice to the people of Upper Canada. The hon. Member said, that if the Session had not been at its close, he should have proposed the immediate appointment of a Committee to inquire into the outrages and insults thus offered to the inhabitants of the colony. He trusted, that Government would not refuse the request which he now made, that they would direct one or more of the Commissioners of Inquiry into the state of affairs in Lower Canada to proceed to Upper Canada, and put them in possession of the real facts of the case. It had been declared, that Sir F. Head was acting under the directions of Government; but he should be glad to know if Government would sanction the conduct with which he was charged. He was unwilling to believe that the allegations could be true. He hoped that Government would see the necessity of doing justice to the people of Upper Canada, and that some inquiry would be made into the facts stated in the Petition.

Sir George Grey

begged the House to consider on what foundation the charges rested which the hon. Member wished to be investigated. Sir Francis Head had dissolved the Assembly of Upper Canada, in consequence of its refusal to grant the means of carrying on the Government. The result of this appeal to the people was, that a majority of Members had been returned to the new Assembly differing in opinion from the majority of the late House. A gentleman, avowing himself to be a member of the defeated party, though himself a successful candidate, immediately after a contested election, which the House knew was always conducted with circumstances of acrimony which it would be better to suppress, smarting under the consciousness that his party had been beaten, came forward and made allegations respecting the conduct of the Lieutenant-Governor and other authorities in creating illegal votes, and exercising im- proper influence, which ought unquestionably to have been made in the House of Assembly, as affecting the validity of the elections to that body, and which, if substantiated before a Committee of that House, might have reversed the state of parties in it, and saved himself the trouble of making a long voyage, to make a statement to a tribunal at an immense distance from the evidence which must necessarily be adduced in order to the investigation of the facts. Sir F. Head, he believed, considered himself strictly bound to act according to his instructions, and had always so acted. Nothing could be more contrary to his instructions than conduct like that of which he stood accused. While acting as representative of his Sovereign, it was his duty to allay the violence and conciliate the differences of contending parties, instead of exciting them to mutual animosity. With regard to the specific charge of the creation of illegal votes, he could not deny it, except on these general grounds, as he now heard it for the first time. He asked the House not to believe the truth of the charges against Sir F. Head, and not even to grant the request that a tribunal should be appointed to inquire into them, as that would be, in point of fact, to condemn him. Where charges were made against a governor, it was always the custom of the Colonial-office to give him an opportunity of seeing them before passing any opinion on his conduct. To that extent only could he promise that an inquiry should take place, and to that extent justice to Sir F. Head required that it should be made. He could not but complain that the petition had not been intrusted to him, as it might have been, but should be brought forward on the last night of the Session, when mouths must necessarily intervene before Sir F. Head could make any reply to the charges preferred against him. He hoped that the hon. Gentleman did not really give credit to the accusation, and had only presented the petition for the sake of an inquiry.

Mr. Hume

believed the charges in a great measure true, though not to the extent stated in the petition. He could not be satisfied with an inquiry by any subordinate tribunal, under the circumstances in which the colony of Upper Canada was placed.

Mr. G. F. Young

thought the course taken by the hon. Member for Middlesex in bringing the charges before the House of Commons was most unfair and unjust. If the allegations of the petition were true, the elections to the House of Assembly were vitiated by the law of Upper Canada. It was most unfair, when the charges might be brought under judicial investigation in the proper place, to prejudice the public mind by statements made at a great distance from the colony to which they related, at a time when it was quite impossible to institute an inquiry into them.

Mr. Robinson

observed, that the petition was completely ex parte, and that if the allegations contained in it were in any degree true, there was a remedy for the evils complained of in Canada itself. He believed that Sir F. Head was quite incapable of the misconduct which the petitioner imputed to him He could not help deprecating the presentation of a petition containing such serious charges just before the prorogation of Parliament, when the party against whom the charges were made could not for a great length of time have an opportunity of replying to them. Was it likely, he would ask, if the charges contained in this petition were true, that they should escape the notice of all but one individual, or rather was it not more likely that, if they really were true, the table of that House would be covered by petitions from the people of Upper Canada?

Mr. Warburton

looked upon the petitioner as representing the opinions of a large number of the people of Canada. If the facts contained in the petition were true, they ought to be investigated. He would not go the length of saying that Sir F. Head was incapable of being guilty of the charges brought against him, but those charges ought to be inquired into, and if Sir F. Head were guilty, he certainly would deserve to be impeached.

Petition laid on the table.

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