The Applicants’ claim that the membership provisions in ss 75, 90 and 91 of the Métis Settlements Act of Alberta are invalid due to the principle interjurisdictional immunity, is dismissed.
The Métis Settlements Act of Alberta, Chapter M-14 (MSA) provides for limitations on settlement membership, including an automatic termination provision under which membership automatically terminates if a person voluntarily registers as an Indian under the Indian Act. The Applicants are three former members of the Gift Lake Métis Settlement, whose memberships were terminated after each voluntarily registered as an Indian under the Indian Act to access health benefits. They asked for a declaration that certain membership sections of the MSA, are, in pith and substance, laws in relation to “Indians or Lands reserved for the Indians” and therefore outside provincial legislative competence, under section 91(24) of the Constitution Act, 1867.
The doctrine of interjurisdictional immunity does not apply to the impugned membership provisions of the MSA as their pith and substance can be related to a matter that falls within the jurisdiction of the Alberta legislature. Further, the impact of these provisions does not impair the core power of the federal government under s. 91(24). Also, there is no principled basis on which the doctrine of interjurisdictional immunity would have applied only to the impugned sections. Because the membership provisions are integral to the operation and purpose of the legislation, had the doctrine applied, it would have applied to the whole MSA, rendering the MSA entirely inapplicable to Alberta’s Métis population. Consequently, this group would have lost the benefits and protections the MSA affords them. Additionally, it would have would have created a legislative vacuum, as there is no corresponding federal legislation that would fill the void.
Unlike Indians, with whom the Federal Crown made treaties and granted reservations and other benefits, the Métis communities were not given a collective reservation or land base. They also did not enjoy the protection of the Indian Act, or any equivalent. Under the Accord, the Alberta government granted the Métis Settlements General Council fee simple title to the lands now occupied by eight Métis communities and passed legislation, including the MSA to protect Métis rights.
The MSA contains membership eligibility and termination provisions. An Indian registered under the Indian Act is not eligible to apply for membership in the Métis community except in limited circumstances, none of which apply in this case. Further, s. 90(1)(a) provides that if a person voluntarily becomes registered as an Indian under the Indian Act, that person’s Métis settlement membership terminates. There has been an amendment to the MSA in 2004, making the automatic termination provisions of s. 90 subject to a Métis Settlements General Council Policy that “provides otherwise”. However, there has been no alternative provision policy made so far that would alter the automatic termination provisions. As well, at this time, there is no way for the Applicants to withdraw their registration under the Indian Act.
The MSA recognizes and promotes the preservation of the distinct Métis culture and identity apart from other Aboriginal groups. The impugned provisions are necessary to achieve this objective. These sections only act to exclude specific individuals from membership in settlements and its benefits that are established under the MSA. The settlements under the MSA are creatures of provincial statute and were created and operate independently of Parliament’s jurisdiction over Indians under s 91(24). The fact that Métis are now recognized as Indians under s 91(24) does not change this. Membership in these settlements is not determinative of whether or not an individual is Métis and one can still be legally considered Métis under the test developed in R v Powley.