Canada has an obligation to negotiate with parties who have withdrawn from Collaborative Agreements and an obligation to negotiate in accordance with the provisions setting out accommodations for demographic changes in Self-Governance Agreements.
This case involved an application to the Yukon Supreme Court by the Teslin Tlingit Council (“TTC”) seeking six declarations against the Government of Canada in relation to negotiations pertaining to two agreements. The Final Agreement (“FA”) and the Self Governance Agreement (“SGA”) were entered into in 1993 between the TTC and the Government of Canada, and follows the Yukon-wide Umbrella Final Agreement. Rather than address each declaration, the Court elected to frame the legal issue as to whether Canada had a legally binding obligation to negotiate a Self-Government Financial Transfer Agreement with TTC, and taken into account, funding based on the Citizens of TTC in accordance with the terms of the FA and SGA. The Court held that Canada had a legal obligation to negotiate a self-government Financing Transfer Agreement with the TTC pursuant to the FA and s.16.1 and 16.3 of the SGA, including funding based on TTC citizenship. It was further held that Canada had failed to uphold such an obligation and ordered declaratory relief.
It was noted that the SGA was provided based on the number of Status Indians without accounting for the increase in the number of persons that must be accounted for. This continued to be the policy position of the government through multiple rounds of negotiations leading up to the expiry of the 2010 Financial Transfer Agreement. In 2015, with the election of the new government Canada, a new policy was released entitled “Canada’s Fiscal Approach to Self-Government Arrangements” (“2015 Fiscal Approach”). The 2015 Fiscal Approach was the first time that Canada’s methods and approaches to FTAs were made transparent to the public and the parties. This new policy made no changes to the calculus of the Aboriginal population.
In 2016, the Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs began a Collaborative Process in response to a recommendation from a First Nation coalition. The TTC withdrew from the Collaborative Process in the fall of 2016 in order to focus on meaningful implementation of the FA and SGA, after which Canada effectively halted negotiations with the TTC pending the completion of the Collaborative Process. The Court concluded that “since their withdrawal, Canada has failed to negotiate and address the major problems with TTC.”
In the Court’s view, the failure to negotiate resulted from a misinterpretation of Canada’s obligations under the FA and SGA. While s.24.12.1 of the FA does indicate that agreements are not to be construed as treaty rights, narrowly construing the obligations under s.16.1 and s.16.3 as non-constitutional rights downplays the constitutional obligations flowing from “Chapter 3 Eligibility and Enrollment” of the FA. This chapter indicated that eligibility for TTC services will be based on blood quantum and not on registration under the Indian Act. Even though the FA does not require Canada to fund every Citizen of TTC, provisions in the SGA do commit Canada to negotiate demographic factors of TTC in order to provide resources enabling public services to be reasonably comparable to those prevailing in the Yukon and at reasonably comparable levels of taxation.
Citing Nacho Nyak Dun and Little Salmon, as precedents for the importance of modern treaties for the project of reconciliation, the Court concluded that Canada did have a legal obligation to negotiate with the TTC and to provide funding based on citizenship. It was added that s.16.3 of the SGA requires a polycentric approach to negotiation and to consider the competing factors at play, and that: (1) there is utility in granting the declaration; (2) that there is a cognizable threat to a legal interest; and (3) that there is a long-standing preference for negotiated settlement. The Court granted declaratory relief and rejected Canada’s submissions that the declaration is inconsistent with reconciliation and the nation relationship, holding that the declaration promotes reconciliation by ensuring Canada adjusts policy on a timely basis.