Application allowed. The surviving spouse, who is non-Status and a non-band member, has been allowed to continue to occupy a family home on reserve.
Marlene Toney, a widow, sought an order for indefinite exclusive occupation of her family home on reserve pursuant to s 21 of the Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights Act [“FHR”]. The order also included half the value of her late husband, Lawrence Toney’s interest in the home and outbuildings pursuant to s 34 of FHR. Central to this application was the fact that Marlene is non-Status and a non-band member of the Annapolis Valley First Nation [“AVFN”]. For over 30 years, she and her spouse lived in their family home, investing over $140,000.00 of their own money in permanent improvements after Lawrence obtained a Certificate of Possession for the house in 1998. Marlene was an active part of the community for many years, and even served as the band manager for two years until she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. The only substantial asset in Lawrence’s estate is his right and interest in the Certificate of Possession for the land upon which the family home sits and the house itself.
The FHR also includes detailed “Provisional Federal Rules” [“Rules”] intended to govern First Nation communities that have not enacted matrimonial property laws of their own. These Rules, however, apply only to First Nations that have not yet enacted matrimonial property rules under the FHR. Any validly enacted First Nation laws oust the Rules in respect of that First Nation. If a First Nation has signed a self-government agreement with the federal government, under which it has power to manage its reserve lands, the Rules do not apply, even if the First Nation has not enacted matrimonial property laws of its own, unless the federal minister declares that the Rules apply to that First Nation. A First Nation enrolled under the First Nations Land Management Act [“FNLMA”] can oust the application of the Rules by bringing into effect a land code, separate matrimonial property laws under the FNLMA, or matrimonial property laws under the FHR. The FHR identifies how these Rules apply to First Nations who have adopted a land code pursuant to the FNLMA, and to First Nations under self-government agreements with the federal government. It is agreed that AVFN has not entered a self-government agreement with the federal government, nor enrolled under the FNLMA. These Rules apply to the AVFN.
The case at hand is the first decision to provide a comprehensive analysis of the FHR, in particular ss 21 and 34. These sections authorize courts to grant exclusive occupation of the family home and compensation to a surviving spouse for interests in matrimonial assets. The FHR respects the principle of non-alienation of reserve lands and its rules do not lead to non-Status or non-band members acquiring permanent or tangible interests in reserve lands pursuant to s 21 or receiving compensation for the value of reserve lands pursuant to s 34. The FHR, however, balances the equality rights of spouses under ss 15 and 28 of the Charter along with recognition of Aboriginal and Treaty rights under s 35 of the Constitution Act (1982).
Women appeared to have played an important and equal role in all aspects of tribal life and governance in most First Nations during pre-colonial times, and some were even matrilineal societies. The interpretation of the FHR recognizes the role and status of spouses of either gender, not if they are both members of the band. This is consistent with this appearance of Aboriginal values in pre-colonial times as shown in the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples [RCAP]. Gender equality is a universal value that transcends nationality or race and it is in this context that the FHR promotes and protects a compelling and substantial legislative objective. The Court awarded Marlene indefinite exclusive occupation of the family home pursuant to s 21 of FHR, with the condition that she does not cohabitate with anyone during her occupation, except for one of her children or grandchildren. She must maintain the home and not commit waste.