Motion dismissed. The reasons for dismissal is not the merits of the Plaintiffs’ grievances against Kehewin Band Council et al for refusing them memberships under Bill C-31, but rather this Court has no jurisdiction to entertain them.
The Plaintiffs have asked for default judgement against the Kehewin Band and Band Council [“Kehewin”]. Due to the historical gender discrimination that existed against women with registered Indian status under the enfranchisement, or “marrying out”, provisions of the Indian Act, SC 1956. In 1985, however, the Indian Act was amended, also known as Bill C-31, to be consistent with s 15 of the Charter. Bill C-31 automatically restored band membership to the women who had lost their Indian status directly through enfranchisement.
Kehewin refused to recognize Bill C-31 or accept any of its eligible individuals or their children as band members. As a result, the Plaintiffs commenced the underlying action in 2000 seeking declaratory relief and damages against Kehewin and Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Canada, as represented by the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development [“Canada”]. The Plaintiffs claim there was a fiduciary duty owed towards them and there was a breach of that duty.
In this matter, the Plaintiffs seek default judgment for damages resulting from Kehewin’s discrimination and associated denial of all tangible and intangible benefits of band membership. The action against Canada has been held in abeyance pending disposition of the present motion. The action moved forward by fits and bounds for almost a decade. Throughout this period, Kehewin engaged in a deliberate and systematic pattern of delay, using all possible means to frustrate the Plaintiffs’ efforts to conduct an orderly and complete discovery.
Kehewin never formally took control of its membership lists. Kehewin rebuffed all attempts to restore membership to the Plaintiffs, refusing to comply with Bill C-31 or recognize Canada’s authority. Kehewin also failed to file an action or application to challenge the constitutionality of Bill C-31. Kehewin simply ignored Bill C-31. Kehewin refused to recognize any Bill C-31 eligible individuals as Kehewin Band members. Kehewin’s adoption and application of their Kehewin Law #1 made it impossible for individuals reinstated to registered Indian status or Kehewin Band membership under Bill C-31 to qualify for Kehewin Band membership.
The applicable test to establish if this Court has jurisdiction is set out by the Supreme Court of Canada: 1) there must be a statutory grant of jurisdiction by the federal Parliament; 2) there must be an existing body of federal law which is essential to the disposition of the case and which nourishes the statutory grant of jurisdiction; and 3) the law on which the case is based must be “a law of Canada” as the phrase is used in s 101 of the Constitution Act, 1867 (ITO-Int’l Terminal Operators v Miida Electronics,  1 SCR 752 [“ITO”]).
The Plaintiffs rely on the provisions of ss 17(4) and paragraph 17(5)(b) of the Federal Courts Act [“FCA”] to find jurisdiction. First, the nature of the proceeding generally contemplated by ss 17(4) is an interpleader. To the extent any obligation may be owed by Kehewin or Canada to the Plaintiffs, are concurrent, not conflicting. The obligation can only be owed to one. It is the claims as against Canada by other parties which must be in conflict to fulfill the requirements of ss 17(4) (Roberts v Canada,  1 SCR 322). While Kehewin takes a different legal position regarding the Plaintiffs’ status as band members, this does not create a conflicting claim as against Canada. Therefore, this Court does not have jurisdiction to entertain the Plaintiffs’ action against Kehewin under ss 17(4) of the FCA.
Next, paragraph 17(5)(b) of the FCA grants concurrent jurisdiction to the Federal Court to entertain claims against persons in relation to the performance of their duties as an officer, servant or agent of the Crown. Band councils have been recognized as legal entities separate and distinct from their membership with the capacity to sue and be sued by courts at all levels. On the one hand, they may act from time to time as an agent of the Crown with respect to carrying out certain departmental directives, orders of the Minister and the regulations passed for the benefit of its members. On the other hand, the band councils do many acts which are done in the name of and which represent the collective will of the band members, all of which is directly related to the elective process provided for in the Indian Act whereby the band members elect its governing body. The element of control is key to a finding of agency (Stoney Band v Stoney Band Council,  FCJ No 1113).
The difficulty with the Plaintiffs’ argument is that no facts have ever been advanced in their pleadings which could support a finding of agency, nor does the notice of motion seek a declaration or finding of agency. It is not open to the Plaintiffs on a motion for default judgment to now assert liability of Kehewin based on agency. The introduction of this new theory of liability at this late stage of the proceeding is problematic. In any event, the facts established by the Plaintiffs on this motion do not support a conclusion that Kehewin was under the control of Canada when it refused to provide benefits to the Plaintiff. Regrettably, the Plaintiffs have failed to satisfy the first branch of the ITO test.