Cunningham v Alberta (Métis Settlements Land Registrar), 2020 ABQB 301

Appeal dismissed. The Métis Settlements Act establishes membership requirements for the purpose for establishing a Métis land base. Although unfortunate, the appellant is not eligible to have Indian status and be a member of his Métis Settlement.

Indigenous Law Centre CaseWatch Blog

Mr. Cunningham spent almost his entire life on the Peavine Métis Settlement, including having a home and raising a family. However, he applied for Indian status in 1988. Although regretting the decision, he was unable to get his Indian status revoked. Mr. Cunningham has requested a judicial review of a 2018 decision of the Registrar of the Métis Settlements Land Registry [“Registrar’s Decision”].

The reasons for this decision is the conflict of Mr. Cunningham’s Indian status membership made 27 years ago. The Registrar did confirm that when the Peavine Métis Settlement approved Mr. Cunningham’s application for membership in 1991, the council acted contrary to s 78(2)(c) of the Métis Settlements Actbecause Mr. Cunningham was ineligible to become a member under s 75.

The Métis Settlement Act establishes membership requirements for Métis Settlements for the purpose of establishing a Métis land base, as reflected in the Membership List maintained and updated by the Registrar. The legislation was held to be constitutional by the Supreme Court of Canada (Alberta (AAND) v Cunningham, [2011] 2 SCR 670). The Métis Settlements Act does not does not establish eligibility or membership criteria for other purposes (L’Hirondelle v Alberta (Minister of Sustainable Resource Development), 2013 ABCA 12).

The problem is that the different existing legislative schemes exclude an Indian, except for certain exceptions which are not applicable to Mr. Cunningham, from membership in a Métis settlement (Gift Lake Métis Settlement v Alberta (Aboriginal Relations), 2019 ABCA 134). The Registrar is neither required to address each and every piece of evidence nor to address each and every aspect of Mr. Cunningham’s history and relationship with the Peavine Métis Settlement.

As for the 27 years from when Mr. Cunningham applied for Indian status to the 2018 Registrar’s Decision, if the doctrine of laches applied in this matter, the previous error in the 1991 Registrar’s Decision would be perpetuated into the future and the administrative error would override the will of the legislature in the Métis Settlements Act. As long as a statute is in effect, it is no defence that it has not been enforced or correctly applied for many years (Château-Gai Wines Ltd v Institut national des appellations d’origine des vins, [1975] 1 SCR 190).

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