Buck v Canada (AG), 2020 FC 769

The Federal Court dismissed an application for an interlocutory injunction against the Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada to prevent the execution of a proposed specific claim settlement with the Enoch Cree Nation until a final determination of an action against Enoch and the Crown. The Court held that it has no statutory jurisdiction to issue an interlocutory injunction against the federal Crown in relation to an action as opposed to an application for judicial review. The Court also held that it would not have issued an injunction even if it had the jurisdiction to do so, finding no irreparable harm to the plaintiffs and that the balance of convenience favours reconciliation through implementation of the settlement agreement.

Indigenous Law Centre – CaseWatch Blog

 

Enoch is a First Nation and a band as defined in s 2(1) of the Indian Act, with over 2200 members. In 1942, Canada leased a portion of Enoch Reserve lands, to the Department of Munitions and Supply [“DMS”] for use as a practice bombing range.

In 2008, Canada enacted the Specific Claims Tribunal Act pursuant to which First Nations could file specific claims with the Tribunal as specified therein. A specific claim submitted by a First Nation can be accepted for negotiation by Canada. The negotiation and settlement of a specific claim avoids recourse to adjudication before the Specific Claims Tribunal. The Specific Claims Policy establishes the principles and process for resolving specific claims through negotiation and that such claims can only be submitted by a First Nation and only First Nations can file specific claims with the Tribunal.

Enoch submitted a specific claim in respect of the use by DND of Enoch Reserve lands as a bombing range [“Enoch Specific Claim”]. The Enoch Specific Claim alleged breaches of fiduciary duty and breaches of the 1927 Indian Act. Canada and Enoch reached mutual agreement as to the settlement of the Enoch Specific Claim that included the proposal of a significant payment by Canada to Enoch in full and final settlement of the Enoch Specific Claim [“Proposed Settlement Agreement”]. In 2020, Enoch held a ratification vote at which the large majority of Band members who voted did so in favour of accepting the Proposed Settlement Agreement, and subsequently passed a Band Council Resolution accepting the Proposed Settlement Agreement.

The Plaintiffs are members of Enoch. In 2019, the Minister received a letter stating the Enoch Specific Claim included land held by the McGillis family by way of a Certificate of Possession [“CP”]. Amongst other things, it stated that Enoch had recently engaged directly with the McGillis family, but despite a letter from their counsel to the Department of Justice outlining what the Plaintiffs viewed as the legal obligations of the Crown to the CP holders, there had been no direct engagement with the Crown. It is alleged that Enoch and the Crown could not proceed with the Enoch Specific Claim settlement without reaching prior agreement with the Plaintiffs as to their interests in the land held under the CP.

The Minister advised that Canada’s negotiations with Enoch were undertaken on a confidential basis, and for that reason, the Minister was unable to meet with the Plaintiffs to discuss them. However, that through the specific claims negotiations, Canada encourages First Nations elected leadership to share information about the claim with all community members. The Plaintiffs’ view is that Canada should engage directly with the Plaintiffs. Accordingly, Canada continued to urge the Plaintiffs to direct their claims to Enoch.

The Plaintiffs filed a Statement of Claim in this Court, commencing an action against Canada alleging ongoing trespass caused by alleged munitions scraps on the lands that were leased to DMS for use as the bombing range, including those lands held under the CP. Subsequently, the Plaintiffs filed an Amended Statement of Claim asserting that Canada breached its fiduciary duties owed to the Plaintiffs with respect to the CP Lands, including by finalizing the terms of the Proposed Settlement Agreement to the prejudice of the Plaintiffs. They further alleged the tort of conversion on the basis that as holders of the CP, only they can sue for trespass, seek remediation and receive damages and that Enoch was not authorized to make the Specific Claim in relation to the CP lands.

The determinative issue is this matter is whether this Court has jurisdiction to grant the requested injunctive relief. There is no underlying application for judicial review that could be the basis for the Court’s jurisdiction to grant an interlocutory injunction. There is a clear line of authority standing for the proposition that where an action is brought against the Crown, s 22(1) of the Crown Liability and Proceedings Act will, in the normal course, preclude the granting of an injunction against the Crown. This Court has no jurisdiction to grant an injunction in that circumstance as its jurisdiction is determined by ss 18(1) and (3) of the Federal Courts Act, which permits it to grant injunctive relief only where the underlying proceeding is an application for judicial review.

The lack of jurisdiction of this Court to grant the motion seeking an injunction entirely disposes of the Plaintiffs’ motion. However, even if the Court had jurisdiction, it would not have granted the injunction as the Plaintiffs failed to meet the requirements of the three part test (R v Canadian Broadcasting Corp, 2018 SCC 5 [“Broadcasting”]). Although the Plaintiffs demonstrated a “serious question to be tried”, they could not succeed on the second and third branches. They did not establish that they would incur irreparable harm. In preventing the settlement and the step toward reconciliation that it represents, thereby delaying or precluding the compensation its resolution would afford to Enoch’s members collectively and individually, is not in the public interest and tips the balance of convenience in favour of Enoch and the Attorney General. The Plaintiffs would not suffer the greater harm in that event.

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