Johnson v Canada (Registrar, Indian Register), 2020 BCSC 1955

Appeal stayed. The appellant appealed what they interpreted as a decision by the Registrar of the Indian Register. The Court lacks jurisdiction to hear the appeal as it is premature given the statutory requirements of the Indian Act have yet to be met. Specifically, the nature of a response made by the Registrar was not a “decision” capable of being appealed until it is “protested” and the statutory proceeding is concluded.

Indigenous Law Centre – CaseWatch Blog

The appellant is a status Indian and member of Sechelt Indian Band, a band within the meaning of the Indian Act. In 2017, the appellant requested that the Registrar transfer him from the Sechelt Band List to the Semiahmoo Band List, as he believes he is entitled to membership in the Semiahmoo Indian Band [“Semiahmoo”].

The Department of Indigenous Services [“Department”] maintains the Semiahmoo Band List as Semiahmoo does not maintain its own membership code. Section 11 of the Indian Act sets out the membership rules for a band list maintained by the Department. Section 12(b) of the Act provides that, within certain limits, a person who is a member of another band is entitled to have their name entered in the Department band list if the council of the admitting band consents.

In 2018, the Registrar responded to the appellant’s transfer request, stating that the request could not be processed without receiving a Band Council Resolution [“BCR”] from the Semiahmoo Band Council. A separate letter was sent by the Registrar to the Band Council of Semiahmoo requesting a BCR accepting the appellant into the band’s membership. The appellant argued that a BCR from Semiahmoo was not required under s 11 of the Indian Act and that s 12(b), which requires band council consent to adding a band member, had no application.

The Registrar then advised the appellant that the Department’s position was that s 12 applied to all band transfers. The appellant sought judicial review in the Federal Court, but that was discontinued as it is this Court that has the necessary jurisdiction. The appellant advised the respondent he would pursue a protest under s 14.2 of the Indian Act. Section 14.2 allows for a protest to be made respecting the inclusion or addition of the name of a person or their omission or deletion of their name from the Indian Register or a band list maintained by the Department. The Registrar responded she would consent to a 90-day investigation period “once all necessary documents were filed”. The appellant agreed and in 2019, sent the documents to a computer link provided [“Protest”].

Subsequently, the Registrar informed the appellant that she was unable to accept the Protest as valid. She stated the Registrar’s original decision to add the name of the appellant to Sechelt First Nation registry was rendered prior to September 4, 1951 and therefore the Protest was out of time. Her earlier response did not constitute a “decision” but was a request for evidence, therefore it could not be protested. She also confirmed the Department’s position was that Semiahmoo consent was required for all band transfers.

This application concerns whether the Court has jurisdiction to hear the appeal at this time. The Indian Act sets out the statutory framework that applies to a dispute of a “first-level” Indian Registrar decision. Once such a decision is made, a party is statutorily entitled to protest the decision to the Indian Registrar. Upon receipt of a valid protest, the Registrar investigates and renders a final and conclusive decision. It is from that decision an appeal to this Court may be taken, not earlier.

The Registrar stated she could not accept the Protest as a valid protest, noting that the request for more evidence was not a decision or a denial of the application but merely a request for evidence, including the Semiahmoo BCR. The Indian Act provides a process to determine band status. As a complete code, the Indian Act must be complied with before it can be appealed (Baptiste v Canada (Registrar of Indian & Northern Affairs), 2000 SKQB 296). The Registrar is the “master of its own procedure” and can solicit information as they see fit in conducting the investigation.

The Court is satisfied that the earlier Registrar’s responses are not “decisions” as described by the appellant. The letter in 2018 did not make a decision as no BCR had been provided from Semiahmoo. It requested that it be provided. Nor did the letter in 2019 make a decision under s 14.2 of the Indian Act. Given the expiration of time from the 1951 decision, and that the 2018 response was neither a decision nor a denial but rather a request for information, the Protest of that letter was not a valid protest. That right to protest requires that the individual is added, omitted or deleted from an Indian Register or Band List.

In other words, a determination has been made. In this instance that did not occur until 2019, when the Registrar concluded that the appellant was not entitled to be a member of the Semiahmoo Band pursuant to s 11 of the Indian Act. As a result, the right to protest arises. The appellant was advised of that right, but has chosen not to do so. The right of appeal arises after the Registrar has ruled on a protest. This Court does not, at this time, have jurisdiction as the appeal is premature. The appeal is stayed.

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