RR v Vancouver Aboriginal Child and Family Services Society (No 4), 2020 BCHRT 22

West Coast LEAF’s application to intervene granted in part in a complaint of alleged discrimination, as it can contribute a unique and helpful perspective regarding the social context of Indigenous people in child welfare.

Indigenous Law Centre CaseWatch Blog

RR filed a complaint of discrimination against Vancouver Aboriginal Child and Family Services Society [“Society”] alleging that its decision to deny her custody and restrict access to her children amounts to discrimination on the basis of her race, ancestry, color, and mental disability. West Coast LEAF applied to intervene in the complaint under s 22.1 of the Human Rights Code [“Code”] stating it could assist the Tribunal to situate the complaint in its broader social context as well as interpreting both the Code and the Child, Family and Community Services Act in a manner consistent with the Charter and international law. RR supported the intervention, the Society opposed it.

Neither party raised issues related to Charter values, and in the view of the Tribunal, none arose in the complaint. Rather, this case involved an application of s 8 of the Code to the facts of this case, within a framework well known to human rights law and therefore the application to make submissions about Charter values was denied. Second, this complaint did not require the Tribunal to interpret s 8 or apply it in a novel circumstance and therefore that application was denied as well.

A different conclusion was reached for the remaining three proposed submissions. Based on the Tribunal specifically identifying the need to have full regard to the social context of Indigenous people in child welfare, the first two submissions concerned the social context underlying the complaint. West Coast LEAF had a unique and helpful perspective to bring to the Tribunal established through their demonstrable expertise in equality.

The application of West Coast LEAF to intervene was granted as follows: it had leave to make oral submissions during the opening, not to exceed 10 minutes; it had leave to file written submissions at the close of the hearing; the scope of the submissions was limited to the issues identified above; and it did not have standing to take part in any procedural matters before the Tribunal without leave.

Neshkiwe v Hare, 2020 ONCJ 42

Motion granted for the M’Chigeeng First Nation to be added as a party to the proceedings in keeping with the best interests of the child. This matter will eventually involve constitutional questions surrounding the children’s custody.

Native Law Centre
CaseWatch Blog

Following the parent’s separation, an Indigenous mother left Toronto with her two children. Shortly after the father, who is also Indigenous but from a different community than the mother, launched an ex parte motion for temporary custody, that was granted. The ex parte motion ordered the children’s return to Toronto and for police assistance from various police forces to enforce this Court’s order. The mother and M’Chigeeng First Nation [“MFN”] advised the Court they intended to challenge the Court’s jurisdiction to make any orders for custody or access, asserting exclusive jurisdiction of the children.

In the meantime, the Court’s ex parte Order had not been followed. The father initially only served the Order for enforcement on UCCM Anishnaabe Police Service [“UCCM”] and did not serve it on OPP until the term for police enforcement was about to expire. The mother nor the MFN had prepared Notices of Constitutional Questions, while still raising a challenge and taking steps outside the Court consistent with that position. On December 5, the Court directed all Constitutional Question were to be served and filed before December 19 and granted leave to MFN to bring a motion to be added as a party to this proceeding. The enforcement term was stayed on a without prejudice basis.

MFN is asserting exclusive jurisdiction of the children. Both the mother and the MFN have advised the Court that they intend to challenge the Court’s jurisdiction to make any orders for custody or access. They anticipated advancing this claim based on an existing Aboriginal and Treaty right under s 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982. However, neither has been pleaded, nor any Notices of Constitutional Question been served or filed. The mother also took the position that the Court lacked jurisdiction based on the application of an existing By-Law and a Band Council Resolution, both of which had been passed by the MFN, as an alternative legal basis from the anticipated section claims.

Until such arguments could be sorted out, a practical problem unfolded that still exists. The mother indicated to the Court that she would not comply with the Court’s Order. The MFN prohibited the father from coming onto its territory. UCCM refused to enforce the Order, as it had been instructed by the MFN to act in that fashion. The OPP, however, would enforce the Order, but brought the Court’s attention to certain potential negative consequences for the Court to consider. It was suggested to suspend the operation of the police enforcement term until the legal questions are resolved.

The Court has issued another Endorsement containing further directions for the conduct of this case and has asked that a litigation plan be presented. Regarding the police enforcement term, the Court stayed enforcement, which was about to expire anyway, on a without prejudice basis.

The overarching consideration in deciding to add the MFN as a party to the proceedings was in keeping with the best interests of the children. It was not seriously disputed that the First Nation should be added as a party. The s 35 claims have both individual and collective aspects to them. Adding the First Nation to the proceedings was also in the best interests of the children as they have a position to take and to offer evidence surrounding these particular children. Lastly, they have a legal interest. Once that position has been clarified after a full hearing, then they may call into question the Court’s jurisdiction.

Cowichan Tribes v Canada (AG), 2019 BCSC 1922

Indigenous peoples’ claims require flexibility in order to be fairly adjudicated, but that is not a blanket admissibility of evidence. As with oral history, proving colonial documents has similar difficulties and should only be submitted following an assessment of their reliability.

Indigenous Law Centre
Indigenous CaseWatch Blog

The plaintiffs seek declarations related to Aboriginal title to lands along the south shore of Lulu Island in the City of Richmond. They also claim fishing rights as the Cowichan people had a semi-permanent fishing village called Tl’uqtinus along the south arm of the Fraser River. There is heavy reliance on oral history and hearsay evidence contained in thousands of historical documents and on expert evidence to provide an opinion on the nature and character of the occupation by the Cowichan peoples in the past.

The plaintiffs submit that the defendants improperly objected to the admissibility of the documents. They submit that all of the documents should be admissible for the prima facie truth of their contents, leaving the question of reliability to be considered when assessing the ultimate weight given to the documents. The plaintiffs acknowledge that hearsay is presumptively inadmissible, however, in Aboriginal rights claims under s 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982, the rules of evidence should be broad, flexible and applied purposively to promote truth finding and fairness for plaintiffs faced with having to prove facts across a gulf of centuries (Mitchell v MNR, [2001] 3 CNLR 122 [“Mitchell”]).

Admitting a document into evidence for prima facie truth of its contents does not bind the court to the contents of the document. In some circumstances, however, hearsay evidence presents minimal dangers and its exclusion, rather than its admission, would impede accurate fact finding (R v Khelawon, 2006 SCC 57 [“Khelawon”]). To address this, there have been common law exceptions to the rule against hearsay and the Supreme Court of Canada [“SCC”] developed the principled approach employing a more flexible, case-by-case approach to assessing admissibility. Under this principled approach, hearsay can be admitted if the party tendering it establishes on a balance of probabilities that the twin criteria of necessity and threshold reliability are satisfied (Khelawon). The trial judge acts as a gatekeeper to protect trial fairness and the integrity of the truth-seeking process by protecting against the admission of unreliable evidence (R v Bradshaw, 2017 SCC 35).

In regards to hearsay in Indigenous claims, the SCC recognized the need for a flexible adaption of the traditional rules of evidence in Aboriginal claims cases, but made it clear that the rules of evidence are not to be abandoned. The flexible approach to evidence does not mandate blanket admissibility, and the threshold for reliability, while not high in Aboriginal claims cases, does continue to exist (Mitchell). Historical Aboriginal claims and rights cases have inherent evidentiary challenges. Necessity is almost automatically met given that these cases rely heavily on ancient documents and hearsay evidence of the deceased (Mitchell; Delgamuukw v British Columbia [1998] 1 CNLR 14 (SCC); Tsilhqot’in Nation v British Columbia, 2014 SCC 44).

That assessment may be fairly automatic if the document falls within certain categories, such as public documents, or official communications between persons responsible for stewardship of government. The court can rely on the evidence of experts to provide it with the information necessary to conduct a reliability assessment. The fact that an expert relies on a document does not automatically establish reliability of the document for the court, but it is evidence that the expert finds the document to be reliable. Courts need the assistance of experts to evaluate and understand historical documents. One of the difficulties in this case is that no living person can be called to give eye witness evidence of what was happening in the claim area before, at the time of, and for many decades after first contact with European settlers (Tsilhqot’in Nation v British Columbia, 2004 BCSC 1237 [“Tsilhqot’in BCSC”]).

It is abundantly apparent the parties must rely on historical documents, oral history and traditions, ethnography and archaeology in the proof of their cases. The meaning of documents is not always self-evident and can only be understood in context. That is particularly true of historical documents where it cannot be properly evaluated until the court knows who wrote it, for whom it was written, and, most importantly, why it was written (Tsilhqot’in BCSC). The distinction between threshold reliability and ultimate reliability remains, and the trial judge still must act as a gatekeeper to keep the record free from unreliable hearsay and to protect the fairness and integrity of the trial.

Taseko Mines Limited v Tsilhqot’in National Government, 2019 BCSC 1507

Interlocutory injunction granted in favour of the Tsilhqot’in Nation against Taseko Mines Limited work permit, on the basis that it infringes their Aboriginal rights.

Native Law Centre CaseWatch Blog

Taseko Mines Limited [“Taseko”] applied to prohibit members of the Tsilhqot’in Nation [“Tsilhqot’in”] from blockading its access to an area where the mining company wants to carry out an exploratory drilling program [“NOW program”]. Taseko has access pursuant to a notice of work permit [“NOW permit”] issued under the Mines Act. That application is now moot since the Court decided Tsilhqot’in’s application will succeed for an injunction prohibiting Taseko from carrying out its NOW program until the Tsilqot’in’s underlying claim to quash the NOW permit is heard.

In this matter, the issue is whether granting Tsilqot’in the interim injunction prohibiting Taseko from undertaking the NOW program would amount to a final determination of the action, which would effectively remove any benefit of proceeding to trial. The NOW permit will expire in July 2020, and if Taseko is enjoined until the action is heard, it is very unlikely the trial could be completed in time to for the 4-6 weeks required to complete the NOW program. In the Court’s view, the extension is essentially mechanical and concludes that Taseko will have until July 2022 to complete the NOW program, because Taseko can extend the NOW permit by two years under s 5(1) of the Permit Regulation.

Issues pertaining to infringement and justification, which will be the focus of the trial, are not new to the parties. Because some of the factual and legal elements have been argued before different courts for years, the discovery process will not be as time consuming as it would be if the issues were new to the parties. Based on the evidence and submissions before the Court, if the parties prioritize the matter, the timeline should be adequate to prepare for trial. The injunction is not tantamount to granting relief nor is it bound to impose a hardship removing any benefit of trial. The threshold merits test is the serious question to be tried standard (R v Canadian Broadcasting Corp, 2018 SCC 5). This threshold is relatively low as a prolonged examination of the merits is generally neither necessary nor desirable (RJR-MacDonald Inc  v Canada, [1944] 1 SCR 311).

It was determined that given the nature of the harm to the Tsilhqot’in, and the waiving of the undertaking as to damages, there was a material risk of irreparable harm to both parties. When there is a risk of both parties suffering a material risk of irreparable harm, the court should favor the status quo (AG British Columbia v Wale (1986), 9 BCLR (2d) 333 (CA)). It was determined that the NOW program would change the status quo as it would disturb the land. The Tsilhqot’in stand to suffer greater irreparable harm if the injunction is not granted. Despite that the Tsilhqot’in pursued a self-help remedy of a blockade outside the courts, the imperative of reconciliation was such that the balance of convenience was in the Tsilhqot’in’s favour.

NC v Kunuwanimano CFS and Fort Albany First Nation, 2019 CFSRB 7

The decision of the Respondent to refuse the adoption of three Indigenous children placed in the Applicant’s care is confirmed under s 192 of the Child, Youth and Family Services Act.

Native Law Centre Case Watch

The Applicant requested a review pursuant to s 192 of the Child, Youth and Family Services Act, [“Act”]. This application refers to a decision made in favour of the Respondent, Kunuwanimano Child and Family Services, [“KCFS”] who refused the Applicant’s application to adopt three children who were placed in her care for two years. The children were apprehended from the care of their parents by the North Eastern Ontario Child and Family Services and made Crown Wards without access for the purpose of adoption. The children’s mother, who is deceased, and their father have membership with the Fort Albany First Nation [“FAFN”]. The children’s files were transferred to the KCFS, an Indigenous child welfare agency and were subsequently placed in a foster home. After three years the foster home could no longer care for the children due to uncontrollable circumstances. The children were then placed in the care of the Applicant and remained in her care for almost two years until their abrupt removal.

The Child and Family Services Review Board’s [“CFSRB”] determination is made in accordance with the expanded definition of the test for the best interests of the child set out in s 179(2) of the Act. In addition to giving prominence to the child’s views and wishes, as well as the recognition of Indigenous cultures and connections to their community, the preamble of the Act also acknowledges that children are individuals with rights to be respected and voices to be heard.

SV, who is the most recent placement for the children, is a member of the Moose Cree First Nation and grew up alongside the children’s father. The evidence is clear that SV has strong connections to the children’s community and cultural heritage. Her practices are traditional in her home where the children are introduced to hunting and fishing and that this was consistent with a way of life, rather than simply an activity. She has taken significant measures to connect the children to their extended family with whom she is well acquainted.

In contrast, the Applicant has no significant ties to the children’s First Nations community or extended family. The Applicant knows very little about the cultural practices of the children’s Indigenous community, or the Illilu people. It was clear that she cares deeply for the children and wishes to adopt all three of them. Her evidence, supported by report cards and the agency’s own documents, was that they were well-cared for in her home and had developed a bond with her and her family. The views and wishes of the children also confirmed the strong bond that the children have with the Applicant. The abrupt removal of the children from her care was traumatic for her and also for the children.

The CFSRB, however, is also mindful of the view of family and community that is expressed by the FAFN and the emphasis on customary care alternatives for Indigenous children under the Act. It is also through the current placement that the children are reconnecting with their father, albeit not as a primary caregiver. While SV is not a direct relation to the children, it is clear that she has strong historical and current connections to the children’s extended family and is committed to facilitating their relationships with family as much as possible. The Applicant simply cannot offer the same commitment and ease of connection to family as SV.

Of considerable importance to our determination is the connection between the siblings. They have always been together and expressed a wish to remain that way. The CFSRB finds that to separate the Children at this time would not be in their best interests and along with all the above factors, favours confirmation of the Respondents’ position. The CFSRB, however, is also of the view the children were not given the opportunity to properly say good-bye to the Applicant and suggested that the KCFS facilitate an acknowledgement and contact to bring some finality to these unresolved feelings.

R v Desautel, 2019 BCCA 151

Appeal dismissed. The Respondent is not prevented from claiming an Aboriginal right to hunt in British Columbia pursuant to s 35 even though he resides in the United States of America.

Native Law Centre Case Watch

Richard Desautel was charged under the Wildlife Act after hunting an elk without a license in the Arrow Lakes area of British Columbia. He admitted the actus reus but asserted that he has a s 35 Aboriginal right to hunt in the territory despite being a citizen of the United States of America [“USA”]. Mr. Desautel has never resided in British Columbia but is a member of the Lakes Tribe of the Colville Confederated Tribes in Washington State. His Sinixt ancestors had occupied territory above and below the 49th parallel, including the area in which he was hunting. At the time of contact with Europeans, they hunted, fished, and gathered throughout their territory.

Does the meaning of the phrase “the Aboriginal peoples of Canada” in s 35(1) of the Constitution Act, 1982 include only Aboriginal peoples who are resident or citizens of Canada, or also Aboriginal peoples whose ancestors occupied territory that became Canada? S 35 is directed towards the reconciliation of pre-existing Indigenous societies with the assertion of Crown sovereignty. A practice, custom, or tradition that is central and significant to the distinctive culture of an Indigenous society pre-contact that has not been voluntarily surrendered, abandoned, or extinguished, may be exercised by Indigenous members of modern collectives if they can establish that: 1) the modern collective is descended from the historic collective that exercised the practice, custom or tradition in that territory; and 2) there has been continuity between the practice of the modern collective with the practice of the historic collective pre-contact (R v Van der Peet, [1996] 4 CNLR 177 [“Van der Peet”]).

S 35(1) provides the constitutional framework to acknowledge the fact that Aboriginals lived on the land in distinctive societies, with their own practices, traditions and culture and to reconcile this with the sovereignty of the Crown. The burden of proof was on Mr. Desautel to establish the Aboriginal right claimed and a prima facie infringement of that right (R v Sparrow, [1990] 3 CNLR 160 [“Sparrow”]). The meaning and scope of s 35(1) is derived from the general principles of constitutional interpretation relating to [A]boriginal rights, and the purposes behind the constitutional provision itself. Sparrow also requires that s 35(1) be construed in a purposive way and that the words in s 35(1) be afforded a generous, liberal interpretation. Further, in Van der Peet it was instructed that the courts take into account the perspective of the Aboriginal peoples claiming the right and any doubt or ambiguity as to what falls within the scope of s 35 must be resolved in their favour. Applying the Van der Peet test, the concept of continuity must have a necessary connection between the historic collective and the modern-day community. Therefore, claimants who are resident or citizens of the USA can be “Aboriginal peoples of Canada” where they can establish the requirements set out in Van der Peet.

Courts adjudicating Aboriginal rights claims must be sensitive to the Aboriginal perspective, but also aware that Aboriginal rights exist within the general legal system of Canada. The time period integral to the Aboriginal community claiming the right is the period prior to contact. Where an Aboriginal community can demonstrate that a particular practice, custom or tradition has continuity with those of pre-contact times, that community will have demonstrated that the practice, custom or tradition is an Aboriginal right for the purposes of s 35(1). The concept of continuity is the means by which a “frozen rights” approach to s 35(1) will be avoided. Continuity does not require evidence of an unbroken chain of continuity. Aboriginal rights are constitutional rights, but that does not negate the central fact that the interests that the rights are intended to protect, relate to the specific history of the group claiming the right. Aboriginal rights are not general and universal as their scope and content must be determined on a case-by-case basis. The existence of the right will be specific to each Aboriginal community.

Mr. Desautel’s right to hunt in the traditional territory of his ancestors in that geographical area were never voluntarily surrendered, abandoned or extinguished. This Court will not modify the Van der Peet test to add a geographic requirement that would prevent members of Indigenous communities, who may have been displaced, from the opportunity of establishing their Aboriginal rights in areas their ancestors had occupied pre-contact. This matter is distinguishable from R v Powley, [2003] 4 CNLR 321 [“Powley”] where in order to accommodate the unique history of the Métis communities that evolved post-contact, the time period analysis in Van der Peet was focused on pre-European control. Powley requires an Aboriginal rights claimant to be a member of a contemporary community in the geographic area where the right was exercised. It is also distinguished from R v Bernard, [2018] 1 CNLR 79, where a Mi’kmaq member of the Sipekne’katik First Nation in New Brunswick was charged with contravening the Fish and Wildlife Act, for hunting deer. The trial judge found Mr. Bernard had failed to establish that he was a member of a modern collective descended from the original rights-bearing Mi’kmaq community that hunted at the mouth of the St. John River. Unlike Mr. Bernard, Mr. Desautel has established a connection to the historic community that hunted in the traditional territory where the claimed Aboriginal right was exercised.

It has been determined that there is continuity of the practice of hunting in the area where Mr. Desautel shot the elk. Members of the Lakes Tribe are the modern-day successor collective of the Sinixt peoples and Mr. Desautel was exercising his lawful Aboriginal right to hunt for ceremonial purposes in the traditional territory of his Sinixt ancestors, pursuant to s 35(1). The issues raised by the Crown regarding the Lakes Tribe’s legal status in the USA, or the extent of any potential duty to consult and accommodate, raises ancillary questions that, in the Court’s view, are not material to the central issue.

Fort McKay Métis Community Association v Alberta Energy Regulator, 2019 ABCA 15

Permission to appeal denied. The Fort McKay Métis Community Association expressed fears about the potential impact of a project on their Aboriginal rights. It is yet to be answered whether such subjective fears interfere with an undefined Aboriginal right.

Wiyasiwewin Mikiwahp Native Law Centre Case Watch

The Fort McKay Métis Community Association (Fort McKay Métis) applied for permission to appeal a decision of the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) that approved Prosper Petroleum Ltd.’s (“Prosper”) oil sands project (the “Project”). The Fort McKay Métis asserts that it has Métis Aboriginal rights to harvest for food in its community and traditional harvesting area and that the Project would adversely affect these constitutionally protected rights. The Project would be located near and operate within part of the Fort McKay First Nation’s reserves. Prosper applied to the AER for approvals in 2013 so it could proceed with the Project under the Oil Sands Conservation Act, the Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act, and the Water Act, which was granted. The Project, however, still needs Cabinet approval, and at the time of this current application, it has not yet been issued.

The AER found the Project to be in the public interest and was consistent with statutory objectives of protecting the environment and promoting sustainable resource development while considering economic growth. It approved the Project on the condition that Prosper will seek input from the Fort McKay Métis with respect to reclamation. The AER found the fear of contamination and other potential impacts to Métis Aboriginal rights was genuine, but implicitly not justified. The content of an Aboriginal right is a legal issue. The AER has a legal obligation to carry out its regulatory responsibilities in a manner consistent with s 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982 (Chippewas of the Thames First Nation v Enbridge Pipelines Inc, [2017] 3 CNLR 45 (“Chippewas”)). The regulator must consider Aboriginal rights “as rights, rather than as an afterthought to the assessment” (Clyde River (Hamlet) v Petroleum Geo-Services Inc, [2017] 3 CNLR 65 (“Clyde River”)). None of the applicant’s authorities supported the view that genuine fears about the effects of the Project, which are not objectively reasonable, are sufficient by themselves to constitute interference with a right protected under s 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982. An independent regulatory agency’s approval of an energy project could trigger the Crown’s duty to consult Aboriginal groups whose treaty and Aboriginal rights might be adversely affected by the project, and this agency could fulfill the Crown’s duty to consult on its behalf (Clyde River; Chippewas).

Her Majesty the Queen v Boyer, 2018 SKPC 70

The Métis are not included in the term “Indians” in the NRTA under paragraph 12. To harvest for food pursuant to s 35 (1) of the Constitution Act, 1982, there must be an ancestral connection to an historic Métis community in the areas that the defendants were charged for harvesting, before Europeans established effective control.

Wiyasiwewin Mikiwahp Native Law Centre Case Watch

Three Métis defendants, Mr. Boyer, charged with unlawfully fishing, and Mr. Myette and Mr. Poitras, charged with unlawfully hunting for food, invoked their Aboriginal rights to harvest for food pursuant to s 35(1) of the Constitution Act, 1982. They acknowledge that each of their offences is proven and have been tried together given the similarity of the issues. Fishing and hunting are undisputed practices integral to Métis life. Each of them claim to have Métis harvesting rights in their respective area and that they have harvesting rights as “Indians” under paragraph 12 of the Natural Resources Transfer Agreement 1930 (NRTA).

The Court found that the Métis are not included in the term “Indians” in paragraph 12 of the NRTA entered into between Saskatchewan and the Federal government. In R v Blais, [2003] 4 CNLR 219, the Supreme Court of Canada (“SCC”) held that the Métis in Manitoba were not included in the term “Indians” in the identical provision of the NRTA entered into between Manitoba and the Federal government. In Daniels v Canada, [2016] 3 CNLR 56 (“Daniels”), the SCC held that the Métis are “Indians” for purposes of s 91(24) of the Constitution Act, 1867, but it also held that a completely different interpretive exercise is involved under the NRTA. Paragraph 12 is under the heading “Indian Reserves” with paragraphs 10 and 11, that cover Canada’s Treaty obligation to create and administer Indian reserves. While the SCC’s decision in Manitoba Metis Federation v Canada, [2013] 2 CNLR 281, refers to fiduciary duty, it held Canada did not owe a fiduciary duty in its express constitutional obligation under s 31 of the Manitoba Act, 1870 to provide lands for the benefit of the Métis children in Manitoba. Canada had no express constitutional obligation to the Métis in Saskatchewan from which a fiduciary or any related legal obligation could arise and no power to include the Métis in the NRTA, a negotiated agreement, without Saskatchewan’s agreement.

It was established that all three defendants have an ancestral connection to the historic Métis community of northwest Saskatchewan (“HMCONWS”). The areas that the defendants were charged for harvesting, however, must be determined to be part of the HMCONWS. Applying the test set out by the SCC in R v Powley, [2003] 4 CNLR 321, is to determine when Europeans established political and legal control in those areas. In R v Langan, 2013 SKQB 256, the test was confirmed as being when colonial policy shifted from one of discouraging settlements to one of negotiating treaties and encouraging settlement. While it was shown that some time was spent at Pelican Lake, it was not established that a Métis community existed there prior to European effective control or was part of HMCONWS, therefore Mr. Boyer was found guilty of the offence charged. Given the proximity of Rush Lake to Green Lake, and the evidence that hunting and fishing happened in and around identified historic Métis communities, this area was found to be geographically indistinguishable from Green Lake and a part of HMCONWS, therefore, Mr. Myette is not guilty of his charge. Alcott Creek, and Jackfish Lake/Cochin, were not part of HMCONWS, resulting in finding Mr. Poitras guilty of the offence charged.

 

Environmental Challenges on Indigenous Lands: A CIGI Essay Series

Wiyasiwewin Mikiwahp Native Law Centre

“Indigenous lands are under ever-increasing pressure from governments and extractive sector corporations that are eager to encourage economic development and foreign investment. Against a backdrop of colonialism and dominant societies’ disregard for Indigenous peoples’ own laws, these lands have become the site of conflict and environmental degradation. When Indigenous communities find themselves dispossessed by the government’s approach to extraction licensing, infrastructure development and the establishment of environmental processes and protections, trust can erode quickly.

In November 2018, Indigenous leaders, environmental activists, human rights lawyers, academics, advocates and extractive industry participants came together at a conference in Banff, Alberta to discuss the ongoing efforts to hold industry and government accountable for legacy environmental damage. The discussions provided an opportunity for Indigenous peoples’ own laws to be brought to the foreground in finding solutions to today’s most difficult environmental challenges — and provided inspiration for this essay series. Environmental Challenges on Indigenous Lands explores the complex conflicts between international, domestic and Indigenous law when it comes to addressing a global environmental crisis, supporting economic development and making steps toward meaningful reconciliation.”

View essay publications of the Environmental Challenges of Indigenous Lands: A CIGI Essay Series here.

Hwlitsum First Nation v Canada (AG), 2018 BCCA 276

Appeal dismissed. Descent from a single Indigenous ancestor does not entitle an assertion of section 35 rights. The appellants failed to put forward a clear definition of the collective of rights-bearers on whose behalf they purport to act.

Wiyasiwewin Mikiwahp Native Law Centre Case Watch

This appeal concerns the standing of the appellant Hwlitsum First Nation (the “HFN”) to advance a representative action claiming Aboriginal rights and title. In the underlying action, the appellants sought declarations of Aboriginal title and rights on behalf of the HFN, which they assert is the modern day continuation of the Lamalcha. The HFN asserts that its members are the modern descendants and heirs of the historic pre-colonization Lamalcha Tribe of Indians, and as such are the inheritors of all the Aboriginal rights and title of the Lamalcha.

The issue of standing to advance a claim may be addressed as a preliminary matter in order to avoid unnecessary litigation (Campbell v British Columbia (Forest and Range), [2011] 3 CNLR 151 (“Campbell”)). The rights asserted by the HFN are collective rights. As such, proceedings to assert or enforce those rights must be brought on behalf of a group that is capable of advancing such a claim under s 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982 (Campbell). The criteria to be applied on an application to determine an appropriate collective to bring a representative action in Aboriginal title and rights cases, including the one at hand, are those identified by the Supreme Court of Canada (“SCC”) in Western Canadian Shopping Centres Inc v Dutton, 2001 SCC 46 (“Dutton”). A summary of those factors provided in Campbell and modified slightly to address the context of Aboriginal representative claims, are: 1) whether the collective of rights-bearers on behalf of whom they purport to act is capable of clear definition; 2) whether there are issues of law or fact common to all members of the collective so defined; 3) whether success on the petition means success for the whole collective so defined; and 4) whether the proposed representatives adequately represents the interests of the collective.

Ancestry alone is insufficient to establish that a modern collective has a claim to the rights of a historic group (Campbell). The HFN are attempting to construct a First Nation out of one family and to then assert s 35 Aboriginal title claims. The HFN submits the judge in the underlying action did not use the correct test. The approach identified by the HFN, however, applies to the substantive resolution of claims to Aboriginal rights and title, and not to the preliminary question of who has the legal capacity to advance them. The judge correctly determined that the test to be applied was set out in Dutton. The need to clearly define the collective in an Aboriginal rights or title case is even more important given the collective nature of the Constitution-protected rights at issue.

It is clear from Campbell that it is for plaintiffs and not the courts to define the group they purport to represent. In Tsilhqot’in Nation v British Columbia, [2008] 1 CNLR 112 (“Tsilhqot’in”), it “should always be the [A]boriginal community that determines its own membership.” The court’s role is to decide if the group members are determinable by clear, objective criteria. The appellants put forward inconsistent definitions of the group they purport to represent. They claim to represent the entire Lamalcha, or Lamalcha [I]ndigenous people, nation, or group. At the hearing, however, they claimed to represent only some of the Lamalcha, excluding “all Lamalcha who may be members of other bands, as well as the Lamalcha who are not descendants of Si’nuscutun.” As the trial judge noted, this is contrary to their assertion that the HFN and the Lamalcha are synonymous terms. They cannot define themselves as descendants of only one member of the ancestral group, and at the same time submit that they are the descendants of all the Lamalcha. This is fatal to the action proceeding under Rule 20-3 of the Supreme Court Civil Rules that govern the procedure for representative proceedings.

There is no dispute between the parties that the rights they assert are communal rights which belong to the Aboriginal community and not to any individual (Delgamuukw v British Columbia, [1998] 1 CNLR 14 (“Delgamuukw”); R v Powley, [2003] 4 CNLR 321). Aboriginal rights and title vest in the historic Aboriginal community at the time of contact in the case of Aboriginal rights, and at sovereignty in the case of Aboriginal title (DelgamuukwTsilhqot’in). The historic Aboriginal community in issue in the present case is the Lamalcha Tribe of Indians. In order to assert a claim under s 35the HFN must be capable of advancing a claim to the historic and communal rights of the Lamalcha (Campbell). The HFN cannot assert such rights, because they define themselves as only one branch of the descendants of the Lamalcha Tribe, or those Lamalcha who are descendants of Si’nuscutun and who are not members of any other Indian band. Si’nuscutun himself, however, as an individual, never held and could never hold any of the claims for Lamalcha rights. Those rights belong to the Lamalcha community and Si’nuscutun only enjoyed the benefit of the rights by virtue of his membership in that community. It is settled law that Aboriginal title cannot be held by individual Aboriginal persons (Delgamuukw). The HFN claims to represent one historical Lamalcha member and his descendants, rather than the entire historical Lamalcha collective. Since it is the historic community, and not one of its members, which holds the rights in issue, the appellants cannot represent the collective.

Editor’s Note: On March 28, 2019, the application for leave to appeal from the judgment of the Court of Appeal for British Columbia, 2018 BCCA 276, was dismissed.