Kennedy v Carry the Kettle First Nation, 2020 SKCA 32

Appeal allowed of a judicial review that quashed a customary decision to remove opposing members on a First Nation’s election code tribunal. The Federal Court of Canada had exclusive original jurisdiction pursuant to s 18 of the Federal Courts Act to hear and determine that application. 

Indigenous Law Centre – CaseWatch BlogThe Appellants are members of the Cega-Kin Nakoda Oyate Tribunal [“Tribunal”], an election tribunal established by the Cega-Kin Nakoda Oyate Custom Election Act [“Code”]. They, like the Respondents, [“opposing members”], were appointed as Tribunal members by the Chief and Council of the respondent, Carry the Kettle First Nation [“CKFN”]. The Code provides that the Tribunal shall have five members.

In 2019, the Appellants purported to make orders of the Tribunal [“Orders”] at certain meetings. The only attendees at those meetings were the Appellants, as the opposing members refused to attend, and never approved the Orders. Subsequently a resolution was passed at a joint meeting of the Appellants and a group of Elders [“Elders’ resolution”]. The Elders’ resolution established rules for the removal of Tribunal members and removed the opposing members from the Tribunal. The CKFN applied to the Court of Queen’s Bench for judicial review, challenging the validity of the Orders and the Elders’ resolution [“Application”]. The Chambers judge who heard that judicial review quashed the Orders and the Elder’s resolution. In this matter the Appellants appeal that decision to this Court. It has been determined that this appeal must be allowed, as the Federal Court of Canada had exclusive jurisdiction to hear the judicial review application.

After s 74 of the Indian Act order was rescinded in 2018 for the CKFN, their Code came into effect. The definition of “council of the band” in s 2(1) of the Indian Act provides that when a band is not subject to a s 74 order, and is not named or formerly named in the schedule to the First Nations Elections Act, “council of the band” means “the council chosen according to the custom of the band, or, if there is no council, the chief of the band chosen according to the custom of the band”.

None of the parties takes issue with the proposition that the Code constitutes “custom of the band” within the meaning of s 2, although they differ as to what constitutes custom. It is clear that a recently adopted election code may be custom for this purpose, despite that the authority to enact such a custom election code is not granted by the Indian Act or other federal legislation (Pastion v Dene Tha’ First Nation, [2019] 1 CNLR 343 [“Pastion”]). The custom of the band is not limited, and indeed may bear little resemblance, to historic customs, practices or traditions that existed prior to the Crown’s assertion of sovereignty. What the Indian Act describes as ‘custom’ is often the written product of public deliberation within a First Nation and it may rely on the mechanisms of Western democracy, or provide for a mechanism that blends Western democracy and Indigenous tradition (Pastion). The Code is such a document regardless of whether, as Pastion suggests, it might be more apt to describe it as “Indigenous legislation” or “Indigenous law”. The Code is effective for purposes of the Indian Act regardless of whether that is so.

The Code does not contain provisions which deal expressly with the issues of removal or replacement of Tribunal members. The Appellants resolved to hold a joint meeting with the Nation Elders to deal with those issues. That meeting [“Elders’ Meeting”], attended by the Appellants, and 26 Elders, unanimously supported the Elders’ resolution, which established criteria and a process for removing and replacing Tribunal members. This Elders’ resolution also provided that the three opposing members were “removed as Tribunal members effective immediately”.

In this matter, the Appellants submitted that both the Tribunal and the Elders’ Meeting were federal boards, commissions or tribunals [“Federal entity”] within the meaning of s 18 of the Federal Courts Act [“FCA”]. The Chambers judge did not deal with the question of whether the Tribunal and the Elders’ Meeting were Federal entities. On an appeal from a judicial review, the task of an appeal court is normally to determine whether the Chambers judge selected the correct standard of review and correctly applied that standard (Kawula v Institute of Chartered Accountants of Saskatchewan, 2017 SKCA 70; Dr Q v College of Physicians & Surgeons of British Columbia, 2003 SCC 19). It is concluded that this appeal should be disposed of on the basis of the jurisdictional question, which raises two issues: 1) did the learned Chambers judge err by deciding that the Court of Queen’s Bench had jurisdiction to hear the Application pursuant to s 22 of the Code; and 2) did the Chambers judge err by failing to decide that the Federal Court had exclusive original jurisdiction to hear the Application pursuant to s 18 of the FCA?

In this case, the conditions necessary to engage the right to apply pursuant to s 22 have not been met because the Application was filed by the CKFN. That, in itself, is enough to determine the issue. The Tribunal has not yet made a final decision as to the results of the election, therefore the CKFN could not bring the Application in the Court of Queen’s Bench pursuant to s 22 of the Code, and the Chambers judge did not have jurisdiction to hear the Application pursuant to that section.

The same reasoning applies to the Elders’ Meeting. The question is not whether those recognized as Elders by the Nation are a Federal entity whenever they play a role in the CKFN’s affairs. The question is whether the Elders’ Meeting had the authority to pass the Elders’ resolution. If the Elders’ Meeting had the authority it exercised or purported to exercise, it was because that authority was the custom of the band, and like the authority of the Tribunal, was made effective in this context. The Tribunal and the Elders’ Meeting were both Federal entities within the meaning of s 18 of the FCA. The Chambers judge erred by failing to decide that the Federal Court had exclusive original jurisdiction to hear the Application pursuant to s 18 of the FCA.

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.

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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.

Dumais et al v Kehewin Band Council et al, 2020 FC 25

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.

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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, [1986] 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, [1989] 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, [1996] 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.

Engstrom and Ragan v Peters First Nation Band Council, 2020 FC 286

Application allowed. Peters First Nation Band Council is ordered to take all steps necessary to grant full Band memberships to the Applicants.

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The Peters First Nation Band Council [“Council”] rejected the Applicants’ respective applications for band membership. This matter is the second application for judicial review seeking relief in connection with the denial of their memberships.

The first application was granted, but the Court declined to express an opinion about the merits of the Council’s decision in denying membership to the Applicants. However, it was found that the Council had acted unfairly by failing to inform them in advance of the factors that would be taken into account in deciding their applications. There was also concern regarding the Council’s failure to provide substantive reasons for its decision. The matter was accordingly remitted to Council for reconsideration, but once again, the applications were refused.

The Court was not able to ascertain the exact motives of the Council for denying Band memberships to the Applicants. It can assess, however, the Council’s stated reasons for denying those memberships to determine whether those reasons had the mark of rationality, intelligibility and justification. The focus of judicial review is on the reasons provided by the decision-maker in support of its decision. According to the Supreme Court of Canada, reasonableness review “must be on the decision actually made”, not the reasons that could have been made (Canada (Minister of Citizenship and Immigration) v Vavilov, 2019 SCC 65 [“Vavilov”]). Robust judicial review is about outcomes and a decision-maker’s reasoning process in getting to an outcome. Both must be reasonable in light of the legal and factual constraints that bear on the decision. A primary legal constraint is the governing statutory scheme. It is not open to a decision-maker to disregard the applicable rules. There is no such thing as absolute or untrammelled discretion (Roncarelli v Duplessis, [1959] SCR 121).

A decision-maker may have some room to interpret the rules that apply to a matter before it but that exercise must be consistent with the text, context and purpose of the provision (Vavilov). Where the words employed are precise and unequivocal, their ordinary meaning will usually be determinative. It is not open to the decision-maker to adopt an “inferior” interpretation merely because it is plausibly available and expedient; or to “reverse-engineer” to get to a desired outcome (Vavilov). The express governing rules that apply to the Council’s membership decisions are contained in the Peters Indian Band Membership Code [“Code”]. The Code was adopted by the Band in 1990 and replaced the band membership provisions that had been previously contained in the Indian Act.

In rejecting the applications of the Applicants, it is clear that the Council did not consider itself bound by the membership criteria set out in the Code. It was not open to the Council to make up its own membership rules to supplement the explicit criteria that were adopted in 1990 when the Band took control of its memberships. The Council has acted unlawfully, unfairly and in bad faith in rejecting the membership applications of the Applicants. The Council has repeatedly shown itself to be unfit to decide these matters and there is no reasonable expectation that fairness and reason will prevail if this matter is remitted to the Council again. The Council is directed to take all the steps necessary to grant full Band memberships to the Applicants.

R v Robinson, 2019 BCPC 273

Defendant found guilty. The Wabalisla Street on the Bella Bella Indian Reserve is a road within the definition of a “highway” as set out in the Motor Vehicle Act.

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The defendant was charged with driving while prohibited, contrary to s 95(1) of the Motor Vehicle Act [“MVA”]. The issue was whether the Crown proved beyond a reasonable doubt that Wabalisla Street located on Bella Bella Indian Reserve is a road within the definition of a “highway” as set out in the legislation. The analysis fell into two areas of consideration: 1) was the road designated or intended for or used by the general public for the passage of vehicles, and 2) are Aboriginal persons living on a reserve members of the general public.

The defence argued the reserve is in essence a closed community and any others who might use the street do so only to the extent which is incidental to the ownership of reserve property. Further, as the community is only accessible by water or air, any of the roads are thus precluded from the characteristics of a public highways within the meaning of the MVA. Bella Bella is a final destination, not a point of passage from one destination to another.

Albeit, there was investment in the network of transportation infrastructure that the community has either expressed or implied invitation to the general public to drive on their roads. The pursuit of tourism gave additional weight to this conclusion. There are numerous community-based resources along this roadway. It has traffic signs, is paved and is passable by two conventional cars. All persons are welcome on the reserve without restrictions or regulations. The defence also submitted that as the community had enacted their own by-law for the regulation and use of vehicles on their reserve pursuant to s 81(1)(f) of the Indian Act, this was evidence of their intent not to be subject to the MVA.

The fact that the community has a parallel regulatory by-law is not demonstrative that they have thus occupied the field through their regulations governing driving nor does it establish an intention not to be bound by the MVA. The defence says that a reserve road used by reserve residents is not a public road and is therefore, not a highway under the MVA. The Crown submits that the definition of a “highway” under the MVA, has use by the general public, which includes those Aboriginal members living on a reserve. The legislative purpose of s 95(1) of the MVA is to provide public protection against those prohibited from driving. The 1800 residents of the Bella Bella Reserve is not a trivial number of people. Collectively, they constitute the “general public”. There is nothing in the MVA that excludes individuals living on a reserve to be considered part of the general public. Therefore, the Crown has proven beyond a reasonable doubt that Wabalisla Street in Bella Bella is a highway under the MVA.

Awashish v Conseil des Atikamekw d’Opitciwan et al, 2019 FC 1131

Motion dismissed. The Applicant failed to demonstrate he would suffer irreparable harm if a First Nation election proceeded, as he can pursue an adequate remedy for his complaint before the First Nation’s Appeal Board.

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A general election for the Conseil des Atikamekw d’Opitciwan was called for September 10, 2019. The elections are governed by an electoral code, where along with other conditions, all candidates must be ordinarily resident in Opitciwan. The Applicant was nominated for the position of Chief, but the Electoral Officer withdrew the name from the ballot because the Applicant does not reside in the community. The Applicant seeks an interlocutory injunction so that his name remains on the list of candidates. He submits that the residency requirement is invalid, discriminatory and contrary to the Charter. After he brought an application for judicial review of the Electoral Officer’s decision, the Applicant subsequently brought this motion for an interlocutory injunction. Despite a strong case shown on the merits, the Applicant has failed to demonstrate that he would suffer irreparable harm if his motion was not granted. There is an adequate remedy before the Opitciwan First Nation Appeal Board that would allow him to raise his Charter claims.

An interlocutory injunction is a temporary measure intended to preserve the rights of the parties until a decision is rendered on the merits but it is not a final resolution of the case. This takes into account that such motions must often be decided on the basis of an incomplete evidentiary record and that a final resolution cannot be reached in a short time frame (Manitoba (AG) v Metropolitan Stores Ltd, [1987] 1 SCR 110; RJR–MacDonald Inc v Canada (AG), [1994] 1 SCR 311 [“RJR”], and Harper v Canada (AG), 2000 SCC 57).

The first stage of a three part test requires the applicant to demonstrate a serious question to be tried, meaning neither frivolous nor vexatious. At the second stage, the Applicant must convince the court that irreparable harm would be suffered if an injunction is refused. The third stage of the test requires an assessment of the balance of convenience to identify the party that would suffer the greater harm from the interlocutory injunction, pending a decision on the merits. (R v Canadian Broadcasting Corp, 2018 SCC 5 [“CBC”]) It should not be believed in this highly contextualized and fact dependent framework, that the three components of this framework are completely independent of each other (Mosaic Potash Esterhazy Limited Partnership v Potash Corporation of SK Inc, 2011 SKCA 120).

This Court often hears motions for interlocutory injunctions in First Nations governance matters. The court’s discretion should be guided by the principle of self-government, and assess whether the various courses of action would facilitate decision-making by the First Nation itself (Gadwa v Joly, 2018 FC 568). Unlike a prohibitive injunction that has a relatively low threshold (RJR), a mandatory injunction directs the defendant to undertake a positive course of action. In these instances, a “strong prima facie case” is required. Upon a preliminary review of the application, the court must be satisfied that there is a strong likelihood that the applicant at trial will be successful in proving the allegations set out in the originating notice (CBC).

In this matter, the Applicant is not seeking to prevent the election from being held, but an order to include his name in the list of candidates. In certain cases, the result of the interlocutory motion will in effect amount to a final determination of the action, thereby, a more extensive review of the merits of the case must be undertaken (RJR). When the judge hearing the merits of the case cannot undo what was done at the interlocutory stage, a strong prima facie case must be established. If the injunction is granted, the election would be conducted with ballots that include the Applicant’s name, therefore he will have obtained what he wants, making it difficult to see how a hearing on the merits would be useful (Toronto (City) v Ontario (AG), 2018 ONCA 761).

The Applicant has demonstrated the existence of a serious question to be tried, but not a strong prima facie case. The trial judge dealing with this matter will assess the evidence presented to the court and come to the appropriate conclusions. Harm is by definition reparable if there is recourse that makes it possible to vindicate the underlying right and that provides adequate remedies. The doctrine of exhaustion of remedies requires that an applicant pursue all adequate administrative remedies available to them prior to applying for judicial review. This doctrine improves respect for self-government, as it ensures that governance disputes are first dealt with by Indigenous decision-making processes (Whalen v Fort McMurray No 468 First Nation, 2019 FC 732).

The Election Code provides for the establishment of an appeal committee. Upon receipt of a complaint, the appeal committee conducts an investigation and, if founded, they may take all necessary measures, including ordering a new election. The Applicant could file a complaint on the basis that the rejection of his nomination was in violation of the Charter. The Election Code also provides that any person whose nomination is withdrawn by the Electoral Officer may immediately bring that decision to the appeal committee which the Applicant could have done. The Court therefore concludes that the Applicant has a recourse that will allow him to put forward his Charter arguments and that he did not demonstrate irreparable harm. There was no need to fully address the balance of convenience.

 

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.

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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.

BC (Director of Child, Family and Community Services) v Beauchamp et al, 2019 NWTSC 19

Judicial review allowed. The Director did not receive the minimum notice of the custom adoption application of a Métis child. The decision of the Commissioner must be quashed and the certificate for adoption vacated.

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The Applicant, the British Columbia Director of Child, Family and Community Services [“Director”] has applied for a judicial review of the decision of the Respondent, Custom Adoption Commissioner Mary Beauchamp [“Commissioner”]. She issued a Custom Adoption Certificate [“Certificate”] that recognizes the adoption of a Métis child by the Respondents [“Foster Parents”] in accordance with Aboriginal customary law.

In 2013, a Métis child was apprehended the day after her birth by child protection authorities in British Columbia. She was placed in foster care of the pursuant to a family care home agreement they entered into with the Director. The Director was granted legal custody of the child through a continuing care order [“CCO”] dated July 6, 2015 by the BC Provincial Court. The Director has removed the child from the former Foster Parents care and placed her in an Ontario home to be with her biological siblings.

The Foster Parents submitted a petition to the court to adopt the child which was dismissed. A second petition was submitted asking for the same relief, but it was dismissed on the grounds of res judicata. Another petition was subsequently submitted, among various relief was adoption of the child, but also a reference to Aboriginal customary adoption. Again, the petition was dismissed as an abuse of process. The Foster Parents then submitted a fourth petition [“Petition #4”] but this submission was fundamentally different than the previous petitions. It stated that the child had already went through an Aboriginal customary adoption. It was dismissed as an abuse of process, but is now under appeal at the British Columbia Court of Appeal. That court presently has its decision on hold as it awaits the decision of this judicial review.

One of the Foster Parents is Métis and is a member of the British Columbia Métis Federation. Sometime after their former foster child was removed from their care, they moved to the Northwest Territories. They then met with the Commissioner who subsequently issued the Certificate recognizing that the child was adopted in accordance with Aboriginal customary law in 2013.

The Aboriginal Custom Adoption Recognition Act [“Act”] was enacted to recognize Aboriginal custom adoptions. The Act provides a process for individuals who have adopted a child in accordance with Aboriginal customary law to apply for a certificate recognizing the adoption. The certificate does not create an adoption but recognizes that an adoption has already taken place (Bruha v Bruha, 2009 NWTSC 44 [“Bruha”]). Custom adoption commissioners are appointed by the Minister on the basis that they already have knowledge and understanding of Aboriginal customary law in the community or region in which they reside. A custom adoption commissioner is simply recognizing that a custom adoption has taken place, however, the importance of the decision and the impact from it is significant. Once a commissioner is satisfied that the information required is complete and in order, a certificate is issued that a custom Aboriginal adoption has taken place. It is then filed with the court as a court order which permits the adoptive parent(s) to obtain a new birth certificate for the child. There is no appeal process provided under the Act. The decision of the custom adoption commissioner is final, subject only to judicial review (Bruha).

While the Act is intentionally vague about the process to be followed in recognizing an Aboriginal customary adoption, it does contemplate some form of notice. Given the implications of the decision of a custom adoption commissioner and the legitimate expectations of interested parties, the duty of procedural fairness requires, at a minimum, that interested parties receive notice of the application.

Custom adoption is a concept that has evolved over time and has adjusted to changing social conditions. There has been an evolution regarding who is involved in the process, who can adopt Aboriginal children, and how this process occurs (Kalaserk v Strickland, 1999 CanLII 6799 (NWTSC)). While the position of Director is created by the Child, Family and Community Service Act, she is the sole legal guardian as the CCO is still in place. The Director was an interested person and clearly entitled to notice of the application before the Commissioner. To allow the Certificate to stand would violate the principles of judicial economy, consistency, finality and the integrity of the administration of justice. If the Certificate was allowed to continue it would result in an abuse of process and therefore must be vacated.

BC (Director of Child, Family and Community Services) v LM, 2019 ONCJ 205

Restraining order granted preventing the Respondents from contact with a child they claim to have customarily adopted. Decision as to other matters on reserve.

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The British Columbia Director of Child, Family and Community Services [“Director”], requested a restraining order against the Respondents [“Foster Parents”] pursuant to s 35 of the Children’s Law Reform Act. This interim and without prejudice order restrains the Foster Parents from communicating or coming near their former foster child, her school and any other place where the child may reasonably be expected to be. Further procedural relief was granted, including a sealing order and a publication ban.

On June 22, 2018, the Foster Parents became aware of the child’s school she was attending in Ontario. They approached the child in the playground and provided the issued credentials of their status as child protection representatives for the BC Métis Federation’s child protection service. The school staff went into lockdown and called the police. The child was traumatized from the experience, but the Foster Parents insisted they were not the source of the trauma and that the school overreacted. The Director has brought this application to the Court as a result from this event, but also the prior history involving the parties, as she is afraid the Foster Parents will attempt another apprehension.

When the child was born in 2013, she was removed from the care of her birth parents the day after her birth. She was then placed with the Foster Parents under a Family Home Care Agreement. Eventually a continuing custody order [“CCO”] was established on July 6, 2015. A CCO is analogous to an order of Crown Wardship in the province of Ontario, and conferred lawful custody of the child with the Director. It is deemed to be an order of the court and is enforceable as such. The Director has the authority to remove a child under the Child, Family and Community Service Act, if she has reasonable grounds to believe that the child needs protection and there is no other measure available. Since the Director removed the child from the Foster Parent’s care, the child has resided in Ontario in a non-Métis adoptive home with her biological sisters.

The Foster Parents brought three subsequent petitions since 2015 for the adoption of the child. The first one was dismissed, the second was also dismissed on the grounds of res judicata. The third petition sought various declarations, including another order to adopt the child, but had a reference to custom adoption as well as an order for certiorari quashing the transfer of the child to Ontario for adoption. On the denial of that application, the birth parents, the Foster Parents, and the BC Métis Federation, filed a fourth petition [“Petition #4”] for a declaration that the Foster Parents have already adopted the child by way of a custom adoption.

This application was inconsistent with the prior petitions advanced by the Foster Parents, considering there is recognition of custom adoption under s 46 of the Adoption Act. The Foster Parents claimed they were unaware until very recently that their actions constituted a valid Aboriginal custom adoption which could be recognized by the courts. The court, however, did not accept these submissions and determined Petition #4 was an abuse of process and should be struck.

On the appeal of AS v BC (Director of Child, Family and Community Services), new evidence disclosed that a custom adoption commissioner [“Commissioner”] in the Northwest Territories [“NWT”], pursuant to s 2 of the Aboriginal Custom Adoption Recognition Act, had issued a custom adoption certificate. It declared that the Foster Parents adopted the child by way of Aboriginal custom adoption in 2013 which is deemed to be an order of that court. Through this, the Foster Parents obtained pursuant to the Vital Statistics Act, a British Columbia birth certificate for the child listing them as her parents. The Director had no knowledge of the proceedings in the NWT or the issuance of the BC birth certificate and filed an originating notice for judicial review in the Supreme Court of the Northwest Territories [“NWT Supreme Court”].

The British Columbia Court of Appeal [“BCCA”] stayed the appeal of S(A) v BC (Director of Child, Family and Community Services) to await the judicial review decision of the NWT Supreme Court that is on reserve. In the meantime, there is an interim, without prejudice order prohibiting the use of the NWT custom adoption certificate or its associated documents such as the BC birth certificate, by any party to gain access or custody to the child.

To decide such matters in this application at this time, while the NWT Supreme Court’s decision, the BC Court of Appeal’s decision, and the ultimate fate of Petition #4 is unknown, would be inappropriate and an abuse of process. It undermines the credibility of the courts if a judicial tribunal hears the same evidence in a different trial on the same issues, as there is potential for conflicting results (Children’s Aid Society of Ottawa (City) v M(G)).

The Foster Parents have clearly demonstrated that they are not prepared to wait for their claims to be fully adjudicated in a court of law, and will resort to self-help remedies without notification to the courts. On a balance of probabilities, the Director has reasonable grounds to fear for the safety of the child in her lawful custody and is granted the restraining order. The order made is without prejudice to the Foster Parents right to seek its termination or to vary it once the decisions of the two other courts have been released and the fate of Petition #4 becomes known.

Toney v Toney Estate, 2018 NSSC 179

Application allowed. The surviving spouse, who is non-Status and a non-band member, has been allowed to continue to occupy a family home on reserve.

Wiyasiwewin Mikhiwahp Native Law Centre
Case Watch

Marlene Toney, a widow, sought an order for indefinite exclusive occupation of her family home on reserve pursuant to s 21 of the Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights Act [“FHR”]. The order also included half the value of her late husband, Lawrence Toney’s interest in the home and outbuildings pursuant to s 34 of FHR. Central to this application was the fact that Marlene is non-Status and a non-band member of the Annapolis Valley First Nation [“AVFN”]. For over 30 years, she and her spouse lived in their family home, investing over $140,000.00 of their own money in permanent improvements after Lawrence obtained a Certificate of Possession for the house in 1998. Marlene was an active part of the community for many years, and even served as the band manager for two years until she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. The only substantial asset in Lawrence’s estate is his right and interest in the Certificate of Possession for the land upon which the family home sits and the house itself.

The FHR also includes detailed “Provisional Federal Rules” [“Rules”] intended to govern First Nation communities that have not enacted matrimonial property laws of their own. These Rules, however, apply only to First Nations that have not yet enacted matrimonial property rules under the FHR. Any validly enacted First Nation laws oust the Rules in respect of that First Nation. If a First Nation has signed a self-government agreement with the federal government, under which it has power to manage its reserve lands, the Rules do not apply, even if the First Nation has not enacted matrimonial property laws of its own, unless the federal minister declares that the Rules apply to that First Nation. A First Nation enrolled under the First Nations Land Management Act [“FNLMA”] can oust the application of the Rules by bringing into effect a land code, separate matrimonial property laws under the FNLMA, or matrimonial property laws under the FHR. The FHR identifies how these Rules apply to First Nations who have adopted a land code pursuant to the FNLMA, and to First Nations under self-government agreements with the federal government. It is agreed that AVFN has not entered a self-government agreement with the federal government, nor enrolled under the FNLMA. These Rules apply to the AVFN.

The case at hand is the first decision to provide a comprehensive analysis of the FHR, in particular ss 21 and 34. These sections authorize courts to grant exclusive occupation of the family home and compensation to a surviving spouse for interests in matrimonial assets. The FHR respects the principle of non-alienation of reserve lands and its rules do not lead to non-Status or non-band members acquiring permanent or tangible interests in reserve lands pursuant to s 21 or receiving compensation for the value of reserve lands pursuant to s 34. The FHR, however, balances the equality rights of spouses under ss 15 and 28 of the Charter along with recognition of Aboriginal and Treaty rights under s 35 of the Constitution Act (1982).

Women appeared to have played an important and equal role in all aspects of tribal life and governance in most First Nations during pre-colonial times, and some were even matrilineal societies. The interpretation of the FHR recognizes the role and status of spouses of either gender, not if they are both members of the band. This is consistent with this appearance of Aboriginal values in pre-colonial times as shown in the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples [RCAP]. Gender equality is a universal value that transcends nationality or race and it is in this context that the FHR promotes and protects a compelling and substantial legislative objective. The Court awarded Marlene indefinite exclusive occupation of the family home pursuant to s 21 of FHR, with the condition that she does not cohabitate with anyone during her occupation, except for one of her children or grandchildren. She must maintain the home and not commit waste.