Canadian Natural Resources Limited v Elizabeth Métis Settlement, 2020 ABQB 210

Application allowed. A Métis community’s Property Tax Bylaw is quashed as it is unlawfully enacted and unreasonable in substance.

Indigenous Law Centre
Indigenous CaseWatch Blog

Elizabeth Métis Settlement [“Elizabeth”] is a small Métis community on the eastern edge of Alberta. In 2019, Elizabeth levied property taxes amounting to 187% of assessed land value on four natural resource companies whose lands comprise virtually its entire taxable base. Elizabeth explained that its unusual procedures in enacting it were justified by a looming financial emergency, and that the context of Alberta’s Métis settlements uniquely informs the question of what constitutes a reasonable rate of taxation in this situation.

In 1984, a movement began towards securing lands to support Métis communities in Alberta attaining self-governance. This consultation ultimately led to the Alberta-Métis Settlements Accord in 1989. This framework agreement and related legislation created eight Métis settlement [“Métis Settlements”] and granted fee simple title to those lands to the Métis Settlements General Council [“MSGC”]. This process also led to the incorporation of the Métis people in the Constitution of Alberta Amendment Act, which recognized that the Métis people were to gain self-governance, and protected their land base with the specific stated aim of preserving and enhancing Métis culture and identity. The Métis Settlements Act [“MSA”], was brought into force to provide a structure of delegated authority by which these communities could govern themselves individually, and collectively through the MSGC.

The top level of Métis governance established by the MSA is the MSGC. This umbrella body creates policies from which each of the Settlements derive sub-delegated authority to run their own communities. The individual Métis Settlements, in practice, operate at a quasi-municipal level. While their existence has a deeper social, cultural and historical underpinning than ordinary municipal corporations, they perform many of the same functions of a local municipal government common to municipalities across the province. Similar to municipalities, the sole source of tax revenue for the Settlements is through property taxation. Due to the structure of land holding on the Settlements, however, Elizabeth appears to have only four taxpayers, including the Applicants in this case.

Métis Settlements first gained independent taxation powers in 1997. Prior to that, any taxation was subject to direct ministerial approval. MSGC policy defines the parameters of Settlement taxation powers and the process for property assessment. Each Settlement in turn is left to pass its own property tax bylaw. In 1997, the MSGC enacted a tax policy to establish a fair, orderly, and equitable system by which those who use land in a Settlement area for business purposes can be required to contribute a fair share, based on valuation or agreement, to the cost of maintaining a viable Métis community in the Settlement area. The 1997 policy permitted Settlements to make annual business property contribution bylaws, and levy property tax based on the deemed value of land holdings, with a cap tax rate.

In 2019, the basis and structure of property taxation within the Métis Settlements changed fundamentally. The MSGC revoked the 1997 policy and replaced it with a new instrument called the Métis Settlements General Council Property Taxation Policy 2018 [“Tax Policy”]. There was no cap identified on Settlement property tax rates and no mention of “fair, orderly, and equitable” contributions being required by businesses operating on Settlement lands. The Tax Policy specified a new formula by which the tax rate was to be calculated. It is based on dividing its total budget by the value of its assessed taxable base. Each Settlement was to determine its tax rate by dividing its budget by the total value of its tax base.

The net result of the Amended Budget, by operation of the formula was to increase the total property tax bill levied against the four Applicants from $624,692.44 to $25,000,733. In short, it increased the Applicants’ property tax bills 40-fold. This additional $24.4 million from the Applicant taxpayers was allocated to repair or replace virtually all infrastructure at the Elizabeth Settlement, including $75,000 in repairs and renovations to each and every residence in the community.

There is no evidence that Elizabeth considered the economic impact or viability of this rate of taxation. This includes a complete absence of discussion on whether taxes in this amount could possibly be paid, and what the economic and legal impact on the subject landowners would be. The Applicants were never given an opportunity to provide an economic analysis of the impact of this level of taxation on their operations and their ability to continue owning their land interests in Elizabeth. The Supreme Court of Canada has repeatedly affirmed the common law right of citizens to seek judicial review of municipal bylaws taxing their property (Catalyst Paper Corp v North Cowichan (District), 2012 SCC 2).

Métis Settlements are not completely analogous to municipal governments. They may well be afforded different and greater range in decision-making that touches upon the core animating values that underlie their existence, namely the preservation and promotion of Métis culture and society. That said, when Settlements levy property tax, they perform a function virtually indistinguishable from municipal governments, and derive their authority to do so through a similar process of sub-delegation. Moreover, the power they exercise in this capacity is no less impactful on the people against whom it is used.

Even if the Property Tax Bylaw was upheld in the face of its procedural defects, it is substantively unreasonable and must be quashed on that basis. Although unreasonable, it did not come about in a vacuum. The evidence in this case also showed that Elizabeth’s infrastructure need is very real, and that the stated aim of creating self-sufficient Métis communities has been thwarted by chronic capital underfunding.

The Court finds the impugned Property Tax Bylaw is the product of Métis frustration with the failure to achieve this objective. Ironically, the lack of adequate capital funding for Métis Settlements, or a viable model for the Settlements to raise capital funds through economic benefits derived on their territory, has driven Elizabeth to enact a measure that would severely, if not fatally, impair its ability to attract the investment it needs to develop a viable tax base in the future.

‘Namgis First Nation v Mowi Canada West Ltd and Canada (Fisheries, Oceans and Coast Guard), 2020 FCA 122

Application allowed. There were concerns from a First Nation involving a salmon farming licence after learning of new scientific evidence regarding potential spread of disease. A novel adverse impact that arises since an original consultation, creates a fresh duty to consult.

Indigenous Law Centre
Indigenous CaseWatch Blog

‘Namgis First Nation’s traditional territory is at the north end of Vancouver Island and includes a number of the adjacent islands, including Swanson Island, which lie between Vancouver Island and the mainland. A number of distinct wild salmon populations are found in this area. These populations are critically important to ‘Namgis for food, social and ceremonial purposes. Mowi operates an open net salmon facility adjacent to Swanson Island. That facility has been there since the early 1990’s and has been stocked with salmon during that period except for fallow periods between harvesting and restocking.

Restocking open-net facilities is at the heart of this litigation because there is an uncircumscribed risk of introducing disease agents into the waters used by wild salmon. That risk arises from the transfer of immature salmon, or smolts, from inland fish stations to the open-net aquaculture facilities. If disease-bearing fish are introduced into these waters and if those diseases spread to the wild salmon stocks, the results could be calamitous and perhaps irreversible.

‘Namgis First Nation appeals from the decision of the Federal Court dismissing its application for judicial review of the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans’ [“Minister”] decision to issue a Salmonid Introductions and Transfer Licence [“Licence”] to Mowi Canada West Ltd. [“Mowi”]. The Federal Court had before it three separate but closely related applications for judicial review which it dealt with in one set of reasons (Morton v Canada (Fisheries and Oceans), 2019 FC 143).

All three applications revolved around two risk factors for wild Pacific salmon in ‘Namgis’ asserted territory. The first is Piscine Orthoreovirus [“PRV”], a highly infectious virus that is known to be present in Canada. PRV is found in both farmed and wild salmon in British Columbia. The second is Heart and Skeletal Muscle Inflammation [“HSMI”] which is an infectious disease found in farmed Atlantic Salmon and has appeared in one aquaculture facility in British Columbia. ‘Namgis is convinced that PRV and HSMI pose a threat to the wild salmon stocks which it relies on for food, social and ceremonial purposes. The Minister views the threat level as very low. The science as to the relationship between these two threats, their prevalence, and the risk they pose to wild (as opposed to farmed) salmon is evolving.

Given the history of consultation between these parties, the issue is not whether there is a duty to consult in the abstract but rather whether a fresh duty to consult arose. The Federal Court’s reasoning does not address the question of whether a novel adverse impact had arisen since the original consultation, which would create a fresh duty to consult.

The third element required in the test for a duty to consult calls for a generous, purposive approach recognizing that Crown action has the potential to irreversibly affect Aboriginal rights (Haida Nation v British Columbia (Minister of Forests), 2004 SCC 73; Rio Tinto Alcan Inc v Carrier Sekani Tribal Council, 2010 SCC 43 [“Rio Tinto”]). The adverse affect cannot be merely speculative, and it must be relevant to the future exercise of the Aboriginal right. The assessment of the duty to consult is forward looking. Prior and continuing breaches, including prior failures to consult, will only trigger a duty to consult if the present decision has the potential of causing a novel adverse impact on a present claim or existing right (Rio Tinto).

The science around PRV and HSMI is rapidly evolving so that it was not specifically covered in the original consultations concerning fish health. The risk of harm to the native salmon stocks may be greater than the Minister previously contemplated, thus the finding of a novel adverse impact.

Acho Dene Koe First Nation v Minister of Industry Tourism and Investment, 2020 NWTSC 19

Application dismissed. This matter is not subject to judicial review as it seems to be of a private contractual nature brought forward by a First Nation, therefore it is not of a sufficiently public character to bring into the public law realm.

Indigenous Law Centre CaseWatch Blog

The Acho Dene Koe First Nation [“ADKFN”], claims Aboriginal title over lands upon which oil and gas exploration was being conducted by Paramount Resources Ltd. [“Paramount”], Chevron Canada Resources [“Chevron”] and Ranger Oil Limited [“Ranger”]. Neither the status, nor the validity of the ADKFN’s claim to Aboriginal title are before the Court.

The Director of Mineral and Petroleum Resources of the Department of Industry, Tourism and Investment for the Government of the Northwest Territories [“Director”] received a letter from the ADKFN explaining that the First Nation had entered into benefit agreements, called Community Investment Plans (“CIPs”), with Paramount, Chevron and Ranger. ADKFN asserted that each CIP related to specific licenses and interests held initially by each of the companies, and subsequently assigned to Paramount. ADKFN also asserted that the CIPs ran with the land to which the license and interest pertained and that Paramount, as the assignee, was bound by the CIPs with Chevron and Ranger, as well as its own.

Each CIPs’ stated purposes were to formalize the relationship between each of Paramount, Chevron and Ranger and ADKFN, and to provide for ongoing development of community relations. Among other things, they provided for financial contribution to a community development fund for the benefit of ADKFN members and a commitment to provide business opportunities to ADKFN members upon certain core competencies being demonstrated.

Although breaching of the CIPs is not before the Court, in its letter to the Director, ADKFN alleged that Paramount breached the CIPs and that consequently, Paramount was in violation of any licenses, permits or approvals that are contingent on compliance with such agreements. The Director replied by providing a general explanation of the benefits plans and approval process, noting that a benefits plan includes a commitment from the operator to implement strategies for training and employment, and procurement and contracting, but does not generally include guaranteed outcomes. He also noted that during the approval process, operators may enter into private contracts, such as the CIPs provided by ADKFN, to implement the strategies in the benefit plan, but that the terms of any private agreement do not thereby become terms of the benefit plan.

The AKDFN asks this Court to determine whether the Director in his letter erred by not assessing whether Paramount had complied with the benefits plans, declining to enforce the CIPs, and determining that the benefits plans are privileged. The Court finds that the Director’s letter is not subject to judicial review. The Director was not acting in accordance with “state authority” and the issues put before him were not of a sufficiently public character to bring the matter into the public law realm. He was not exercising a statutory or other public law power and, therefore was not acting as a tribunal. The Director received letters from ADKFN’s counsel, making a number of requests in relation to something that is entirely a private law matter. His response to the ADKFN did not become a tribunal and ADKFN’s interest did not take on a public dimension.

Even if a judicial review was allowed, it would be dismissed as the Director’s conclusion on the nature of the benefits plans as well as the Minister’s obligation to enforce the CIPs, would be assessed on a standard of reasonableness. His conclusion on the privilege question would be assessed on a standard of correctness as the privilege is statutorily protected. The Director’s assessment of the nature of the benefits plans is both reasonable and correct.

The Government’s duty to consult was not engaged because at the heart of ADKFN’s concern is a private contractual dispute with Paramount, not a proposed government action or decision. All that the ADKFN requested was an “enforcement” of the CIPs, in furtherance of its private contractual dispute with Paramount. That is something which neither the Minister, nor the Director have the authority to do and it is not altered by the Government’s fiduciary obligations to the ADKFN.

While the Director is employed in the public service, there is nothing in the applicable statutes that confers authority or imposes a duty upon him to decide or enforce anything, nor is there any evidence that any such authority or duty has been delegated to him. Accordingly, the Director does not fall into the category of a “public officer” in these circumstances.

 

Fort McKay First Nation v Prosper Petroleum Ltd, 2020 ABCA 163

Appeal allowed. When administrative tribunals deal with “public interest” in respect to natural resource development, they should be looking at more than the duty to consult, as the honour of the Crown is a far broader doctrine. In this matter, the tribunal should have addressed an unfulfilled promise of a protected area that was being negotiated.

Indigenous Law Centre – CaseWatch Blog

This appeal arises out of negotiations that began in 2003 between the Government of Alberta and the Fort McKay First Nation [“FMFN”] to develop a Moose Lake Access Management Plan [“MLAMP”] to address the cumulative effects of oil sands development on the First Nation’s Treaty 8 rights. The MLAMP has not yet been finalized. The FMFN is an “[A]boriginal people of Canada” under s 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982 and a “band” within the meaning of the Indian Act, that has treaty rights to hunt, fish and trap within the Moose Lake Area, part of its traditional territory. The Moose Lake Area is of cultural importance to the FMFN.

The Alberta Energy Regulator [“AER”] approved an application by Prosper Petroleum Ltd [“Prosper”] in 2018 for the Rigel bitumen recovery project [“Project”], which would be located within 5 kilometers of the FMFN’s Moose Lake Reserves. The AER approval is subject to authorization by the Lieutenant Governor in Council [“Cabinet”], which has yet to be granted.

The FMFN was granted permission to appeal on the question of whether the AER erred by failing to consider the honour of the Crown and refusing to delay approval of the Project until the FMFN’s negotiations with Alberta on the MLAMP are completed. FMFN is concerned that the ability of its members to pursue their traditional way of life in the Moose Lake Area has been severely and adversely affected by the cumulative effect of oil sands development in the surrounding area. FMFN specifically sought a 10 km buffer zone from oil sands development around the Moose Lake Reserves. Alberta denied this request and in 2013 FMFN applied for a review. In 2014, Alberta’s then Premier, the late Jim Prentice, met with Chief Jim Boucher of FMFN to discuss the MLAMP. In 2015, Premier Prentice and Chief Boucher signed a Letter of Intent to confirm “our mutual commitment and interest in an expedited completion of the [MLAMP]”. Despite the 2015 Letter of Intent, the MLAMP has still not been finalized and is the subject of ongoing negotiations between Alberta and the FMFN.

The Project would be located within the 10-kilometer buffer zone surrounding the Moose Lake Reserves; that is, within the area covered by the MLAMP. After previously suspending the Project, in 2016 the AER resumed the approval process for the Project because “MLAMP is still not finalized, there is no indication that finalization of the MLAMP is imminent and there is no certainty when submission of the plan will occur”. The AER issued its decision in 2018 that found the Project to be in the public interest and approved the Project on conditions, subject to authorization by Cabinet. The panel declined to consider the MLAMP negotiations that contemplated the 10-kilometer buffer zone, the 2015 Letter of Intent, and whether it implicates the honour of the Crown. The AER concluded the status of the MLAMP negotiations was not a valid reason to deny Prosper’s application.

To review this decision, the Court used the standard of correctness. The AER is a public agency which exercises adjudicative functions pursuant to the Alberta Public Agencies Governance Act. As the regulator of energy development in Alberta, the AER is mandated to provide for the efficient, safe, orderly and environmentally responsible development of energy resources in the province. It has final decision-making power over many energy project applications, pending where Cabinet authorization is required.

The AER has broad powers of inquiry to consider the “public interest” in making its decisions. Tribunals have the explicit powers conferred upon them by their constituent statutes. However, where empowered to consider questions of law, tribunals also have the implied jurisdiction to consider issues of constitutional law as they arise, absent a clear demonstration the legislature intended to exclude such jurisdiction (Rio Tinto Alcan Inc v Carrier Sekani Tribal Council, [2010] 4 CNLR 250 [“Rio Tinto”]. This is all the more so where the tribunal is required to consider the “public interest”. In such circumstances, the regulatory agency has a duty to apply the Constitution and ensure its decision complies with s 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982 (Clyde River (Hamlet) v Petroleum Geo-Services Inc, 2017 SCC 40 [“Clyde River”]). As the Supreme Court of Canada [“SCC”] has noted, “[a] project authorization that breaches the constitutionally protected rights of Indigenous peoples cannot serve the public interest” (Clyde River). The tribunal cannot ignore that aspect of its public interest mandate.

The AER therefore has a broad implied jurisdiction to consider issues of constitutional law, including the honour of the Crown, as part of its determination of whether an application is in the “public interest”. The question raised by this appeal is whether the AER should have considered the honour of the Crown in relation to the MLAMP negotiations as part of this assessment. A conclusion that legislation precludes considering certain matters does not relieve the decision-maker of its obligation if that legislative interpretation proves incorrect. Nor can a decision-maker decline to consider issues that fall within its legislative mandate because it feels the matter can be better addressed by another body.

The responsibility to ensure the honour of the Crown is upheld remains with the Crown (Chippewas of the Thames First Nation v Enbridge Pipelines Inc, 2017 SCC 41). However, the Crown can determine how, and by whom, it will address its obligations to First Nations, meaning that aspects of its obligations can be delegated to regulatory bodies. Alberta has delegated procedural aspects of the duty to consult and to consider appropriate accommodation arising out of that consultation to the AER. The Government of Alberta has retained the responsibility to assess the adequacy of Crown consultation on AER-regulated projects. Are the matters that FMFN sought to put before the AER in relation to the MLAMP negotiations limited to the “adequacy of Crown consultation”? The Court finds they are not.

The honour of the Crown can give rise to duties beyond the duty to consult. It will give rise to different duties in different circumstances (Haida Nation v British Columbia (Minister of Forests) [2005] 1 CNLR 72; Mikisew Cree First Nation v Canada (Governor General in Council), 2018 SCC 40). In the present case, the honour of the Crown is implicated through treaty implementation (Manitoba Métis Federation Inc v Canada (AG), 2013 SCC 14; Mikisew Cree First Nation v Canada (Minister of Canadian Heritage), 2005 SCC 69). The honour of the Crown infuses the performance of every treaty obligation, and stresses the ongoing relationship between the Crown and First Nations brought on by the need to balance the exercise of treaty rights with development under Treaty 8.

There was no basis for the AER to decline to consider the MLAMP process as part of its assessment of the public interest rather than deferring the issue to Cabinet. The public interest mandate can and should encompass considerations of the effect of a project on [A]boriginal peoples, which in this case will include the state of negotiations between the FMFN and the Crown. To preclude such considerations entirely takes an unreasonably narrow view of what comprises the public interest, particularly given the direction to all government actors to foster reconciliation. The AER is directed to reconsider whether approval of the Project is in the public interest after taking into consideration the honour of the Crown and the MLAMP process.

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.

Solomon v Garden River First Nation, 2019 FC 1505

Judicial review granted. There was a breach of procedural fairness in the process followed by the Chief and Council that led to the Applicants being banished from Garden River First Nation. The matter is remitted for reconsideration.

Indigenous Law Centre – CaseWatch Blog

The Chief and Council of Garden River First Nation [“GRFN”] issued a series of Band Council Resolutions [“BCRs”] banning Kody John William Solomon and Ralph Justin Romano [“the Applicants”] from GRFN territory. On this application, the Applicants seek judicial review of these BCRs and the process undertaken by the Chief and Council.

GRFN is governed by an elected Chief and Council who are responsible for the governance of the Nation and its approximately 3,000 members. One of the applicants have resided there his whole life, another non-member has lived on GRFN for 19 years with his member spouse and teenage daughter. The Applicants were banished as they had been charged with offences under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, and that “illegal drugs have caused great harm to Garden River and its members,” and “allowing [the Applicants] to remain in Garden River may cause harm to Garden River and its members or endanger public safety.”

There is no dispute that the initial 2018 BCRs were issued by GRFN’s Chief and Council without the opportunity for any input from the Applicants, nor did they have notice. The right to a fair hearing requires that the Applicants have adequate notice of the case against them and sufficient opportunity to respond before a decision adverse to their interests was made (Charkaoui v Canada (Citizenship and Immigration), 2007 SCC 9). Given the serious consequences of the banishment decisions, the degree of procedural fairness owned to the Applicants is heightened.

It appears GRFN’s Council itself recognized flaws in the process undertaken. By-Law 20 was adopted subsequently after the BCRs in 2018. The major differences from By-Law 13 are that it allows the Band Council to banish members of GRFN and persons deemed to be threats to the peace and safety of the Band or other people lawfully on the reserve. By-Law 20 provides a process that is clearly tailored to address the particular circumstances of the Applicants, a member and a non-member of GRFN who were charged with a criminal offence. However, there was still no reconsideration of the original decision to banish the Applicants in the BCRs issued in 2019. Rather it appears the GRFN Council simply passed the new By-Law and considered it to have rectified any issues with the previous BCRs from 2018.

The case law is clear that issues of procedural fairness are considered on a correctness standard (Canadian Pacific Railway Company v Canada (AG), 2018 FCA 69). The test for assessing if the process was fair, is to ask whether a right-minded person, applying themselves to the question and obtaining the required information, would think it is more likely than not that the decision-maker did not decide fairly (Baker v Canada (Minister of Citizenship and Immigration), 1999 SCC 699 [“Baker”]). The factors outlined in Baker for assessing procedural fairness include: 1) the nature of the decision and the process followed in making it; the nature of the statutory scheme; 2) the importance of the decision to the individuals affected; 3) the legitimate expectations of the person challenging the decision; and 4) the choice of procedure made by the agency itself.

Considering that By-Law 20 appears to have been crafted to address the specific circumstances of the Applicants, they had a legitimate expectation that the process laid out in By-Law 20 would be followed. When the Baker factors are considered in conjunction with the reasonable apprehension of bias, it is clear that there was a breach of the Applicants’ right to procedural fairness. The evidence demonstrates a continuing course of conduct on the part of GRFN’s Council who never undertook the promised reconsideration of the original banishment decision. The 2019 BCRs were simply a reissue of the original 2018 banishments under the new By-Law. The decision-making process that led to the Council’s 2019 decision was procedurally unfair because the Council made up its mind in 2018. From that point, GRFN Council defended its original decision rather than engage in a true reconsideration.

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.

Beaucage v Métis Nation of Ontario, 2019 ONSC 633

Motion granted. The nature of the Métis Nation of Ontario’s responsibilities and relationship with the government, does not transform the private voluntary organization’s membership decisions into public law decisions that are subject to judicial review.

Wiyasiwewin Mikiwahp Native Law Centre Case Watch

The Métis Nation of Ontario (“MNO”) has moved to quash this application for judicial review on the ground that this Court has no jurisdiction. The underlying application for judicial review sought an order to set aside the decision of a genealogist, that denied the applicant’s appeal from earlier decisions that refused his application for membership in the MNO. The applicant’s mother and sister became registered citizens of the MNO in 2002. In 2003, the Supreme Court of Canada (“SCC”) released its decision in R v Powley, [2003] 4 CNLR 321 (“Powley”). The SCC, although emphasizing that there is no universal definition of “Métis”, provided a framework for determining who is Métis for the purposes of s 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982. Thereafter, a new definition of “Métis” was effectively adopted by the MNO. This application for judicial review does not relate to s 35 rights. When the new definition was implemented by the MNO, however, current citizens such as the applicant’s mother and sister were grandfathered and therefore did not need to meet the new requirements. New applicants, including family members as in this situation, however, must now meet the new requirements.

The test on a motion to quash an application for judicial review asks whether it is plain and obvious or beyond doubt that the judicial review application would fail (Adams v Canada (AG), 2011 ONSC 325 (“Adams”); Certified General Accountants Assn of Canada v Canadian Public Accountability Board (2008), 233 OAC 129 (Div Ct)). In this case, it is beyond the jurisdiction of this Court. As found in prior decisions, the Divisional Court has no jurisdiction under s 2 of the Judicial Review Procedure Act to judicially review any decision outside the public law sphere (Trost v Conservative Party of Canada, 2018 ONSC 2733; Adams; Deeb v Investment Industry Regulatory Organization of Canada, 2012 ONSC 1014). The purpose of judicial review is to ensure the legality of state decision making (Highwood Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses (Judicial Committee) v Wall, 2018 SCC 26 (“Wall”). In Wall, the SCC underscored the importance of distinguishing between “public” in the generic sense and “public” in the public law sense. Broad public impact is insufficient to bring a decision within the public law sphere.

All corporations are creatures of statute. The corporation must be discharging public duties or exercising powers of a public nature before it is subject to judicial review (Knox v Conservative Party of Canada, 2007 ABCA 295). The MNO Act does not confer public duties on the MNO or delegate governmental responsibilities to it. The MNO Act and its history do not transform the decision at issue into a public law decision that is subject to judicial review. The MNO participates specifically on behalf of its citizens, not on the basis that it represents all Métis (“Powley”). Provincial and federal governments may accept an MNO card based on the MNO registry of citizens, but an MNO card is not an exclusive requirement. The MNO calls its members citizens but nothing turns on the use of that nomenclature.

Canada (Canadian Human Rights Commission) v Canada (AG), 2018 SCC 31

Appeal dismissed. Tribunal decisions stand that the complaints were a direct attack on legislation. Legislation not a service under the Canadian Human Rights Act.

This appeal concerns several complaints alleging that Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (“INAC”) engaged in a discriminatory practice in the provision of services contrary to Section 5 of the Canadian Human Rights Act (“CHRA”). This section prohibits, among other things, the making of discriminatory distinctions in the provision of services customarily available to the general public. The Indian Act, since its enactment in 1876, has governed the recognition of an individual’s status as an “Indian”. The Indian Act has a registration system under which individuals qualify for this status on the basis of an exhaustive list of eligibility criteria. It is incontrovertible that status confers both tangible and intangible benefits. INAC denied a form of registration under the Indian Act that the complainants would have been entitled to if past discriminatory policies, now repealed, had not been enacted.

In two separate decisions, Matson v Canada (Indian and Northern Affairs), 2013 CHRT 13 and Andrews v Canada (Indian and Northern Affairs), 2013 CHRT 21 (“Andrews”), the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal (“Tribunal”) determined that the complaints were a direct attack on the Indian Act. On the basis that legislation is not a service under the CHRA, it dismissed the complaints. On judicial review, both the Federal Court ([2015] 3 CNLR 1) and the Federal Court of Appeal ([2016] 4 CNLR 1), found that the Tribunal decisions were reasonable and should be upheld. Two issues were before this Court: (1) whether deference is owed to a human rights tribunal interpreting its home statute and (2) whether the Tribunal’s decisions dismissing the complaints as direct attacks on legislation were reasonable.

On the first issue, where an administrative body interprets its home statute, there is a well-established presumption that the reasonableness standard applies. In applying the standard of review analysis, there is no principled difference between a human rights tribunal and any other decision maker interpreting its home statute. Where an administrative body interprets its home statute, the reasonableness standard applies Dunsmuir v New Brunswick, 2008 SCC 9 (“Dunsmuir”). In both of its decisions, the Tribunal was called upon to characterize the complaints before it and ascertain whether a discriminatory practice had been made out under the CHRA. This falls squarely within the presumption of deference. The Tribunal clearly had the authority to hear a complaint about a discriminatory practice, and the question of what falls within the meaning of “services” is no more exceptional than questions previously found by the Court not to be true questions of jurisdiction.

A contextual analysis would not rebut the presumption in this case. Where the presumption of reasonableness applies, the contextual approach should be applied sparingly in order to avoid uncertainty and endless litigation concerning the standard of review analysis. The presumption of reasonableness was intended to prevent litigants from undertaking a full standard of review analysis in every case. This Court may eventually find it necessary to revisit the standard of review framework. However, dissatisfaction with the current state of the law is no reason to ignore the precedents following Dunsmuir. Where a contextual analysis may be justified to rebut the presumption, it need not be a long and detailed one. Changes to “foundational legal tests” are not clear indicators of legislative intent, and do not warrant the application of the contextual approach or, by extension, correctness review. Nor does the absence of a privative clause, the fact that other administrative tribunals may consider the CHRA, the potential for conflicting lines of authority, or the nature of the question at issue and the purpose of the Tribunal.

On the second issue, the adjudicators reasonably concluded that the complaints before them were properly characterized as direct attacks on legislation, and that legislation in general did not fall within the meaning of “services”. Although human rights tribunals have taken various approaches to making a distinction between administrative services and legislation, this is a question of mixed fact and law squarely within their expertise, and they are best situated to develop an approach to making such distinctions.

The adjudicator in Andrews noted that the sui generis nature of Parliament’s power to legislate is inconsistent with the characterization of law-making as a public service and that law-making does not have the transitive connotation necessary to identify a service customarily offered to the public. Parliament is not a service provider and was not providing a service when it enacted the registration provisions of the Indian Act. Law-making is unlike any of the other terms listed in s 5 as it does not resemble a good, facility or accommodation. It is sui generis in its nature. This is confirmed by the powers, privileges and immunities that Parliament and the Legislatures possess to ensure their proper functioning, which are rooted in the Constitution. The dignity, integrity and efficient functioning of the Legislature is preserved through parliamentary privilege which, once established, is afforded constitutional status and is immune from review. The disposition of this appeal, however, says nothing as to whether the Indian Act infringes the rights of the complainants under s 15 of the Charter. In this regard, there have been two successful challenges to the Indian Act registration provisions, both of which have prompted legislative reform (Descheneaux v Canada (Attorney General) [2016] 2 CNLR 175 (QCCS); McIvor v Canada (Indian and Northern Affairs, Registrar), [2009] 2 CNLR 236 (BCCA).

Furthermore, Parliament can be distinguished from the administrative decision makers that operate under legislative authority. These individuals and statutory bodies, which include the Registrar, may be “service providers”, or entities that provide services customarily available to the general public. If they use their statutory discretion in a manner that effectively denies access to a service or makes an adverse differentiation on the basis of a prohibited ground, s 5 will be engaged. But, when their job is simply to apply legislated criteria, the challenge is not to the provision of services, but to the legislation itself (Public Service Alliance of Canada v Canada Revenue Agency, 2012 FCA 7). The complaints did not impugn the means by which the Registrar had processed their applications, but substantively targeted the eligibility criteria that the Registrar was required to apply. Both Tribunal decisions stand on their own merits.

MRC de Roussillon v MRN, 2017 QCCS 3744

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Application dismissed. There is no duty to consult between the province and its municipalities about lands being transferred to the Federal government for the purposes of adding to a First Nation reserve.

The Applicants sought to have an Order in Council of the Government of Québec declared invalid on the basis of bad faith or abuse of power by the Québec government. The Order concerns vacant lands located on the territory of the Municipalité Régionale de Comté de Roussillon (“RCM”) and adjacent to the Kahnawake Reserve (the “Lands”), which the Ministère des Transports du Québec (“MTQ”) acquired several years ago to extend a highway. With the extension completed, the Lands were no longer needed for road purposes. The Order transfers the usufruct of the Lands to the Government of Canada for a possible addition to the territory of the Kahnawake Reserve. In the alternative, the Applicants also argued that condition No. 3 of the Order is ambiguous and void, as it has the effect of expanding the Kahnawake Reserve. They claim the Province does not have the legislative authority to create an Indian Reserve.

The Order transfers the usufruct of the Lands free of charge to the federal government for the benefit of the Kahnawake Mohawk Indian Band. Some of the Lands and the extension of the highway were located on the territory of the Seigneurie du Sault-Sault-Louis (SSSL), for which the Mohawks of Kahnawake filed a specific claim in the early 1990’s, alleging that the King of France gave them the territory. Since 2003, this specific claim has been under discussion with the federal government and is still ongoing.

The mechanism for transferring lands of the Québec province in order to reserve them for Indians is regulated under Québec and federal laws. The Minister of Natural Resources and Wildlife first designates the lands, and then the Québec government may “reserve and allot” the lands by adopting an order to transfer, gratuitously, the usufruct of the lands to the Government of Canada, with a view to administering it in trust for the Indian bands. No other legislative condition limits the exercise of the Québec government’s discretion in this regard. The Order, however, is only the first step in an administrative process by which the provincial lands will be added to the Kahnawake reserve as “designated lands” within the meaning of section 2(1) of the Indian Act. The process of creating an Indian reserve or adding to an existing reserve (known as “ATR” – Additions to Reserves) is subject to a specific legislative framework. A federal directive also regulates the ATR process including “an early and healthy dialogue between the First Nation, the public and affected individuals and interest groups to increase awareness and deal with potential issues”. However, “municipal governments do not have a general or unilateral veto over the granting of reserve status” and discussions with municipal governments “should not unreasonably delay the proposal” of an ATR.

The Order is political and therefore a purely administrative decision of the Québec government, or Cabinet, which is the top of the administrative and political power hierarchy. The adoption of the Order is a political decision and carries no obligation of procedural fairness or consultation with regard to the individuals affected. In respect of the autonomy, latitude and discretion enjoyed by the government in this area, any challenge to such a decision can be based only on very limited grounds. In making a political decision, the government cannot act against the law or abuse its discretion. The Order does not contravene any law. As for the rest, the government must answer for its political decisions to the electors and not the courts.