The Court granted a one-year stay against the Band’s application for summary trial against a former member in relation to an interest in reserve land her late aunt bequeathed to her. The stay will give the defendant time to appeal the rejection of her membership application in another proceeding, although she will have other hurdles to surmount beyond membership before she can obtain a legal interest in the lot.
The defendant, Marilyn Johnston, was a former member of the plaintiff, Okanagan Indian Band [“OKIB”] but is not a present member. Currently, she is a registered Indian of the Nak’azdli Whut’en Indian Band in Fort St. James, B.C. Ms. Johnston was bequeathed property on the reserve from her aunt who died in 2013. The plaintiff, the OKIB, is a band within the meaning of the Indian Act, and is the beneficiary of six reserves set aside for its use and benefit by the federal Crown pursuant to s 18 of the Indian Act. Okanagan Reserve No. 1 is one of the reserves set aside for the OKIB. Section 50 of the Indian Act prevents Ms. Johnston from inheriting her aunt’s property. The OKIB says that she must therefore vacate the property and Okanagan Reserve No. 1 [“Reserve”].
Ms. Johnston applied to transfer her membership back to the OKIB, and has been taking steps since then to reinstate her membership in the OKIB. She originally transferred her band membership from the OKIB in 1988 to enhance her credibility and trust with the community members she worked with in the victim services program. She had moved to that area in approximately 1976 and worked there in the social service sector. It was always the defendant’s intention to return from the Nak’azdli Whut’en Indian Band to the OKIB, as she has extensive ties to the Reserve.
When the defendant first contacted the OKIB in 2002 to transfer her membership, she was advised that the OKIB was in the process of adopting a new band membership transfer policy. OKIB said that it would process her application and she would be registered as a member. An internal band memo in 2012 stated that the defendant “has fulfilled all the requirements to apply for transfer to” the OKIB. It resolved that the defendant “has been accepted into the membership” of the OKIB, however, the transfer was not processed.
There is an issue between the parties as to whether the membership requirement in s 50 should be interpreted as being a member of the band at the date of the testator’s death, or whether it is retrospective and can be cured by membership granted after the date of death of the testator. The usual process under s 50(2) of the Indian Act where a beneficiary is unable to inherit the lands is for the lands to be sold to a band member and the proceeds of the sale provided to the beneficiary. Should the lands not sell, the lands would revert to the OKIB pursuant to s 50(3).
In 2019, the OKIB reconsidered the defendant’s application, but denied the defendant’s application for membership on the basis that she displayed aggressive and threatening behaviour to the OKIB staff and guests and that she would not make a positive contribution to the community. The defendant says she did not commit the behaviour or acts alleged and that there is no reasonable basis to deny her membership. The defendant appealed the OKIB Band Council decision to deny her membership with a formal application to the Protest Unit of ISC pursuant to the OKIB’s Band Membership Transfer Policy and s 14.2(1) of the Indian Act [“Protest”].
The Protest was sent by registered mail and accepted. The defendant has not yet received a reply. The basis for the Protest is that the decision to deny the transfer of membership to the OKIB was made without proper consultation and was significantly delayed. Subsequently, the plaintiff filed this Notice of Application. The defendant filed her application seeking a stay of proceedings to permit the membership process to complete, by way of appeal if necessary.
The Court has inherent jurisdiction to grant a temporary stay in a proceeding before it (Law and Equity Act, s 8(2); RJR-MacDonald Inc v Canada (AG),  1 SCR 311 [“RJR-MacDonald”]. There is a serious question to be determined (RJR-MacDonald). In the Court’s view, there is an intrinsic link between the membership application issue and the plaintiff’s claims against the defendant. In the event that she becomes a member, there will likely be the two hurdles identified by the plaintiff, the retrospectivity of the operation of s 50, and the permission of the Minister pursuant to s 49. Irreparable harm would be occasioned to Ms. Johnston if the stay was refused. The second branch of the test is met by the defendant (Dixon v Morgan, 2020 BCCA 200).
In considering the balance of convenience, it is important to note that the defendant first applied to OKIB for a transfer back of her membership in 2002. The decision denying the application was made in 2019. In the intervening time, Ms. Johnston returned to live with her aunt in 2009, and her aunt died in 2013. Internal band documents indicate that in 2012 there was no impediment to approving the membership application. There were many attempts made by Ms. Johnston to communicate with OKIB and further her application throughout the years from 2002 to 2019. The lack of certainty of the future of the Lots lies at the feet of OKIB as a result of their delays. The prejudice to the defendant is far greater than that to the OKIB (RJR-MacDonald). The stay is granted with the length of one year.