Brown v. Canada (AG), 2017 ONSC 251 [Sixties Scoop Class Action]

Wiyasiwewin Mikiwahp Native Law Centre Case Watch

Motion granted for summary judgment of the certified common issue of the Sixties Scoop class action. Liability of the federal government was found in favour of the class members.

(This is the first of three consecutive Wiyasiwewin Mikiwahp Native Law Centre Case Watch Blog posts regarding the Sixties Scoop Class Action judgements.)

The Court, and both parties, agree that the common issue should be summarily decided. Brown v. Canada (AG), 2010 ONSC 3095 was certified as a class proceeding. The certified common issue, which focused on the liability of Canada, was answered in favour of the class members. The class action has proceeded to the damages stage.

The Sixties Scoop happened and great harm was done. There is no dispute about the fact that thousands of Aboriginal children living on reserves in Ontario were apprehended and removed from their families by provincial child welfare authorities over the course of the class period and were placed in non-Aboriginal foster homes or adopted by non-Aboriginal parents. It was Patrick Johnson, the author of a 1983 research study on “Native Children and the Child Welfare System” that coined the name “Sixties Scoop.” He took this phrase from the words of a British Columbia child-protection worker who noted that provincial social workers “would literally scoop children from reserves on the slightest pretext.” There is uncontroverted evidence of the impact on the removed Aboriginal children. The loss of their Aboriginal identity left the children fundamentally disoriented, with a reduced ability to lead healthy and fulfilling lives. The issue before the Court was whether Canada can be found liable in law for the class members’ loss of Aboriginal identity after they were placed in non-Aboriginal foster and adoptive homes.

Canada entered into the Canada-Ontario Welfare Services Agreement (“the 1965 Agreement”) in December 1, 1965 to December 31, 1984 (19 years), and is at the core of the common issue. The focus of the common issue is the action or inaction of Canada (not Ontario) and only on the time-period after the Aboriginal children had been placed in non-Aboriginal foster or adoptive homes. Therefore, the common issue asks whether Canada had and breached any fiduciary or common law duties to take reasonable steps in the post-placement period to prevent the class members’ loss of Aboriginal identity.

The class definition includes the estimated 16,000 Aboriginal children who were removed from reserves in Ontario and placed in non-Aboriginal foster homes or adoptive homes. The stated goal of the 1965 Agreement was to “make available to the Indians in the province the full range of provincial welfare programs” and also reflected Canada’s concern that the extension of the provincial laws would respect and accommodate the special culture and traditions of the First Nations peoples living on the reserves, including their children. Ontario’s undertaking to extend the provincial welfare programs as set out in section 2(1) was made “subject to (2).” Sub-section 2(2) of the Agreement said “[n]o provincial welfare program shall be extended to any Indian Band in the Province unless that Band has been consulted by Canada or jointly by Canada and by Ontario and has signified its concurrence.” This section was intended to include explanations, discussions and accommodations. It was meant to be a genuinely meaningful provision.

No Indian Bands were ever consulted before provincial child welfare services were extended to the reserves. The Court found that by failing to consult the Indian Bands, Canada breached s 2(2) of the 1965 Agreement. Nothing in s 2(2) explicitly obliged Canada to actually undertake the consultations referred, however, the undertaking to do so can be implied from the language and context of the provision. A contractual term can be implied if it is a contractual term that must have been intended by the parties and is necessary or obvious in light of the particular circumstances of the agreement. If Canada had honoured its obligation to consult the Indian Bands under s 2(2) of the 1965 Agreement, the information about the child’s Aboriginal identity and culture and the available federal benefits would have been provided years sooner. Canada failed to take reasonable steps to prevent the loss of Aboriginal identity in the post-placement period by failing, at a minimum, to provide to both foster and adoptive parents the kind of information that was finally provided in 1980 and thereafter.

The Court found on the applicable law that Canada’s liability cannot be established under fiduciary law but can be established under the common law. In the Court’s view, s 2(2) and the obligation to consult created a common law duty of care and provided a basis in tort for the class members’ claims. The common law duty of care arose out of the fact that the 1965 Agreement is analogous to a third-party beneficiary agreement. Canada undertook the obligation to consult in order to benefit Indian Bands (and by extension, Indians living on the reserves, including children). The Indian Bands are not parties to the Agreement, but a tort duty can be imposed on Canada as a contracting party in these circumstances.

Rosemary Lamb v Her Majesty the Queen NBQB 213

Wiyasiwewin Mikiwahp Native Law Centre Case Watch

A woman who acquired Indian status within the meaning of the Indian Act through marriage does not lose registered status as a result of divorce. Powley does not require courts to apply the Powley factors each time a person purporting to be Indian within the meaning of the Indian Act comes before the court.

In Rosemary Lamb, the Queen’s Bench of New Brunswick considered whether Ms. Lamb, a Caucasian woman who had acquired Indian status within the meaning of the Indian Act through marriage to Mr. Augustine, an Aboriginal man, continued to retain such status following her divorce. Prior to their marriage Ms. Lamb had two children with Mr. Augustine. The two were subsequently married in 1984 and divorced shortly thereafter. In 2017, Ms. Lamb was convicted for hunting moose out of season. Ms. Lamb contended that she continues to have hunting rights that flow from her Indian status with the Burnt Church First Nation. Overturning the trial decision, the Court held that her Indian status had been obtained in 1979 when she married Mr. Augustine, and continues even after divorce.

The trial court held that the Powley criteria must be applied to the evidence to determine the Aboriginal identity at law. The criteria includes Aboriginal ancestry, cultural awareness and community acceptance. Ms. Lamb, a self-represented litigant, did not provide any meaningful evidence of Aboriginal ancestry nor was she meaningfully connected to the Burnt Church First Nation community. Since she could not prove Aboriginal ancestry or cultural awareness, the trial court determined that Ms. Lamb was not an “Indian” within the meaning of the Indian Act.

In this appeal, however, the Court held that the trial court had made an error of law resulting from an incomplete legislative history. After reviewing the history of statutes governing Aboriginal identity at law (omitted here), the Court observed that as the wife of a person entitled to be registered, pursuant to s.11(1)(f) of the Indian Act, Ms. Lamb continues to be registered as an “Indian” within the meaning of the Indian Act even after her divorce. The general principle in Bernard asserts that Aboriginal rights are to be governed by the existence of a historic and present community and may only be governed by virtue of an individual’s ancestrally-based membership in the present community. It was also noted that the Bernard case allows for Aboriginal rights to be provided where an ancestral connection can be made out based on “other means”. In the Court’s opinion, marriage falls into this category. Failing to see any removal of membership provision of the Indian Act that provides for the removal of people from their Aboriginal rights, the Court concluded that Ms. Lamb must continue to retain her Indian status and the guilty conviction was set aside.

Gift Lake Métis Settlement v Alberta, 2018 ABQB 58

Wiyasiwewin Mikiwahp Native Law Centre Case Watch

The Applicants’ claim that the membership provisions in ss 75, 90 and 91 of the Métis Settlements Act of Alberta are invalid due to the principle interjurisdictional immunity, is dismissed.

The Métis Settlements Act of Alberta, Chapter M-14 (MSA) provides for limitations on settlement membership, including an automatic termination provision under which membership automatically terminates if a person voluntarily registers as an Indian under the Indian Act. The Applicants are three former members of the Gift Lake Métis Settlement, whose memberships were terminated after each voluntarily registered as an Indian under the Indian Act to access health benefits. They asked for a declaration that certain membership sections of the MSA, are, in pith and substance, laws in relation to “Indians or Lands reserved for the Indians” and therefore outside provincial legislative competence, under section 91(24) of the Constitution Act, 1867.

The doctrine of interjurisdictional immunity does not apply to the impugned membership provisions of the MSA as their pith and substance can be related to a matter that falls within the jurisdiction of the Alberta legislature. Further, the impact of these provisions does not impair the core power of the federal government under s. 91(24). Also, there is no principled basis on which the doctrine of interjurisdictional immunity would have applied only to the impugned sections. Because the membership provisions are integral to the operation and purpose of the legislation, had the doctrine applied, it would have applied to the whole MSA, rendering the MSA entirely inapplicable to Alberta’s Métis population. Consequently, this group would have lost the benefits and protections the MSA affords them. Additionally, it would have would have created a legislative vacuum, as there is no corresponding federal legislation that would fill the void.

Unlike Indians, with whom the Federal Crown made treaties and granted reservations and other benefits, the Métis communities were not given a collective reservation or land base. They also did not enjoy the protection of the Indian Act, or any equivalent. Under the Accord, the Alberta government granted the Métis Settlements General Council fee simple title to the lands now occupied by eight Métis communities and passed legislation, including the MSA to protect Métis rights.

The MSA contains membership eligibility and termination provisions. An Indian registered under the Indian Act is not eligible to apply for membership in the Métis community except in limited circumstances, none of which apply in this case. Further, s. 90(1)(a) provides that if a person voluntarily becomes registered as an Indian under the Indian Act, that person’s Métis settlement membership terminates. There has been an amendment to the MSA in 2004, making the automatic termination provisions of s. 90 subject to a Métis Settlements General Council Policy that “provides otherwise”. However, there has been no alternative provision policy made so far that would alter the automatic termination provisions. As well, at this time, there is no way for the Applicants to withdraw their registration under the Indian Act.

The MSA recognizes and promotes the preservation of the distinct Métis culture and identity apart from other Aboriginal groups. The impugned provisions are necessary to achieve this objective. These sections only act to exclude specific individuals from membership in settlements and its benefits that are established under the MSA. The settlements under the MSA are creatures of provincial statute and were created and operate independently of Parliament’s jurisdiction over Indians under s 91(24). The fact that Métis are now recognized as Indians under s 91(24) does not change this. Membership in these settlements is not determinative of whether or not an individual is Métis and one can still be legally considered Métis under the test developed in R v Powley.

Corporation de développement économique Montagnaise c Robertson, 2017 QCCS 2736

A clear and unequivocal express waiver is necessary in order to waive the protection against seizure of property on reserve under section 89 of the Indian Act.

The issue in this case was whether the property of Mr. Édouard Robertson, who lives on the Mashteuiatsh territory reserve and has status under the Indian Act, could be seized by an Indigenous economic development corporation (Corporation de développement économique Montagnaise or “CDEM”) in spite of section 89 of the Indian Act. In three separate judgments, Mr. Robertson was found to owe CDEM more than $265,000 with interest and costs. He argued that because he has status under the Indian Act, his property cannot be seized by any person other than an Indian or band under the Indian Act. CDEM’s position was that by consenting to a universal movable hypothec on his business property (a form of security similar to a mortgage), Mr. Robertson waived the benefit of his rights under section 89 of the Indian Act.

Justice Bouchard found that the hypothec did not constitute a waiver of Mr. Robertson’s right to protection against seizure under section 89 of the Indian Act. As a result, the property located on the reserve could not be subject to seizure. In reviewing the case law to date, Justice Bouchard, cited a 1995 Sioui decision for the proposition that “tacit” waivers will not suffice in terms of section 89’s protection against seizure. Justice Bouchard did point out that express waivers were possible and section 89 should not be read more broadly than is necessary, particular in cases involving credit matters, as set out by the Supreme Court of Canada in McDiarmid Lumber Ltd v God’s Lake First Nation. Ultimately, however, Justice Bouchard concluded that in the absence of a clear and unequivocal waiver by Mr. Robertson, there could be no seizure. The language in the universal hypothec was not sufficiently clear to constitute a clear waiver and Mr. Robertson’s property could therefore not be seized.

Case Watch for June 2016

 FROM OUR PUBLICATIONS DESK

Case Watch

The following decisions came across our desk over the past month:

R v TJD, 2016 MBCA 67: Leave to appeal was granted by the Manitoba Court of Appeal in the sentencing of a young person under Manitoba’s Youth Criminal Justice Act (YCJA), the appeal was allowed and the sentence was varied. The Crown candidly conceded that various aspects of the sentence were illegal, or that the sentencing judge otherwise erred in principle, including with respect to the judge’s failure to consider relevant Gladue factors in imposing a sentence on this young person, who was of either Métis or Cree ancestry.

Calaheson v Gift Lake Metis Settlement, 2016 ABCA 185: The Alberta Court of Appeal allowed an appeal from part of an order of the Court of Queen’s Bench declaring the Gift Lake Metis Settlement General Election held in October 2013 invalid and vacating the election of three councillors. The appellant challenged the Order’s failure to declare a further position vacant, that of the respondent Dave Lamouche. The Court of Appeal held that this position should have also been vacated in the complex and unique circumstances of the contentious election at issue.

Re Gray, 2016 CanLII 38311 (ON OCCO): The Office of the Chief Coroner for Ontario released a verdict explanation for the inquest into the death of Brian Gray. Mr. Gray died in the custody of police during an armed stand off on Lac Seul First Nation in 2010, making an inquest mandatory. The jury’s recommendations from the inquest included: more funding and training for mental health and addictions services for Lac Seul, a review of the resourcing for the Lac Seul Police Service with a view to increasing police services for Lac Seul, funding for a certified mental health counsellor, additional mental health workers and training for existing workers in Lac Seul, among others.

R v Halkett, 2016 SKPC 65: The Saskatchewan Provincial Court applied Gladue factors in sentencing an Aboriginal man who was found guilty of sexual assault against a cellmate in an RCMP station “drunk tank” to an 18-month conditional sentence followed by a two-year term of probation. The Court noted that in Saskatchewan, where Aboriginal people represent roughly 16% of the population, they account for roughly 77% of the province’s 2014-2015 admissions into adult correctional centres. After reviewing the individual’s Gladue factors, the Court held that the accused would be “apt to find more success in his home community than he would in jail”.

Rice c Agence du revenu du Québec, 2016 QCCA 1077: The Quebec Court of Appeal dismissed a petition for an order to stay the execution of its April 2016 judgment in this matter while the petitioners seek leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada. The petitioners are Mohawks of Kahnawake with status under the Indian Act that reside and carry on business on reserve operating gas stations and retail outlets. They are challenging tax assessments for having failed to charge taxes against their customers, regardless of whether these customers had “Indian” status or not. They have so far been unsuccessful. The Court of Appeal accepted that their arguments for challenging their tax collection and remittance obligations, which are now largely based on the Royal Proclamation of 1763, are serious questions to be tried. However, the petitioners failed to establish serious or irreparable harm in the absence of a stay.

Malcolm v Fort McMurray First Nation, 2016 FC 672: The Federal Court dismissed an application for judicial review of three decisions on applications for membership in the Fort McMurray First Nation. At issue was whether the applicants needed to register for status under the Indian Act before their membership applications could proceed. The Court interpreted Fort McMurray’s Membership Code as requiring confirmation of registration under the Indian Act before the applications could be processed and upheld the Membership Clerk’s decision.

R v Rich, NLTD(G) 87: The Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court allowed an application from the Crown for review of an order granting judicial interim release to Mr. Rich. Among other things, the Supreme Court held that the Provincial Court judge erred in his application of the Supreme Court of Canada’s Gladue and Ipeelee decisions. The Supreme Court found no reference to either decision or the fact that Mr. Rich was Aboriginal in the interim release decision. The Supreme Court found that the court below had incorrectly held that being an Aboriginal person was a factor in favour of judicial interim release without any evidence of the particular Aboriginal background of Mr. Rich. The Court stated that “case-specific information regarding the particular Aboriginal offender” is essential in order to apply Gladue and Ipeelee; they cannot be applied “in a vacuum”.

R v Menicoche, 2016 YKCA 7: The Yukon Court of Appeal allowed an appeal from a sentence of 23 months’ imprisonment for sexual assault. The Court of Appeal held that the sentencing judge failed to give genuine effect to the Aboriginal status of the appellant. It found that the sentencing judge failed to consider any alternative to a lengthy territorial jail term despite being familiar with the appellant’s compelling Gladue factors that were set out in the pre-sentence report. The sentence was reduced by six months.

2403177 Ontario Inc v Bending Lake Iron Group Ltd, 2016 ONCA 485: The Ontario Court of Appeal rejected an application for leave to appeal from an Approval and Vesting Order in relation to the moving party’s receivership. Among other things, the moving party argued that the Court of Appeal judge who made that order failed to consider whether the receiver discharged its obligation to consult with “affected Aboriginal communities” in approving a sale agreement arising from the receivership. This duty to consult argument was rejected on the basis that it should have been fully canvassed earlier in the proceedings.

Sarrazin c Canada (AG), 2016 QCCS 2458: The Quebec Superior Court certified a class action on behalf of a group of approximately 45,000 people who were deprived of status under the Indian Act based on discriminatory provisions. In its 2009 McIvor decision the BC Court of Appeal held that section 6 of the Indian Act infringed upon certain individuals’ right to equality under section 15 of the Charter. As a result of this decision, section 6 of the Indian Act was amended through Bill C-3 in 2010. This class action seeks compensation for the individuals who gained status under Bill C-3 on the basis that they were deprived of various forms of financial support under the Indian Act between 1985 and 2011 that they would have otherwise been entitled to were it not for the discriminatory provisions struck down in McIvor and removed through Bill C-3.

R v Laboucane, 2016 ABCA 176: The Alberta Court of Appeal dismissed a sentencing appeal brought on various grounds, including the ground that the sentencing judge disregarded the 30-page Gladue report provided on Mr. Laboucane, which the sentencing judge found had failed to disclose any meaningful Gladue factors to consider. The Court of Appeal rejected this argument and found that Mr. Laboucane had a “predominately stable and supportive upbringing and background” that did not mitigate his culpability. The Alberta Court of Appeal also went out of its way to criticize the Ontario Court of Appeal’s recent decision in R v Kreko, addressing an Aboriginal offender who was adopted by a non-Aboriginal family, suggesting that it expanded the level of generality in the application of Gladue factors “almost to a level of pure ethnicity”.

R v Chocolate, 2015 NWTSC 28: The Northwest Territories Supreme Court granted judicial interim release to Mr. Chocolate. The Crown in this case argued that Gladue factors are only relevant to the tertiary ground for detention under section 515(10) of the Criminal Code on the basis that Gladue factors are only relevant to questions of sentencing, and do not extend to questions of whether detention is required to ensure the accused attends at trial or whether the public is protected. The Court rejected this argument and found that Gladue factors were relevant to all three grounds for detention.

Robertson v The Queen, 2015 TCC 219: An official English translation of this 2015 decision of the Tax Court of Canada was released this month in which the Tax Court dismissed an appeal from a reassessment. The appellant is a member of the Mashteuiatsh Montagnais Band (Pointe-Bleu) with status under the Indian Act who operates a fur manufacturing and sales business. In disputing an assessment for GST, penalties and interest against his business, Mr. Robertson asserted an Aboriginal right to the fur trade as well as an Aboriginal self-government right in his defence, among other arguments. The Tax Court found that there was no right to engage in the fur trade in the manner that the appellant was engaged in this industry. It recognized the right of the Montagnais to engage in the fur trade but held that this must be limited to the sale of raw furs of trapped animals, noting that raw fur sales were non-taxable. The Tax Court also recognized the Montagnais du Lac Saint-Jean have an Aboriginal right to management of hunting, fishing and trapping territories within their jurisdiction, but held that this right could not give them exclusive authority over taxation of business transactions in their territory “since this would violate Crown sovereignty”. While the Tax Court recognized these Aboriginal rights it held that they were not prima facie violated by the Excise Tax Act.

First Nation of Nacho Nyak Dun v Yukon (SCC file 36779): The First Nation of Nacho Nyak Dun was granted leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada from the Yukon Court of Appeal decision in relation to a dispute over land use planning for the Peel watershed under the terms of modern treaty agreements for the region.

Hughboy v Oujé-Bougoumou Cree Nation, 2016 QCCQ 4544: The Court of Quebec dismissed an application for advance costs in relation to a challenge to the results of a 2015 election for the Oujé-Bougoumou Cree Nation. The Court held that there was prima facie merit to Mr. Hughboy’s case. However, it found there were no special circumstances of public importance in support of making such an exceptional order and that Mr. Hughboy failed to prove that his financial circumstances were such that he could not proceed with his case without such an order being made.

R v McDonald, 2016 NUCA 4: The Nunavut Court of Appeal allowed an appeal from a sentence for Ms. McDonald’s breach of a Conditional Sentence Order (CSO) that resulted in her being sent back to prison. Among other issues, the Court of Appeal held that the sentencing judge had failed to give meaningful consideration to Ms. McDonald’s Gladue factors. The Court held that Gladue factors must be considered in every case involving an Aboriginal offender unless the offender waives this right. The sentencing judge erred in assuming that Gladue factors were adequately addressed into the original CSO and they ought to have been considered afresh at the CSO breach hearing.

Children’s Aid Society of Halton Region v MM, 2016 ONCJ 323: The Ontario Court of Justice released a decision addressing whether three children are “Indian” or “native persons” for the purposes of the Child and Family Services Act. This determination dictates whether the children have access to unique benefits, special treatment and special considerations not otherwise available under the Act. The Court noted that no previous decision in Ontario directly discussed the facts necessary to support a finding that children meet these definitions and therefore set out to provide such an analytical framework, including guiding principles.