A Summary of the Attorney General of Canada’s Directive on Civil Litigation Involving Indigenous Peoples

This document provides a summary of the Attorney General of Canada’s Directive on Civil Litigation Involving Indigenous Peoples (the Directive).

The Directive was written by Jody Wilson-Raybould, the former Attorney General of Canada, in response to her mandate letter from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. It outlines a series of litigation guidelines instructing Crown counsel as to how the Principles Respecting the Government of Canada’s Relationship with Indigenous Peoples (the Principles) must be applied in civil litigation involving Indigenous peoples.

The former Attorney General articulates that the guidelines are intended to reflect a significant shift in Crown-Indigenous relations. In particular, the Directive recognizes the limited ability of litigation to achieve the sort of reconciliation and renewal required in Crown-Indigenous relationships. The former Attorney General recognized that Indigenous peoples are entitled to select their own forum to resolve legal issues while also reiterating that where litigation is important, the guidelines should direct the Government’s positions and strategies.

The former Attorney General went on to outline that the Directive applies to section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982, which entrenches Aboriginal and Treaty rights, as well as other Crown obligations towards Indigenous peoples. It is intended to animate the advice provided by departments and Cabinet towards the goal of reconciliation with Indigenous peoples, which is the fundamental purpose of section 35 of the Constitution. Importantly, the Directive indicates that the honour of the Crown is reflected not just in the substance of positions taken by the Crown in litigation, but also in how those positions are expressed. This broader goal is grounded in four main objectives: (1) advancing reconciliation; (2) recognizing rights; (3) upholding the honour of the Crown; and (4) respecting and advancing Indigenous self-determination and self-governance.

The Litigation Guidelines are as follows:

Litigation Guideline #1 – Counsel must understand the Principles and apply them throughout a file’s lifespan.

Counsel must seek to understand and apply Indigenous perspectives, recognizing the diversity of Indigenous perspectives and the rights underlying these varied relationships.

Litigation Guideline #2 – Litigation strategy must reflect a whole-of-government approach.

Principle 3 requires the Government to act with honour, integrity, good faith and fairness in all dealings with Indigenous peoples. To this end, counsel must endeavour to engage in discussions between Indigenous peoples and the departments and agencies about the way in which litigation might affect their relationship. This guideline calls for litigation strategies that are firmly rooted in the policies of the Crown and advocates awareness of government-wide implications of judicial decisions or settlements. This will necessitate broad consultation from government actors.

Litigation Guideline #3 – Early and continuous engagement with legal services counsel and client departments is necessary to seek to avoid litigation.

In order for conflict and litigation to become the exception and not the rule, counsel must engage with client departments and agencies as soon as they become aware of a conflict that may result in litigation, and endeavour to develop coordinated approaches that aim to resolve disputes without litigation.

Litigation Guideline #4: Counsel should vigorously pursue all appropriate forms of resolution throughout the litigation process.

The primary goal of counsel must be to resolve issues, using the court process as a forum of last resort. Forms of resolution such as alternative dispute resolution processes (such as negotiations and mediations) must be considered including the invocation of Indigenous legal traditions or other traditional Indigenous approaches. Consideration must also be given to creative solutions with other department counsel and other government departments or agencies.

Litigation Guideline #5: Recognizing Aboriginal rights advances reconciliation.

This guideline recognizes that the Principles necessitate a change in the interpretation and governing of Aboriginal rights. It specifically points to Principles 1 and 2, which call on the Government of Canada to ensure its dealing with Indigenous peoples are based on the recognition and implementation of the right to self-determination and state that reconciliation requires hard work, changes in perspectives and action, compromise, and good faith. It also specifically points to the need to recognize Aboriginal rights, including Aboriginal title, wherever these can be recognized. Litigation counsel is advised to avoid taking positions or adding parties to litigation that undermine the ability of Indigenous groups to resolve disputes amongst themselves.

Litigation Guideline #6: Positions must be thoroughly vetted, and counsel should not advise client departments and agencies to pursue weak legal positions.

Counsel should resolve differences of opinion on available arguments and the strength of legal positions through discussion. Where discussion fails, consultation and approval must be done in an appropriate manner.

Litigation Guideline #7: Counsel must seek to simplify and expedite the litigation as much as possible.

Counsel must ensure that litigation is dealt with promptly and consider resource imbalances between parties.

Litigation Guideline #8: All communication and submissions must be regarded as an important tool for pursuing reconciliation.

This guideline emphasizes the role of written and oral submissions as an instrument of communication between the parties, the Attorney General, Indigenous peoples, the judicial system and the public. In these pleadings, efforts must be made to advance reconciliation through the application of the Principles.

Litigation Guideline #9: Counsel must use respectful and clear language in their written work.

The Attorney General is expected to be a model litigant, upholding the expectation and maintaining high standards of civility and advocacy in their communication with the courts, Indigenous peoples or their counsel.

Litigation Guideline #10: Legal terminology must be consistent with constitutional and statutory language.

Counsel should abide by the specific terms used in the Constitution, by Parliament, and by the legislatures relating to Indigenous peoples, including the term Aboriginal as defined by section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982, the term “Indian” as it appears in subsection 91(24) of the Constitution Act, 1867, and the term First Nation in reference to the First Nations Land Management Act, S.C.

Litigation Guideline #11: Overviews must be used to concisely state Canada’s position and narrow the issues.

An overview of Canada’s position, whether in pleadings or in factums, is an important communicative tool. The overview must be used to plainly explain Canada’s position, outlining what is and what is not an issue.

Litigation Guideline #12: To narrow the scope of litigation, admissions ought to be made, where possible.

Admissions of facts that support claims of historical harm should be acknowledged, with approval from the client and Assistant Deputy Attorney General. In pleadings, facts that are known to support the statements in the Indigenous party’s pleading and that may advance reconciliation should be explicitly stated and not just admitted where appropriate. For example, instead of only listing those paragraphs with such facts in a generic statement of admission, counsel should affirmatively plead those facts:

In response to paragraph x of the statement of claim, since at least the date of contact, the plaintiffs and their ancestors have lived at various sites in the vicinity of the identified area.

Litigation Guideline #13: Denials must be reviewed throughout the litigation process.

Denials made at early stages of litigation, when the facts may be unknown and when it would be imprudent to admit too much, must be withdrawn if and when it becomes clear that such denials are inconsistent with the available evidence.

Litigation Guideline #14: Limitations and equitable defences should be pleaded only where there is a principled basis and evidence to support the defence.

Long-standing federal positions such as extinguishment, surrender and abandonment are discouraged by the Principles. These defences should only be pleaded where there is a principled basis and evidence to support to the defence. Moreover, where litigation has been long delayed, defences such as laches and acquiescence are preferable to limitation defences.

Litigation Guideline #15: A large and liberal approach should be taken to the question of who is the proper rights holder.

This guideline speaks to the right of Indigenous peoples and nations to define for themselves who the rights-bearing collective is. Canada should not object to the entitlement of a group to bring litigation when rights are asserted on behalf of larger entities where no conflicting interests exist.

Litigation Guideline #16: Where litigation involves Federal and Provincial jurisdiction, counsel should seek to ensure that the litigation focuses as much as possible on the substance of the complaint.

Litigation Guideline #17: Oral history evidence should be a matter of weight, not admissibility.

Litigation Guideline #18: Decisions on judicial reviews and appeals should be subject to full consultation within government and be limited to important questions.

Litigation Guideline #19: Intervention should be used to pursue important questions of principle.

This guideline indicates that intervention requires consideration of whether the Attorney General’s intervention can assist the course through the provision of legal or constitutional perspective not addressed by the parties to the dispute.

Litigation Guideline #20: All files must be reviewed to determine what lessons can be learned about how the Principles can best be applied in litigation.

The final guideline suggests a review process that will enable counsel and the client department to learn from each litigation case by reflecting on how similar litigation cases can be avoided in the future.

For more information on the Principles see: Principles respecting the Government of Canada’s relationship with Indigenous Peoples.

For more information on the Directive see: The Attorney General of Canada’s Directive on Civil Litigation Involving Indigenous Peoples.

Editor’s Note: Professor Larry Chartrand of the University of Ottawa and former Director of the Wiyasiwewin Mikiwahp Native Law Centre, contributed his thoughts and expertise that assisted the improvement of the Directive.

R v Anugaa, 2018 NUCJ 2

Wiyasiwewin Mikiwahp Native Law Centre Case Watch

The unique cultural context and circumstances of Nunavut amount to a third category of exceptional circumstances with respect to the application of R v Jordan and its presumptive ceilings for trial delay.

This case involved two allegations of indictable historic sexual assault alleged to have happened in Sanikiluaq between May 2, 1977 and May 2, 1978. The accused, Lukasie Anugaa, was charged on July 8, 2013. Mr. Anugaa elected to be tried by a judge and jury. However, it turned into a case about pre-trial delay, in which five different jury trial dates were scheduled. Mr. Anugaa’s fifth and latest trial was scheduled to start on January 15, 2018. Over 54 months passed between the day Mr. Anugaa was charged and the anticipated end of his trial. Mr. Anugaa made a pre-trial application to the Court based on section 11(b) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Supreme Court of Canada decision’s in R v Jordan, arguing that his right to a trial within a reasonable time had been violated. Mr. Anugaa sought a stay of proceedings on this basis, which would have brought the case to an end. The Crown opposed the stay.

The Nunavut Court of Justice decided that the delay in the circumstances of this case had been reasonable. In 2016, the Supreme Court revisited its previous interpretation of section 11(b) of the Charter in Jordan. The Supreme Court set out presumptive ceilings in terms of the amount of time that would generally amount to an unreasonable delay between the issuance of charges and a criminal trial. The Supreme Court also discussed exceptional circumstances to the strict application of these presumptive ceilings. Two examples of exceptional circumstances listed in Jordan are “discrete events” and cases that are “particularly complex”. The delay caused by “discrete events” can be deducted from the remaining net delay. Where the case is particularly complex, no deductions are needed and the Court will instead consider if the complexity justifies the time spent on the case.

Central to the Nunavut Court of Justice’s analysis was the statement in Jordan that the list of exceptional circumstances is not closed. There are exceptional circumstances that surround access to justice in Nunavut as it sprawls over Canada’s vast northern landmass. Just to name a few, 38,000 people live in 25 remote communities scattered over Nunavut’s 2,093,190 square kilometres. There is only one courthouse, the Nunavut Court of Justice, located in Iqaluit. Outside Iqaluit, the Court travels regularly to each one of the other 24 far flung communities and the distances between them are immense. The circuit sits in school gyms, community halls and even council chambers. Many of the community halls lack functioning washrooms and heating systems fail leaving court participants to conduct court in their winter parkas and mittens. The harsh arctic climate is unforgiving, therefore flights are delayed or cancelled as blizzards are a regular occurrence. The cancellation of a court circuit has an impact out of proportion to a similar cancellation in the south as it means the possibility of no court in the community for an entire year, unless a jury trial has been scheduled. Jordan does not account for the impact of Nunavut’s tremendous infrastructure deficit, as the taxpayer money available to the Government of Nunavut is woefully inadequate. This level of service will continue despite the new Jordan rules.

In the Court’s view, Jordan is also problematic as it does not consider the unique cultural context in Nunavut. There is central importance of Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit. Nunavut’s communities are small and very closely knit. The Court stands down for burials and funerals and sentencing hearings are delayed in order to permit offenders to participate in seasonal hunts. The Court avoids scheduling jury trials during the extremely short arctic summers because it is a time when many Nunavummiut return to the land. This seasonal reality cannot be overstated and will continue in the future. Jordan only enumerates two subcategories which permit delay: exceptional discrete circumstances and exceptional case complexity.

In Mr. Anugaa’s case, the Court felt that the above was not enough to be described as “discrete events” as contemplated by Jordan. Rather, the way these events were dealt with reflected the very ethos of the approach of the delivery of justice in Nunavut. To apply Jordan justly in Nunavut, the Court held that there must be a third subcategory of exceptional circumstances which reflects the territory’s unique cultural context. The Court took the position that Jordan did not account for the need to respect and incorporate Inuit culture and experiences into the delivery of justice to Nunavummiut. The delivery of justice in Nunavut poses unique and unavoidable challenges in circumstances found nowhere else in Canada. Therefore, Mr. Anugaa’s application for a stay was rejected and the case was ordered to proceed to trial.

The parties were also at odds over where another trial should be held if the stay was not granted. The Crown brought an application to move the jury trial to a different community. It was argued that every eligible adult in Sanikiluaq had already likely been summonsed at least once to serve on the jury and fair trial interests required a change in venue, due to Mr. Anugaa being notorious in the community. The Court accepted that it was necessary to hold the trial in a different community in the unique circumstances of the case, as Mr. Anugaa is entitled to a jury of his peers but not entitled to a jury of his neighbours.

Alberta (Child, Youth and Family Enhancement Act, Director) v JR, 2018 ABPC 258

United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Calls to Action, and Gladue principles inapplicable to child protection matter.

JR and AL are the parents of seven children ranging in age from nine months to nine years. Both parents have been diagnosed with cognitive and intellectual disabilities. Throughout their time spent together and apart, JR and AL suffered from multiple addictions, which aggravated domestic violence issues between them. All seven children have spent considerable time in state care due to the domestic violence and addictions suffered by their parents. The youngest children even tested positive for methamphetamines post-birth. The oldest children display severe behavioural issues and are likely to struggle in future years, thereby needing a stable and safe environment.

The applicant, Kasohkowew Child Wellness Society (KCWS), exists pursuant to a tripartite agreement between the Province of Alberta, the Government of Canada and the Samson Cree Nation. KCWS brought an application under the Child Youth and Family Enhancement Act RSA 2000 c C-12 (CYFEA), for a permanent guardianship order for all seven children and this was ultimately granted by the Court. Counsel for AL opposed the application, making submissions in favour of less invasive action based on the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) Calls to Action, and the principles set out in R v Gladue, [1999] 1 SCR 688.

With respect to UNDRIP, counsel for AL pointed to Article 7.2, which states “Indigenous individuals have the collective right to live in freedom, peace and security as distinct peoples and shall not be subjected to any act of genocide or any other act of violence including forcibly removing children of the group to another group (emphasis added)”. In response, the Court pointed out that KCWS is a delegated First Nations authority established under a tripartite agreement to provide child, youth and family services to Samson Cree Nation. The Court found it difficult to assume that such an authority would be at all involved in discriminating against its own people. Instead, the Court assumed that the director would only remove children and place them with non-Aboriginal foster parents as a last resort, and that the director found it in the best interests of the children to do so. The Court held that UNDRIP is aspirational and does not trump the best interests or physical and mental safety of the child.

Counsel for AL quotes several TRC Calls to Action that relate to reducing the number of Aboriginal children in care. She pointed out that some of the child welfare workers directly involved with the family were not Cree or even Aboriginal. However, the TRC Calls to Action she quoted only calls for child welfare workers to be properly educated and trained in the history and subsequent impacts of the residential school system, and about the potential for Aboriginal communities and families to provide more appropriate solutions to family healing. The TRC did not say that all child welfare workers must be Aboriginal.

As for the potential applicability of R v Gladue, submissions of this type are usually in the context of criminal law cases, not child protection matters. The Court noted that the purpose of the CYFEA is not to punish parents, but to protect children and achieve what is in their best interests. In this case that would be stable, permanent and nurturing relationships and continuity of care for all seven children. As far as the negative impacts regarding the transmission of Cree culture, steps had been taken to keep the children together as much as possible. It was necessary to have the two youngest children placed in a group home, but the older five children are all together in one foster home. In terms of the preservation of the uniqueness of the children’s Aboriginal culture, heritage, spirituality and traditions, the Court was convinced that all appropriate steps were taken by KCWS to ensure these needs are met for the children.

National Aboriginal Day Celebrations

 BY CHRISTINA GRAY

Photo Credit: Lynda Gray, Ts'msyen Author of First Nations 101.

Photo Credit: Lynda Gray, Ts’msyen author of First Nations 101.

This June 21st, 2016 is significant as it marks 20 years since National Aboriginal Day was instituted as a national holiday in Canada. This is the one day specifically for Aboriginal people (and non-Aboriginal) across Canada to come together and celebrate, share meals, stories, music, and partake in cultural activities ranging from salmon feasts, canoeing to listening to throat singing.

Aside from being National Aboriginal Day, June 21st is also the summer solstice. It’s the longest day of the year and the shortest night of the year. This year we were fortunate enough to see the Strawberry Moon where the moon shone bright pink. It’s naturally a day to spend time in the warmth of the sunshine and celebrate the earth’s rotation in bringing us a renewed wealth of life.

People from all walks of life on June 21st come together to recognize our diverse cultures. In cities it can often feel stifling or invisible to be an Aboriginal person with distinct legal traditions, culture, history, and a distinct past. One that includes a lot of cultural and legal strengths, but that is often fraught with continued difficulties.

This last year the Truth and Reconciliation Commission formally closed in Ottawa with the release of their Final Report and Calls to Action. The closing of the TRC ended their 5-year mandate as part of the “truth telling and reconciliation process” in response to the Indian Residential School legacy.

At the TRC closing there was a lot of good energy shared between people. There was a walk for reconciliation, workshops, musical performances, art exhibits, and informal drumming and dancing that happened in the streets and hotel foyers. That energy will never be forgotten and neither will the residential schools’ dark legacy. This day is part of recognizing the truth-telling that happened through the TRC.

On my way home, I had a conversation with my mom about the good energy that I felt from attending the closing ceremonies. I left Ottawa with a renewed sense of who I am as an Aboriginal person living in a big city. I had time to reflect and find strength from being with survivors and allies. Attending the TRC was truly an internal and external reconciliation with Canada’s residential school legacy.

On June 22nd, there will another opportunity to build relationships, reconcile, and celebrate who we are as Aboriginal people in Canada. Over 300 school children, Aboriginal people, and community members will be doing just that at the Walk for Reconciliation at Saskatoon’s Victoria Park at 10am. This walk is to commemorate the one year that has passed since the TRC’s closing and for people to “rock your roots”. Let’s continue that good energy that was felt at the TRC’s closing and be proud of our distinct heritage, be it Mayan from Oaxaca, Dene, or Cree!

About the Author: Christina Gray is legally trained and works in Publications at the University of Saskatchewan’s College of Law, Native Law Centre of Canada. A first people of the Ts’msyen of Lax Kw’alaams, Dene from Lutsel K’e, and Red River Metis.