Houle v Swan River First Nation, 2020 CanLII 88240 (FC)

The Court ordered that two consolidated applications for judicial review in relation to an election dispute will be treated as an action. The Applicants seek a declaration that the First Nation’s customary election regulations are contrary to section 15 of the Charter and the Defendants plan to bring a defence based on sections 1 and 25 of the Charter, as well as section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982. As the Charter argument is being raised for the first time on judicial review and section 35 rights can only be determined at trial, the matter will proceed as an action. 

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Swan River First Nation [“SRFN”] and the Swan River First Nation Chief and Council [“Respondents”], have brought a motion under the Federal Courts Rules [“Rules”] for an Order pursuant to the Federal Courts Act directing that two consolidated applications for judicial review [“Applications”] be treated and proceeded with as an action.

Shawna Jean and Robert Houle [“Applicants”] in the underlying Applications, are seeking an Order to set aside the decision of the Electoral Officer of the SRFN that refused to accept their nominations as Chief and Councillor of the SRFN respectively in the 2019 General Election. The Applicants had not been residing on the SRFN Reserve for at least one year prior to May 3, 2019 in accordance with section 9.1(a)(2) of the Swan River First Nation Customary Election Regulations [“Election Regulations”]. Additionally, they seek declarations that they are eligible to run as candidates for the position of Chief and Councillor in the 2019 General Election, and that section 9.1(a)(2) of the Election Regulations contravenes section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms [“Charter”]. They contend that the impugned provision discriminates on the basis of Aboriginal residency and is therefore unconstitutional and is of no force or effect.

The Respondents intend to defend the Applications on the basis of sections 1 and 25 of the Charter and s 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982 in accordance with their asserted Aboriginal and Treaty rights. They argue that the procedures of an action are required to have a fair and just determination of the particular Aboriginal and Treaty rights defences being advanced and that the unique nature of these particular Applications is such that the rationales in support of the speedy judicial review process are not applicable.

The Applicants oppose the Respondents’ motion to have the Applications be treated and proceeded with as an action. They argue that the Respondents’ request to convert is premature because the Court has yet to determine whether there is a section 15 Charter violation. The Applicants also dispute the Respondents’ view of the customs, practices, traditions and history of the SRFN. According to the Applicants, the restriction of residency was not a traditional practice of the SRFN or its predecessor, the KEE NOO SHAY OOs’ Band, prior to Treaty No. 8, but rather the result of misinterpretation of Treaty No. 8 by government officials. The Applicants say that the judicial review procedure contains adequate mechanisms for the Respondents to outline their claim to Aboriginal and Treaty rights.

Section 18.4(2) of the Federal Courts Act vests the Court with the discretionary authority to order the conversion of an application for judicial review into an action “if it considers it appropriate” (Canada (AG) v Lafrenière, 2018 FCA 151). This Court has previously found that applications for judicial review that raise issues of proof of Aboriginal rights can only be determined by way of an action (Soowahlie Indian Band v Canada (Attorney General), 2001 CanLII 22168 (FC)). In this matter, the procedures of a judicial review application do not provide sufficient procedural safeguards to ensure fairness to the parties on the Applications, nor do they enable the Court to make a proper determination of the issues of Aboriginal and Treaty rights before the Court in this proceeding, thereby this Court concludes that the Applications shall be treated and proceeded with as an action.

SL (Re), 2020 ABPC 194

The Court rejected a mother’s application for a hearing on the alleged non-compliance of the Director of Children’s Services with An Act Respecting First Nations, Inuit & Metis Children, Youth and Families, SC 2019, c 24 in context to an application for a Temporary Guardianship Order over her five children. She alleged the Director failed to provide notice of the apprehension to her and the Indigenous governing body of her children. The Court found it impossible to ascertain who or what comprises an Indigenous governing body and held there was no factual basis or statutory authority for the application.

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The Director of Children’s Services [“Director”] has applied for a Temporary Guardianship Order [“TGO”] with respect to five siblings. There has been a long-standing history between the family and Children’s Services dating back to 2008. Concerns centered around substance abuse and domestic violence.

In 2020, police responded to the family’s home after being alerted to domestic issues between the parents who had engaged in a night of drinking. Ten days after a safety plan was put in place requiring the parents to remain sober, the police once more attended the home. The parents and one of the adult sons were found to be intoxicated and displayed aggressive behaviour towards the officers who responded to complaints. At the time, all five children were present in the home and were apprehended as there was no sober adult who was able to care for them.

Four days after the apprehension took place, the Director served the Dene Tha band designate with formal notice of its application for an Initial Custody Order, as well as a TGO. To date, no one has appeared on behalf of the band designate. The parents consented to an Order for Initial Custody. Both were represented by counsel at the time. The substantive application for a TGO remains outstanding.

The mother has now asked the Court for a hearing to rule on the Director’s alleged non- compliance with An Act Respecting First Nations, Inuit & Metis Children, Youth and Families, SC 2019, c 24 [“Act”]. Her concern relates to the alleged failure of the Director to provide notice prior to the emergency apprehension of the children.

The Child, Youth and Family Enhancement Act [“CYFEA”] is provincial legislation enacted by the Government of Alberta. While large swaths of the legislation confer power to the Provincial Court in granting certain orders, the Provincial Court does not have exclusive jurisdiction over every aspect of the CYFEA. In the case at bar, the Director’s substantive application seeks temporary guardianship of the children, thereby the Court has jurisdiction over this matter.

The Act is federal legislation which applies to Indigenous children in the care of the Director. The federal legislation does not articulate what remedies, if any, are available when a party is non-compliant with or in breach of the statute. Similarly, the CYFEA does not set out what consequences may arise if the Director fails to provide notification of a child’s apprehension. The CYFEA does permit an individual who is affected by a decision of a director to request a review. If the guardian is dissatisfied with the Director’s review, they may appeal to the Appeal Panel and thereafter to the Court of Queen’s Bench (RP v Alberta (Director of Child Youth and Family Enhancement), 2016 ABQB 306).

It would appear that the mother did, in fact, have notice that the children were to be apprehended as she was present at the time that the police made its decision. The federal legislation does not specify how or in what form the notice should be given. As such, oral notice is sufficient given the circumstances of this case. Any requirement of notice pursuant to s 12 of the Act must always consider the best interests of the children. In instances where law enforcement is required to respond in the middle of the night and finds that children are in harm’s way due to the condition of the parents, the primary principal step taken by peace officers must always be to protect the said children. Such a step is consistent with the children’s best interests.

As well, the Court finds it impossible to ascertain who or what comprises an Indigenous governing body. The children belong to the following Indigenous governing bodies: Dene Tha First Nation in Alberta; Frog Lake First Nation in Alberta; Witchewan Lake First Nation in Saskatchewan; and Onion Lake first Nation in Saskatchewan. The term Indigenous governing body is defined in s 1 of the federal legislation as a council, government or other entity that is authorized to act on behalf of an Indigenous group, community or people that holds rights recognized and affirmed by section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982.

Neither legislation provides any guidance on how determination of a child’s band affiliation is made, which is integral to the Director’s ability to identify which Indigenous governing body or bodies should be contacted. The Act does not address instances where a child has hereditary connections to several bands, nor on the required strength of any hereditary connection. In this case, the Dene Tha band designate has not appeared in Court, nor made any representation despite the provision of notice to it. The mother has not provided any additional information, including which children belong to which bands; the manner of the connection; or whether any of the children belong to more than one band. Jurisprudence on this topic provides limited guidance to the case at bar. If the Indigenous governing body wishes to participate, it would need to satisfy the Court that it is in fact authorized to act on behalf of the group, community or people. The mother has failed to establish any nexus between her rights and those of an Indigenous governing body.

Nunatsiavut Government v Newfoundland and Labrador, 2020 NLSC 129

The Court granted the Nunatsiavut Government declaratory relief in a dispute over the sharing of mineral taxation revenue from mining in Voisey’s Bay, Labrador under a Land Claims Agreement. These declarations clarified the 5% entitlement of the Nunatsiavut Government, that the provincial government should not be deducting certain costs incurred by the developer outside the Labrador Inuit Settlement Area, and that the provincial government breached its fiduciary duty in failing to provide adequate information to the Nunatsiavut Government regarding its negotiations with the developer.  

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The Inuit have been resident in Labrador since time immemorial. Traditionally they pursued hunting, fishing, whaling, sealing and gathering activities. The Inuit still have a heavy reliance on these traditional pursuits. Lithic materials were quarried to make stone implements such as harpoon heads and projectile points for arrows and spears. Soapstone was used for carving domestic items such as lamps and cooking vessels. Today many Inuit artists and craftspeople rely upon the quarrying of lithic materials to create sculptures and carvings.

The Labrador Inuit Association was formed for the purpose of negotiating the Labrador Inuit Land Claims Agreement [“Land Claims Agreement”]. It was ratified by all three levels of government: Canada, the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador and Nunatsiavut. The Land Claims Agreement is recognized as a modern-day treaty and came into force in 2005. The Labrador Inuit Association was replaced by the Nunatsiavut Government, which has the responsibility, on behalf of the Inuit, to implement the Land Claims Agreement. The Land Claims Agreement is a constitutionally protected modern treaty under s 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982. In case of conflict the provisions of the Land Claims Agreement prevail over federal and provincial legislation.

Voisey’s Bay is located in northern Labrador. The area was traditionally used by the Inuit in hunting, fishing and gathering activities. The Inuit’s Aboriginal interest in Voisey’s Bay was substantially affected by the Province declaring that the area was not available for selection by the Inuit once it learned that a world class nickel deposit lay beneath the surface. The Province’s de facto assumption of control over the area, and the successful negotiation of the Land Claims Agreement including a chapter relating to Voisey’s Bay, gave the Province responsibility for the management, calculation and disbursement of the Inuit Revenue share. In doing so, the Province owes the Inuit a duty of loyalty, good faith and full disclosure in the discharge of its obligations.

The Inuit negotiated under the Land Claims Agreement, and were granted, the right to be consulted by Canada and the Province in a number of areas including the Voisey’s Bay chapter. Under section 8.6.2 of the Land Claims Agreement the Province has a specific duty to consult with the Nunatsiavut Government prior to deciding an application for a permit or issuing an order pertaining to the Voisey’s Bay Project or to any other work or activity in the Voisey’s Bay Area. The duty to consult also exists outside the terms of the Land Claims Agreement. As explained by the Supreme Court of Canada, the duty to consult is imposed as a matter of law, irrespective of the parties’ “agreement”. It does not “affect” the agreement itself. It is simply part of the essential legal framework within which the treaty is to be interpreted and performed (Beckman v Little Salmon/Carmacks First Nation, 2010 SCC 53 [“Little Salmon”]).

The historic treaty between the Inuit and Newfoundland and Labrador is not a commercial contract, and should not be interpreted as one (First Nation of Nacho Nyak Dun v Yukon, 2017 SCC 58). It is a nation to nation agreement that deserves to be interpreted in a generous manner. It is an agreement that must be considered having regard to the treaty text as a whole and with a view to the treaty’s objectives.

The objective of modern land claims agreements is to bring about a reconciliation between the competing interests of the affected Aboriginal Peoples and the Crown. The establishment of a positive, long-term relationship is in everyone’s best interests (Little Salmon). To that extent, the terms of the modern treaty must be interpreted in a fashion that is sui generis. The honour of the Crown gives rise to a fiduciary obligation when the Crown assumes discretionary control over a specific or cognizable Aboriginal interest. The Crown’s fiduciary obligations include the fiduciary duties of loyalty, good faith and full disclosure (Williams Lake Indian Band v Canada (AAND), 2018 SCC 4).

Please see the Telegram link for news coverage regarding this case: https://www.thetelegram.com/news/provincial/an-expensive-loss-502108/

West Moberly First Nations v British Columbia, 2020 BCCA 138

Appeal dismissed. There is no reversible error of law or fact demonstrated in the trial judge’s analysis of a long-standing dispute over the western boundary of Treaty 8.

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In 2005, the West Moberly First Nations, Halfway River First Nation, Saulteaux First Nations, Prophet River First Nation and Doig River First Nation [“Respondent FNs”] commenced the underlying litigation and are the respondents on appeal. The interest of the Respondent FNs in obtaining the declaration granted stems from their position that the Treaty gives them hunting, trapping and fishing rights [“harvesting rights”] throughout a tract of land defined in a “metes and bounds clause” of Treaty 8 [“tract”]. However, whether the Treaty gives them such rights throughout that tract was not the subject matter of the litigation at trial.

Between 1871 and 1921, the Dominion of Canada (“Canada”) entered into 11 “numbered treaties” with Indigenous groups throughout the country. This appeal concerns Treaty 8, which was signed on June 21, 1899, at Lesser Slave Lake in the District of Athabasca. What the original signatories to the Treaty meant by the phrase “the central range of the Rocky Mountains” has been a vexing issue for over 100 years. In the underlying litigation, Respondent FNs represent descendants of Indigenous groups who signed adhesion agreements with Canada or individuals who were added to the rolls of the Treaty. The plaintiffs applied for a declaration that the western boundary of the tract described in the Treaty referred to the height of land along the continental divide between the Arctic and Pacific watersheds, approximately 48,000 square miles. The trial judge concluded this clause referred to the Arctic-Pacific Divide, which is located within the Rocky Mountains up until the 54th parallel north, then diverges west.

The dissent stated that no declaration was available in the circumstances of this case or in the alternative, the only declaration available was one stating the relevant provision refers to a watershed of the Rocky Mountains. The dissent views that declarations must affect a legal right and since it is unclear from the text of the Treaty alone that any rights are tied to the provision, and consequently, the declaration should not have been granted.

The majority favoured that the declaration of the trial judge is upheld, and that there was no error in law or fact in his judgement. The requested declaration clarifies legal rights and obligations and the trial judge had discretion to issue it. The Court should not interfere with the conclusions he reached from his vantage point at trial. There is no obligation in the law of declaratory relief to litigate the range of a declaration’s effects. The question is simply whether the declaration will have practical utility.

Regardless of the right or obligation being interpreted, if there is a possibility it could be affected by the location of the western boundary, the parties will be assisted by knowing that boundary. The Treaty 8 First Nations who assert rights within the tract may find the declaration clarifies their ability to protect those rights through the existing Treaty, rather than as s 35 rights stemming from historic use and occupation.

As well, under the majority’s view, the honour of the Crown may give rise to a remedy if this was breached in the setting of the boundary, but it should not change the interpretation of the evidence. There is ambiguity over whether Treaty 8 entitles signatories to hunt, trap, and fish throughout Treaty 8 or whether Treaty 8 only guarantees this right within their traditional territory (i.e. a subset of the Treaty). This again ties back into the effect of Treaty 8 on non-treaty First Nations in BC whose territories are covered by the western boundary accepted at trial. If Treaty 8 only guarantees harvesting rights within the traditional territories of the signatory First Nations then it will have no effect on the First Nations in the Rockies who were never consulted.

 Another legal issue discussed, was the relevance of the Indigenous perspective on treaty versus the trial judge’s heavy emphasis on the Crown’s perspective. All judges on appeal seem to agree that this is important but the majority decision found there to be very little evidence of the Indigenous perspective, hence the trial judge’s emphasis on the Crown’s perspective.

 

Gamlaxyeltexw v BC (Minister of Forests, Lands & Natural Resource Operations), 2020 BCCA 215

Appeal dismissed. The hereditary chiefs of the Gitanyow people are actively pursuing an Aboriginal title and rights claim that includes an area that overlaps with the Nisga’a Final Agreement. The concerns regard the decision of the Minister on the basis of a breach of the duty to consult. The lower court decision added an extra step to the Haida test in cases where there is an overlap between established treaty rights and ones yet unproven. The Court of Appeal rejects the need for any modification of the Haida test.

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The Appellants are hereditary chiefs of the Gitanyow people [collectively as “Gitanyow”]. The Gitanyow have an outstanding claim for s. 35 Aboriginal rights in an area described as the Gitanyow Lax’yip.

The Nisga’a Treaty sets out the s. 35 rights of the Nisga’a. It provides that nothing in the Treaty affects any s. 35 rights for any Aboriginal people other than the Nisga’a Nation. The Nisga’a Treaty established a hunting area known as the Nass Wildlife Area where the Nisga’a have non-exclusive rights to hunt. The Minister of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations [“Minister”], has certain decision-making responsibilities in relation to determining the total allowable harvest in the Nass Wildlife Area and the annual management plan which regulates Nisga’a citizens’ hunting. The nature and scope of the decision-making responsibilities are set out within the Nisga’a Treaty.

The Gitanyow Lax’yip overlaps with the Nass Wildlife Area. As a result, decisions made concerning the Nass Wildlife Area may have the potential for affecting activities within the Gitanyow Lax’yip. In order to protect the rights of Indigenous groups such as the Gitanyow pending claims resolution, the Crown has a duty to consult and, where appropriate, accommodate in circumstances where the Crown has knowledge of the potential existence of an Aboriginal right and contemplates conduct that might adversely affect it. This is known as the Haida test (Haida Nation v British Columbia (Minister of Forests), [2005] 1 CNLR 72).

This appeal concerns two decisions of the Minister made in 2016 approving the total allowable harvest of moose and the annual management plan for the 2016-2017 hunting season in the Nass Wildlife Area. Prior to making these decisions, the Minister had consulted with the Gitanyow concerning the total allowable harvest, but not concerning the annual management plan.

On judicial review, the chambers judge held that the duty to consult was not triggered by the approval of the annual management plan, and that the consultation in relation to the total allowable harvest was adequate. In reviewing these issues, the chambers judge concluded that the Haida test to determine the existence of a duty to consult was not adequate to deal with the circumstance where a conflicting treaty right was at issue. She concluded that the Haida test required modification to preclude a duty to consult an Indigenous group claiming s. 35 rights when the recognition of such a duty would be inconsistent with the Crown’s duties and responsibilities to the Indigenous peoples with whom it has a treaty. It is unnecessary, however, to modify the Haida test in order to recognize the limits of accommodation that treaty rights impose. The Haida test that has been applied consistently over the past 15 years has sufficient flexibility within it to encompass these issues.

Despite the conclusion that the modification of the Haida test was unnecessary, the Court does not consider that the reviewing judge erred in her fundamental approach to the issue before her. The analysis of the chambers judge properly focused on the three-part Haida test, and in particular the third element, which asks whether the proposed Crown conduct has the potential for affecting the claimed right. This is primarily a question of fact, to be reviewed on a deferential basis. Applying the Haida test, the Minister did not err in concluding that the duty to consult was not triggered in relation to the annual management plan. The consultation undertaken by the Minister in relation to the total allowable harvest was adequate in the circumstances.

‘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.

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‘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.

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.

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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.

Neshkiwe v Hare, 2020 ONCJ 42

Motion granted for the M’Chigeeng First Nation to be added as a party to the proceedings in keeping with the best interests of the child. This matter will eventually involve constitutional questions surrounding the children’s custody.

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Following the parent’s separation, an Indigenous mother left Toronto with her two children. Shortly after the father, who is also Indigenous but from a different community than the mother, launched an ex parte motion for temporary custody, that was granted. The ex parte motion ordered the children’s return to Toronto and for police assistance from various police forces to enforce this Court’s order. The mother and M’Chigeeng First Nation [“MFN”] advised the Court they intended to challenge the Court’s jurisdiction to make any orders for custody or access, asserting exclusive jurisdiction of the children.

In the meantime, the Court’s ex parte Order had not been followed. The father initially only served the Order for enforcement on UCCM Anishnaabe Police Service [“UCCM”] and did not serve it on OPP until the term for police enforcement was about to expire. The mother nor the MFN had prepared Notices of Constitutional Questions, while still raising a challenge and taking steps outside the Court consistent with that position. On December 5, the Court directed all Constitutional Question were to be served and filed before December 19 and granted leave to MFN to bring a motion to be added as a party to this proceeding. The enforcement term was stayed on a without prejudice basis.

MFN is asserting exclusive jurisdiction of the children. Both the mother and the MFN have advised the Court that they intend to challenge the Court’s jurisdiction to make any orders for custody or access. They anticipated advancing this claim based on an existing Aboriginal and Treaty right under s 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982. However, neither has been pleaded, nor any Notices of Constitutional Question been served or filed. The mother also took the position that the Court lacked jurisdiction based on the application of an existing By-Law and a Band Council Resolution, both of which had been passed by the MFN, as an alternative legal basis from the anticipated section claims.

Until such arguments could be sorted out, a practical problem unfolded that still exists. The mother indicated to the Court that she would not comply with the Court’s Order. The MFN prohibited the father from coming onto its territory. UCCM refused to enforce the Order, as it had been instructed by the MFN to act in that fashion. The OPP, however, would enforce the Order, but brought the Court’s attention to certain potential negative consequences for the Court to consider. It was suggested to suspend the operation of the police enforcement term until the legal questions are resolved.

The Court has issued another Endorsement containing further directions for the conduct of this case and has asked that a litigation plan be presented. Regarding the police enforcement term, the Court stayed enforcement, which was about to expire anyway, on a without prejudice basis.

The overarching consideration in deciding to add the MFN as a party to the proceedings was in keeping with the best interests of the children. It was not seriously disputed that the First Nation should be added as a party. The s 35 claims have both individual and collective aspects to them. Adding the First Nation to the proceedings was also in the best interests of the children as they have a position to take and to offer evidence surrounding these particular children. Lastly, they have a legal interest. Once that position has been clarified after a full hearing, then they may call into question the Court’s jurisdiction.

Ressources Strateco inc c Procureure générale du Québec, 2020 QCCA 18

Appeal dismissed. The Minister has qualified immunity of the state to make his decision to refuse a certificate of authorization to a mining exploration company’s proposal due to a lack of social acceptability from the Cree community. This decision was not made lightly or in a manner indicative of bad faith or serious recklessness.

Indigenous Law Centre – CaseWatch Blog

Strateco Resources Inc [“Strateco”] is a mining exploration company listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange. In 2005 and 2006, when the price of uranium was on the rise, it acquired 559 mining claims in the Otish Mountains region in Northern Quebec, a region recognized for its uranium potential. The proposed mining area is located 210 km from Mistissini, a Cree community, and 275 km from Chibougamau, on territory covered by the James Bay and Northern Québec Agreement [“Agreement”].

The Agreement is a modern treaty designed to reconcile the rights and interests of Aboriginal peoples and those of non-Aboriginal peoples in Northern Quebec. The rights it grants Aboriginal peoples are referred to in s 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982, whose purpose is “[t]he reconciliation of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Canadians in a mutually respectful long-term relationship”.

After a number of consultations, the Minister refused to issue the certificate of authorization, stating that the proposal had not garnered social acceptability from the Cree community and has therefore not placed sufficient importance on the principles set out in s 152 of the Environment Quality Act [“EQA”].

Following this decision, Strateco filed legal proceedings against the Attorney General of Quebec [“AGQ”], seeking $182,684,575 in damages and $10,000,000 in punitive damages. Essentially, it argued that the Minister was not entitled to base his refusal to issue the certificate of authorization on the lack of social acceptability. It submitted that the Minister’s decision was not only illegal, but was tantamount to a disguised expropriation of its claims. It further argued that the government of Quebec and the Minister had breached their duty of coherence by announcing a moratorium after having encouraged companies to invest in uranium production in connection with the Plan Nord. The matter was dismissed and Strateco has appealed.

This Court is of the opinion that the appeal should be dismissed. While the Minister’s decision to refuse the issuance of the certificate of authorization does not clearly fall within the category of core policy decisions, it enjoys the qualified immunity of the state. Strateco therefore had to show that the Minister acted in bad faith or with serious carelessness or recklessness. It did not make such proof. The Minister was entitled to base his refusal on the lack of social acceptability of the project, without this being likened to a right of veto granted to the Cree. As for the moratorium announced by the Minister and his refusal to issue the certificate, they do not constitute a disguised expropriation of Strateco’s claims nor a breach of the duty of coherence.

Social acceptability is directly related to the perceived threat that a project may pose to the life or quality of life of a milieu. This perception depends on a multitude of factors, such that the social acceptability of a project, or in other words, its acceptance, does not necessarily correlate to its environmental and social effects. It follows that the Minister was entitled to base his refusal to issue the certificate of authorization on the lack of social acceptability. By giving decisive weight to this factor, he did not stray so far from the principles that ought to guide the exercise of his discretionary power that absence of good faith can be deduced and bad faith presumed. The Minister did not make his decision lightly or in a manner indicative of bad faith or serious recklessness.

Strateco knew from the outset the risk it ran in undertaking its uranium exploration project. It was fully aware that, ultimately, the Minister could either agree or refuse to issue the certificate of authorization. The evidence reveals that all the steps leading to the Minister’s decision were followed. In refusing to issue the certificate of authorization, the Minister merely exercised the right provided for in the EQA. There was no appropriation or stripping of Strateco’s claims. Moreover, Strateco was not dispossessed of the claims. Neither the announcement of a moratorium nor the Minister’s refusal to issue the certificate can be considered an absolute denial of its right of ownership.

Indeed, the evidence shows that uranium is a unique substance that gives rise to many concerns on the part of the public. There is an importance of properly informing the local populations in order to anticipate the factors that could foster the acceptability of the project for these populations. Strateco had fully grasped the fact that social acceptability was at the heart of the project’s feasibility. Strateco has failed to demonstrate that the judge committed a palpable and overriding error. Even if the Court were to find that the government did not expressly indicate to Strateco that social acceptability was a material element for the project’s authorization, the evidence reveals that Strateco had sufficient elements to draw that conclusion itself.

Yahey v British Columbia, 2020 BCSC 278

Application granted. Blueberry River First Nations is not subject to paying the hearing fees regime in this trial. The Court grants a declaration that Item 10 of Schedule 1 in Appendix C of the Supreme Court Civil Rules is of no force and effect insofar as it requires Indigenous peoples who are seeking to uphold or protect their s 35(1) Aboriginal and/or treaty rights from alleged infringements, and who are required to do so through a trial, to pay daily hearing fees to the Crown as the defendant in any such action. If this Court is wrong in reading down the hearing fee provision in the way set out above, then it would exercise its discretion contained in Item 10 of Schedule 1 in Appendix C to order the Crown to pay the hearing fees in this action.

Indigenous Law Centre – CaseWatch Blog

This application arises in the context of an action brought by the Blueberry River First Nations [“Blueberry”] against Her Majesty the Queen in Right of the Province of British Columbia [“Crown”] alleging infringements of their rights under Treaty 8. It addresses the cumulative impacts of a variety of Crown authorized activities occurring in their traditional territory. In this application, Blueberry seeks to be relieved from paying the daily hearing fees prescribed by the Supreme Court Civil Rules [“Rules”] and set out in Appendix C, Schedule 1, at Item 10 for the duration of the trial of the underlying action.

The underlying trial is currently set for 160 days. For Blueberry, that means paying over $120,000 in hearing fees to the Crown. Rule 20-5(1) provides for a waiver of fees in certain circumstances. Blueberry seeks an order under Appendix C, Schedule 1, Item 10 of the Rules that the Crown defendant pay the daily hearing fees; or, in the alternative, a constitutional exemption from paying the hearing fees based on s 35(1) of the Constitution Act, 1982; or, if necessary, a declaration that the hearing fees are constitutionally inapplicable under s 52(1) of the Constitution Act, 1982 to the extent they are inconsistent with s 35(1). They do not seek a waiver of fees based on undue hardship under Rule 20-5(1).

The Crown, as the defendant in this s 35(1) treaty rights claim, cannot charge the plaintiff First Nations substantial fees for access to the court to seek to enforce the Crown’s own treaty obligations. This, Blueberry argues, is inconsistent with the honour of the Crown and the Crown’s duties under s 35(1) to promote reconciliation.

Reconciliation takes place both inside and outside the courtroom. While consultation and negotiation are the primary methods of reconciliation, courts also have a role to play. The parties will not always be able to resolve the issues, and courts will be called on to determine rights and the attaching obligations. In the Aboriginal context, when considering statutes or rules that may bar, prevent or impede Indigenous peoples’ ability to pursue their claims, reconciliation must weigh heavily in the balance (Manitoba Métis Federation Inc v Canada (AG), [2013] 2 CNLR 281).

None of the cases relied on by the Crown dealt with s 35(1) in the context of hearing fees, or considered the impacts on Crown-Indigenous relations, the honour of the Crown, or reconciliation more broadly from charging such fees. This is the first case to consider the constitutionality of hearing fees from that perspective.

This Court does not agree with the Crown’s argument that recognizing the uniqueness of s 35(1) rights, and relieving litigants who seek to advance these rights of the obligation to pay hearing fees, would somehow be establishing a preferential system of access to justice. The charge of a substantial fee, which ultimately is for the Crown’s own benefit, to access the court to seek to uphold a constitutionally protected treaty right is antithetical to the purpose of s 35(1), the principle of honour of the Crown, and the objective of reconciliation. The fee creates an additional obstacle for Indigenous litigants whose claims often require long trials. It is apparent that requiring litigants who are pursuing cases dealing with s 35(1) to pay a hearing fee is in effect an advance that is paid by Indigenous peoples.

The requirement to pay daily hearing fees creates inequality in litigation in these circumstances and is inconsistent with the shared responsibility for reconciliation which is the overarching objective of s 35(1). The fees create unfairness, imposes financial obstacles to litigation (which can become significant in long trials), and reinforces the idea that the promise in s 35 still comes with strings attached. The Court can draw a legitimate distinction for Indigenous peoples in these circumstances based on the Crown’s unique obligation to Aboriginal people, and the unique status of Aboriginal and treaty rights in the Constitution Act, 1982.