Supreme Court

Constitutional Law

Status of Crown


Canada could be held responsible for band’s pre-Confederation claim

In early days of colony, of British Columbia, settlers displaced WL Indian Band (“band”) from site of its village and surrounding lands (“village lands”). When British Columbia joined Confederation in 1871, under Terms of Union, Canada assumed responsibility for creation of Indian reserves according. In 1881, alternate lands were allotted to band. Parliament established Specific Claims Tribunal (“Tribunal”) through Specific Claims Tribunal Act (“Act”). First Nation may claim for compensation for its losses under s. 14(1)(b) for breach of legal obligation of Crown under Indian Act or any other legislation “pertaining to Indians or lands reserved for Indians” or under s. 14(1)(c) for breach of legal obligation arising from provision or non-provision of reserve lands.. Band brought claim. Tribunal concluded that Imperial Crown breached legal obligation to band based on s. 14(1)(b) of Act and that Crown in right of Canada (“Canada”) had breached fiduciary obligation based on s. 14(1)(c). Tribunal further found that Canada could be held responsible under Act for band’s pre-Confederation claim. Canada applied for judicial review. Federal Court of Appeal allowed Canada’s application and substituted its own decision dismissing band’s specific claim. B appealed. Appeal allowed. AlthoughTribunal was aware that sources and limits of Crown discretion varied before and after Confederation, it found that the obligation that arose from fiduciary relationship when Colony assumed discretionary control over village lands fell within s. 14(2). In face of statutory definition of “Crown” developed in collaboration with First Nations, it was reasonable for Tribunal to adopt view of circumstances in which fiduciary obligation may be said to have “become” Canada’s responsibility for purposes of s. 14(2) that reflected continuity of fiduciary relationship between Indigenous peoples and “Crown”.

Williams Lake Indian Band v. Canada (Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development) (2018), 2018 CarswellNat 158, 2018 CarswellNat 159, 2018 SCC 4, 2018 CSC 4, McLachlin C.J.C., Abella J., Moldaver J., Karakatsanis J., Wagner J., Gascon J., Côté J., Brown J., and Rowe J. (S.C.C.); reversed (2016), 2016 CarswellNat 10104, 2016 CarswellNat 493, 2016 FCA 63, 2016 CAF 63, Johanne Gauthier J.A., C. Michael Ryer J.A., and David G. Near J.A. (F.C.A.).

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