May 16, 2016
Posted in: Uncategorized
By James Oloo
Seventeen years ago, Harry Daniels, Leah Gardner, Terry Joudrey, and Congress of Aboriginal Peoples went to court to seek three declarations in a case that has been commonly referred to as Daniels v. Canada. The declarations included: (1) that Métis and non-status Indians are “Indians” under s. 91(24) of the Constitution Act, 1867; (2) that the Government of Canada owes a fiduciary duty to Métis and non-status Indians; and (3) that Métis and non-status Indians have the right to be consulted and negotiated with.
On April 14, 2016, the Supreme Court of Canada announced its decision. Regarding declaration (1), the Court ruled that Métis and non-status Indians are “Indians” under s. 91(24) “by virtue of the fact that they are all Aboriginal peoples.” The court pointed out that ‘“Indians’ has long been used as a general term referring to all Indigenous peoples, including mixed-ancestry communities like the Métis.” The Supreme Court noted that its decision that Métis and non-status Indians are “Indians” “has the undeniably salutary benefit of ending a jurisdictional tug-of-war” which has rendered Métis and non-status Indians “in a jurisdictional wasteland with significant and obvious disadvantaging consequences.”
The Supreme Court upheld the previous decision by the Federal Court of Appeal not to grant the second and third declarations because the two declarations are already established in case law.
The Supreme Court decision on Daniels v. Canada is regarded as a win, not just for the plaintiffs, but also for the Métis and non-status Indians. Many people across the country have joined the Métis in celebrating the victory. Below is a brief timeline of the Daniels v. Canada case.
1999: Harry Daniels, Leah Gardner, Terry Joudrey, and the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples file suit against the Government of Canada for the court to determine which level of government, federal or provincial, has jurisdiction over Métis and non-status Indians.
2004: Harry Daniels, a former president of the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples, dies before the conclusion of the case.
2005: Harry Daniel’s son, Gabriel Daniels, is added as a party to the case.
2013: Federal Court Justice Michael Phelan rules that Métis and non-status Indians are “Indians” under the Constitution Act, 1867. The decision is a partial victory to the plaintiffs in the Daniels v. Canada and is hailed by many Canadians including Métis and non-status Indians. Justice Phelan, however, declines to rule that the Government of Canada owes a fiduciary responsibility to Métis and non-status Indians as Indigenous peoples; or that the Métis and non-status Indians have a right to be consulted by the federal government on their rights as Indigenous Canadians. Broadly defined, a fiduciary responsibility is a legal duty to act solely in another party’s interests. Government of Canada appeals Justice Michael Phelan’s decision.
2014: The Federal Court of Appeal upholds that portion of Justice Phelan’s decision which held that the Métis were included in s. 91(24). However, the Court of Appeal rejected the reference to non-status Indians in Justice Phelan’s ruling. Further, the court declines to find the fiduciary responsibility or a right to consultation. The Congress of Aboriginal Peoples appealed the decision. The Government of Canada cross-appealed the Federal Court of Appeal ruling.
2016: The Supreme Court of Canada rules, in a unanimous 9-0 decision, that Métis and non-status Indians are “Indians” under s. 91(24) of the Constitution Act, 1867, and that the Government of Canada’s fiduciary responsibility to Métis and non-status Indians is well established under existing law.
Thus, after 17 years of legal battle, the Métis and non-status Indians have won what is rightly theirs. Harry Daniels is not around to celebrate, but he is fondly remembered for his efforts to improve the wellbeing of the Métis. A story of the Daniels v. Canada case appeared on the February 2013 Communicator (please click this link). Read the full Supreme Court of Canada decision on Daniels v. Canada here.