Friday, April 18, 2014
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Ottawa to appeal First Nations ruling

PAUL McLEOD

Ottawa Bureau

The Chronicle Herald

Maritime First Nations celebrated last month after winning a Federal Court case against Ottawa, but now the government is appealing the ruling.

The Federal Court ruled against a government decision to lower social assistance payments on reserves.

Justice Andre Scott found Ottawa did not follow due process because it did not seek any input from First Nations before making the decision.

It turns out the celebration was short-lived. Last Wednesday, Ottawa filed notice that it will appeal the ruling to the Federal Court of Appeal.

The government argues that Scott did not have the authority to overturn the decision by Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada.

Ottawa also argues that Scott erred in determining that the aboriginal affairs minister owed a duty of procedural fairness to the First Nations and breached that duty.

First Nations aren’t happy about the appeal, but they’re hardly surprised.

“I was ecstatic when we won the case, but I knew it was going to go to an appeal,” said Chief Rufus Copage of the Shubenacadie band at Indian Brook.

“I think everybody knew it was going to be appealed eventually.”

Bands approached the government to try to work out a deal after the initial ruling.

But Ottawa wasn’t willing to discuss a new agreement, according to Burchells LLP lawyer Naiomi Metallic, who is representing the bands.

Metallic, of Halifax, expects the case to reach the Federal Court of Appeal next summer.

Ottawa wanted to tie rates for reserve social assistance, which it pays for, to the rates of the provinces. But 26 Maritime First Nations objected and combined to launch a court challenge.

Under the government’s changes, a person living on a reserve with two children would have seen their social assistance fall almost 40 per cent to $849 per month from $1,379, according to evidence the First Nations presented.

Bands argued this change was an unconstitutional abuse of ministerial discretion.

Ottawa had argued the courts had no right to intervene in a policy decision, and the aboriginal affairs minister at the time, John Duncan, had the right to decide how much federal money would be spent through these social assistance programs.

But Scott ruled the bands were “owed more procedural fairness” and struck down the policy.  

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