Will mandate compensation, consultation, Chartrand says
By: Alexandra Paul
Winnipeg Free Press
Manitoba's first practical application of the Federal Court of Appeal's ruling that recognized Métis as Indians will play out through Manitoba Hydro's Bipole III transmission corridor.
Manitoba's Métis leader David Chartrand said minutes after the court ruling Thursday he believes the court recognized the Métis have a right to be consulted and compensated for the loss of their use of traditional lands on the proposed route for Bipole III.
In asserting the court decision allows him to argue the Métis have a right to be consulted on the use of Crown lands and resources, Chartrand said the 60-square-kilometre corridor for Bipole III includes land traditionally used by the Métis for berry-picking, natural medicine, woodcutting, trapping and hunting.
"All of that area, all of this is affected forever," he said. The Métis are entitled to be compensated, "even if it means new blueberry patches somewhere else, or land for hunting," Chartrand said.
A spokesman for Hydro Minister Stan Struthers said Métis people were consulted, under Section 35 of the Constitution Act, about Bipole III.
More than 50 communities, including First Nations, along the proposed line's route were involved in the consultation process, and almost 3,000 individual contacts were made through phone calls, meetings, letters and emails between August 2010 and August 2013, Struthers's aide said.
The Clean Environment Commission's report on Bipole III last June said while it is true the Métis and the Manitoba Metis Federation were consulted, Manitoba Hydro had to do a better job of consulting with First Nations and Métis peoples.
"This will help to ensure that the corporation can work effectively with, and listen to, members of Manitoba's First Nations and Métis communities," the report concluded.
Late this week, the Federal Court of Appeal upheld a landmark court ruling from last year that recognized Métis as Indians under Canada's Constitution.
The ruling means Métis are a distinct aboriginal group that fall under federal jurisdiction, not provincial.
"The court declares that the Métis are included as Indians within the meaning of Section 91(24) of the Constitution Act of 1867," the court ruled. "The recognition of Métis as Indians...should accord a further level of respect and reconciliation by removing constitutional uncertainty surrounding the Métis," the ruling noted.
Canada's Métis groups celebrated the decision as a major victory.
The Métis National Council, which represents the 450,000 Métis mostly in Western Canada, said the ruling reinforced their long-standing position the federal government, not the provinces, holds constitutional responsibility to deal with the Métis.
"Ottawa's non-recognition of Métis for jurisdictional purposes never made sense," council president Clement Chartier said in a statement. "The federal government can no longer shrug its shoulders and assume that Métis matters will be dealt with by others, all the while knowing this is not being done."
Chartrand went even further -- he was ecstatic over the ruling, calling it the latest victory in a series of favourable court cases that uphold Métis rights.
"We are no longer a political football. It is clear Canada has the constitutional obligation to deal with the Métis as a rights-bearing people," Chartrand said.
Ottawa is likely to appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court, delaying a clear definition of what Métis rights look like for years to come.
"Our priority is to create jobs, economic growth and long-term prosperity for all Canadians, including Métis," said a statement from Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt.
"Given that the previous Federal Court decision raised complex legal issues, it was prudent for Canada to obtain a decision from a higher court." In practical terms, the 57-page written court decision that accompanied the judgment listed several signposts to guide in the definition of Métis rights, both through future court cases and federal negotiations.
And it rapped Ottawa for ignoring the Métis.
"The federal government largely accepted constitutional jurisdiction over Métis until the mid-1980s when matters of policy and financial concerns changed that," the court noted.
The 1996 Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples recognized a jurisdictional gap with the Métis and called on the federal government to settle the question.