The Canadian government is appealing a court ruling that gives Métis and off-reserve aboriginals the same constitutional status as those who live on reserves.
The ruling, which came down on January 8, found in favor of the 1999 lawsuit Daniels v. the Queen, which was brought against Canada’s government by the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples, nonstatus Indians and Métis. The plaintiffs alleged they were victims of discrimination because they were not legally considered to be “Indians” under a section of the 1867 Constitution Act.
On-reserve First Nations members receive various benefits for health, education and other line items from Ottawa. The ruling did not stipulate that the federal government should assume those fiscal responsibilities. But it left open the possibility that the government would at some point have to negotiate with those groups, the Globe and Mail reported.
With more than 600,000 aboriginals living off-reserve, the financial implications could be major.
About a month after the ruling, the government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced it would appeal the case to the Supreme Court of Canada.
“Given that the federal court decision in the…Daniels case raises complex legal issues, it is prudent for Canada to obtain a decision from a higher court,” said then–Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development John Duncan in a statement at the time. “After careful consideration of the decision, Canada has filed an appeal, and it would be inappropriate to comment further as the case is before the courts.”
Not surprisingly, aboriginal groups were not happy with the decision to appeal.
“I am really disappointed because we’re back to square one,” said Métis Nation of Saskatchewan president Robert Doucette to the Canadian radio station NewsTalk650. “I think the federal government really missed a historic opportunity in the history of this country to fix the wrong that happened over a couple hundred years ago and to really sit down and talk with Métis people.”
“This decision comes at the expense of Métis and nonstatus Indians, who for far too long have been the ‘forgotten peoples’ of Canada struggling for recognition of their constitutional rights, equality, dignity, self-worth and fairness,” said Betty Ann Lavallée, national chief of the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples, in a statement. “With the recent federal court ruling in favor of Métis and nonstatus Indians, Congress officials had been looking forward to working with the federal government on practical solutions to improve off-reserve aboriginal peoples’ lives.”