In an “important precedent,” the Quebec Court of Appeal held that Ottawa and Quebec breached their duty to act honourably after it refused to adequately finance the police department of a First Nation to ensure that its services were equal in quality to those offered to non-Indigenous communities, according to aboriginal law experts.
The ruling, deemed by pundits as a “pretty striking way of reading” Canada’s agreements with First Nations on programs and services, ordered both the federal and the Quebec government to pay the Pekuakamiulnuatsh Takuhikan First Nation, located in Quebec’s Saguenay-Lac-St-Jean region, $1.6 million to cover years of underfunding of its police force. A year ago, the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal concluded in Dominique (on behalf of the members of the Pekuakamiulnuatsh First Nation) v. Public Safety Canada, 2022 CHRT 4 that the same First Nation were victims of discrimination due to inadequate police funding, a decision Canada is seeking judicial review.
First Nations that have implemented youth protection legislation under the auspices of the federal Bill C-92 have jurisdiction over youth welfare regardless of place of residence held a provincial court judge in a decision viewed by legal experts as a precedent.
The long-awaited decision, widely regarded by legal pundits as an important stepping stone towards the right to self-government for First Nations, reaffirms the generic right to self-determination, confirms the authority of Aboriginal communities to withdraw children from the care of Quebec youth protection authorities, and highlights the importance of negotiating in good faith.
“This is the first judgment in such a matter, and we hope it will create a precedent,” said Frédéric Boily, a lawyer with Simard Boivin Lemieux in Dobeau-Mistassini in the Saguenay-Lac-Saint Jean region who represented the the Conseil des Atikamekw d’Opitciwan, an intervener in the case. “So another Aboriginal community that wanted to follow in our client’s footsteps would indeed have good moorings on which to build.”
Federal and provincial governments “need” to demonstrate a “stronger engagement” towards conducting meaningful consultations with indigenous communities, according to a United Nations working group on business and human rights.
The duty to consult takes on added weight given that extensive mining and oil and gas extraction in several indigenous territories is “accompanied” by significant adverse environment impacts that affect the right to health, added the UN panel.
First Nations can now bring tort claims founded on Aboriginal rights and title before those rights are formally recognized by a court declaration or government agreement after the Supreme Court of Canada refused to end lawsuits by Aboriginal communities against natural resource companies.
The SCC’s decision to dismiss the applications for leave to appeal paves the way for a $900 million class action filed by two Quebec Innu First Nations against Iron Ore Co. of Canada (IOC) and a separate suit by two north-central British Columbia First Nations against Rio Tinto Alcan Inc. over its diversion of water from the Nechako River since the 1950s.