The Supreme Court has reversed several lower court decisions giving Canada’s Métis an historic victory that found the federal government failed to honour a promise it made to the Métis people 140 years ago.
The legal challenge brought by the Manitoba Métis Federation sought recognition for the treatment of its people after the 1870 government land deal that ended the Red River rebellion.
In a 6-2 ruling, the Supreme Court declared that, “the Federal Crown failed to implement the land grant provision set out in s.31 of the Manitoba Act, 1870 in accordance with the honour of the Crown.”
The ruling explains that the federal government “acted with persistent inattention and failed to act diligently,” and that it “could and should have done better.”
“This was not a matter of occasional negligence, but of repeated mistakes and inaction that persisted for more than a decade,” the ruling says.
“The unfinished business of reconciliation of the Métis people with Canadian sovereignty is a matter of national and constitutional import,” it says.
The ruling ends three decades of legal challenges brought by the Métis against the federal government and could open the door to land claim negotiations or other forms of compensation from the federal government.
The Métis argued that Ottawa did not honour its promises under the Manitoba Act, which created the province, bringing it into Confederation.
The Manitoba Act of 1870, promised to give 5,565 square kilometres of land for 7,000 children of the Red River Métis. That land includes what is now the city of Winnipeg.
The land grants were meant to give the Métis a head start in the race for land in the new province. The chief justices wrote, “Everyone concerned understood that a wave of settlement from Europe and Canada to the east would soon sweep over the province.”
The ruling says, “Section 31 conferred land rights on yet-to-be-identified individuals – the Métis children. Yet the record leaves no doubt that it was a promise made to the Métis people collectively, in recognition of their distinct community. The honour of the Crown is thus engaged here.”
Manitoba Métis Federation President David Chartrand said the ruling is the vindication the MMF has been fighting for.
“Such pride at home right now, so much joy,” said Chartarnd.
“Now is the time to sit down and negotiate with the government of Canada,” he said.
“Our country did not give us any kind of credence and respect and felt they just could take whatever they wanted, and today our justice system is saying, ‘No, you can’t. You were wrong. Now fix it,'” said Chartrand.
The government of Canada issued a statement Friday saying it is reviewing the ruling.