Williams Lake Indian Band v. Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Canada as represented by the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada

(Federal) (Civil) (By Leave)




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Aboriginal law - Crown - Fiduciary duty - Indian reserves - Administrative law - Boards and tribunals - Specific Claims tribunal - Tribunal finding federal Crown in breach of post-Confederation fiduciary obligations, and liable for colony’s pre-Confederation breaches, in respect of reserve creation - Court of Appeal setting aside Tribunal decision as unreasonable and substituting its own decision, dismissing claim - Whether Court of Appeal erred in applying reasonableness standard - Whether Court of Appeal’s conclusion on remedy usurped Tribunal’s function - Whether Tribunal’s decision reasonable with regard to British Columbia’s pre-Confederation breaches, Canada’s responsibility for such breaches, and Canada’s own breach of fiduciary duty - British Columbia Terms of Union, R.S.C. 1985, App. II, No. 10 - Specific Claims Tribunal Act, S.C. 2008, c. 22, ss. 14 and 20.

The Williams Lake Indian Band filed a specific claim against Canada with the Specific Claims Tribunal, pursuant to the federal Specific Claims Tribunal Act, based on: 1) the alleged failure of the pre-Confederation colony of British Columbia to act in the Band’s best interests by protecting their lands; and 2) the alleged failure of Canada to create reserves for the Band, following B.C.’s entry into Confederation in 1871. The claim involves two lots totalling nearly 2,000 acres. The claim alleges that B.C. failed to meet its legal obligation to prevent settlers from pre-empting lands on these two lots, and that Canada failed to meet its legal obligations to create reserves once B.C. entered Confederation in 1871. Lands were eventually set aside for the Band, as reserves, in 1881; although the amount of land (over 4,000 acres) exceeded the area covered by the two lots, the lands in question were different than those in the original claim.

The claim was bifurcated into validity and compensation phases. The Specific Claims Tribunal determined that the Band had established the validity of its claim against the federal Crown: there were pre-emptive purchases of the lands by settlers, in contravention of colonial policy and law; such contraventions constituted a breach of a legal obligation, pursuant to colonial legislation pertaining to reserved lands; B.C. failed to act honourably and was in breach of its fiduciary duties at common law, by failing to put the Indian interest in settlement lands ahead of settlers’ interests; Canada was liable for B.C.’s pre-Confederation breaches of legislation and fiduciary duty, pursuant to the Act; and Canada also breached its post-Confederation fiduciary duties by failing to provide reserve lands to the Band.

The Federal Court of Appeal allowed the Crown’s application for judicial review, concluding that Canada’s post-Confederation actions remedied any potential earlier fiduciary breaches by B.C. and fulfilled any fiduciary duty owed by Canada. The Court of Appeal concluded that Canada did not breach any post-Confederation legal obligation to the Band, and was not liable for any breaches of pre-Confederation legal obligations by B.C. By way of remedy, the specific claim was dismissed.

Lower Court Rulings

February 29, 2016
Federal Court of Appeal

A-168-14, 2016 FCA 63
Crown’s application for judicial review allowed; specific claim dismissed