Thursday, April 14, 2016

Métis and non status Indians are “Indians” under the Canadian Constitution and fall under Federal Jurisdiction

Daniels v. Canada (Indian Affairs and Northern Development), 2016 SCC 12:


Métis and non‑status Indians are "Indians" under s. 91(24). There is no need to delineate which mixed‑ancestry communities are Métis and which are non‑status Indians. They are all "Indians" under s. 91(24) by virtue of the fact that they are all Aboriginal peoples. "Indians" has long been used as a general term referring to all Indigenous peoples, including mixed‑ancestry communities like the Métis. Before and after Confederation, the government frequently classified Aboriginal peoples with mixed European and Aboriginal heritage as Indians. Historically, the purpose of s. 91(24) in relation to the broader goals of Confederation also indicates that since 1867, "Indians" meant all Aboriginal peoples, including Métis.


 As well, the federal government has at times assumed that it could legislate over Métis as "Indians", and included them in other exercises of federal authority over "Indians", such as sending many Métis to Indian Residential Schools — a historical wrong for which the federal government has since apologized. Moreover, while it does not define the scope of s. 91(24), s. 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982states that Indian, Inuit, and Métis peoples are Aboriginal peoples for the purposes of the Constitution. This Court has noted that ss. 35 and 91(24) should be read together. "Indians" in the constitutional context, therefore, has two meanings: a broad meaning, as used in s. 91(24), that includes both Métis and Inuit and can be equated with the term "aboriginal peoples of Canada" used in s. 35, and a narrower meaning that distinguishes Indian bands from other Aboriginal peoples. It would be constitutionally anomalous for the Métis to be the only Aboriginal people to be recognized and included in s. 35 yet excluded from the constitutional scope of s. 91(24).


The jurisprudence also supports the conclusion that Métis are "Indians" under s. 91(24). It demonstrates that intermarriage and mixed‑ancestry do not preclude groups from inclusion under s. 91(24). The fact that a group is a distinct people with a unique identity and history whose members self‑identify as separate from Indians, is not a bar to inclusion within s. 91(24). Determining whether particular individuals or communities are non‑status Indians or Métis and therefore "Indians" under s. 91(24), is a fact‑driven question to be decided on a case‑by‑case basis in the future.


As to whether, for purposes of s. 91(24), Métis should be restricted to the three definitional criteria set out in Powley in accordance with the decision of the Federal Court of Appeal, or whether the membership base should be broader, there is no principled reason for presumptively and arbitrarily excluding certain Métis from Parliament's protective authority on the basis of the third criterion, a "community acceptance" test. The criteria in Powley were developed specifically for purposes of applying s. 35, which is about protecting historic community‑held rights. Section 91(24) serves a very different constitutional purpose.        The constitutional changes, the apologies for historic wrongs, a growing appreciation that Aboriginal and non‑Aboriginal people are partners in Confederation, as well as the Report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples and the Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, all indicate that reconciliation with all of Canada's Aboriginal peoples is Parliament's goal.


The historical, philosophical, and linguistic contexts establish that "Indians" in s. 91(24) includes all Aboriginal peoples, including non‑status Indians and Métis.                   


Federal jurisdiction over Métis and non‑status Indians does not mean that all provincial legislation pertaining to Métis and non‑status Indians is inherently ultra vires. As this Court has recognized, courts should favour, where possible, the operation of statutes enacted by both levels of government.



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