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Court urges government action
A decision on Aboriginal rights was brought down by the Supreme Court of Canada on Sept. 19, and included strong direction for Canada's legislators to get to work on finding a way to accommodate those rights, rather than fighting to deny them.
That's how Jean Teillet, great-grandniece of historic Metis leader Louis Riel, interprets the decision in the hunting rights case known as Powley. And she should know. Teillet is the lawyer who argued the case for Steve and Roddy Powley.
The Powleys claimed they should not have been charged under Ontario's fish and wildlife legislation for hunting a moose without a license, because they are Metis and have an Aboriginal right to hunt for food on vacant Crown land.
The Supreme Court of Canada agreed, and turned down the province of Ontario's appeal of the Powleys' wins in lower courts.
"The decision is so clear and it's unanimous. It's not like all the other Supreme Court of Canada decisions on Aboriginal rights where there's dissenting opinions or concurring opinions. It's just a black and white, crystal clear decision," she said.
And within this crystal clear decision, the court sent strong messages to legislators to deal with the fact that Aboriginal rights exist.
"I think there's a couple that are just massive direction to the federal and provincial governments. When the court says that it is 'urgent' that the government get down to working with Metis people about identifying people and creating standard tests for determining who is Metis, that's direction to the government. It isn't to the Metis," who have been trying to set those standards without the help of the government, said Teillet.
There was also direction in the Powley decision that told the government not to "exaggerate" the difficulty of identifying Metis.
"When they said that this is not an insurmountable task, that they shouldn't 'exaggerate,' I think that was the exact word they use, the difficulty of identifying the Metis people in order to uphold their policy of denial, that's massively strong language from a court to the government," she said. "'Get on with this. We're not going to accept the fact that you think this might be slightly difficult as a denial.' I think those are huge admonitions to the government and I'm very happy to see it."
On Dec. 11, it will be six years since the Supreme Court handed down the Delgamuukw decision. Native leaders say that landmark recognition of Aboriginal land title rights has not been fully embraced by Canadian governments.
Windspeaker asked Teillet if the six-year lag from the time of the Delgamuukw decision to the Powley decision created, or added to, the court's sense of urgency.
"It may be that's what's going on, that they're getting tougher." She said words like 'crucial' and 'urgent' weren't used in Delgamuukw.
"The way the courts work is to set out the broad strokes first and then they hope the government will act properly in the right direction. But always issues will come up, so then in the next judgement they get more concise and in the next judgement they get more and it keeps working that way until it gets much more defined. And you have to keep walking down this road. I would expect that they're here on this because they see the problems," she said. "What we've got is federal and provincial governments are saying they have no fiduciary obligation or they only have this duty to consult, which to them means run into a community, flash a piece of paper around and then run out again and then they can do whatever they want with the land and with the resources. I think the courts are starting to see now that they need to put more teeth in their judgements."
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