OTTAWA — The federal government was "ineffectual and inequitable" in how it handed out land to Métis children in Manitoba more than 130 years ago, the Supreme Court ruled Friday.
The court ruling is a significant victory for the Manitoba Metis Federation in its negotiations with the federal government in a land-claim case that has been dragging through the courts for more than three decades.
"I think it's historic," said Tom Berger, the lawyer for the MMF. "This is a call for the federal government to negotiate with the MMF to deal with an historical wrong."
The case stemmed from Manitoba's entry into Confederation in 1870. In negotiations with the Métis, Canada agreed to deliver 1.4 million acres of land to Métis children in Manitoba.
The MMF argued the crown never lived up to its obligation and that a number of delays and mistakes meant the land was never fully delivered as promised in section 31 of the Manitoba Act.
In a 6-2 decision by the Supreme Court, the MMF won its argument.
"Although the honour of the Crown obliged the government to act with diligence to fulfill sec. 31 it acted with persistent inattention and failed to act diligently to achieve the purpose of the sec. 31 grant," the ruling says. "This was not a matter of negligence but of repeated mistakes and inaction that persisted for more than a decade, substantially defeating the purpose of sec. 31."
There was great celebration in the Supreme Court building when the decision was released as Métis people shouted with joy.
The MMF had lost its argument at both the lower court and court of appeal in Manitoba.
The decision does not bring a direct monetary obligation but will support the MMF in future negotiations with Ottawa for compensation.
Updated on Friday, March 8, 2013 at 9:38 AM CST: removes duplicate word
9:59 AM: corrects typos
11:29 AM: corrects incorrect word
3:45 PM: adds video