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PM sees ruling on Metis, non-status as 'landmark'

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 14/4/2016 (1312 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 14/4/2016 (1312 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

OTTAWA — Canada has the same responsibility to Métis and non-status Indians as it does to registered Indians under the Constitution, the Supreme Court declared Thursday in a decision even Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is calling a "landmark ruling."

The decision affects more than 400,000 Métis and about 200,000 non-status Indians who now have certainty about what level of government to turn to when negotiating funding for programs such as health care and education services as well as land claims and other negotiations. There are about 80,000 Métis and about 10,000 non-status Indians in Manitoba, based on population projections from the last census.

SEAN KILPATRICK / THE CANADIAN PRESS</p><p>Métis National Council President Clement Chartier, left, and David Chartrand, president of the Manitoba Metis Federation, middle, celebrate following a decision at the Supreme Court of Canada in Ottawa on Thursday.</p>

SEAN KILPATRICK / THE CANADIAN PRESS

Métis National Council President Clement Chartier, left, and David Chartrand, president of the Manitoba Metis Federation, middle, celebrate following a decision at the Supreme Court of Canada in Ottawa on Thursday.

"It is the federal government to whom they can turn," wrote Justice Rosalie Abella in the unanimous 9-0 ruling of the court.

Abella wrote until now Métis and non-status Indians have been in a "jurisdictional wasteland" as provincial governments decreed them the responsibility of Ottawa, and Ottawa often turned them back to the provinces. Declaring them Indians under the Constitution "has the undeniably salutary benefit of ending a jurisdictional tug-of-war," Abella wrote.

The result of the tug-of-war has been that Métis and non-status Indians have been denied funding for programs, services and other benefits.

Asked about the decision at an event in London, Ont., Trudeau said it was a "landmark ruling that will have broad consequences and impacts."

"But I can guarantee you one thing, the path forward will be together as we move forward," he said.

Manitoba Métis Federation president David Chartrand clutched the 38-page decision in his hand and threw his arms in the air in victory as he descended the steps into the grand entrance hall of the Supreme Court building following the court's ruling this morning.

"I feel very emotional," he told the Free Press, in between autographing copies of the decision for onlookers. "We've been preparing for this day. We've been waiting a long time. This day for me is a resounding big sigh of great relief."

Métis fiddlers and indigenous drummers filled the grand hall with music as dozens of people who turned out to hear the decision celebrated together.

Chartrand said he expects Harry Daniels and Louis Riel were both smiling down on Canada today. Daniels was the Métis leader who first launched this case in 1999 when he was the head of the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples. He died in 2004 and the case was carried on by others, including his son, Gabriel Daniels.

Gabriel Daniels said his father would have been ecstatic and maybe even would have "danced a jig."

The original case sought to have Métis and non-status Indians declared as "Indians" under the Constitution Act of 1867, that Ottawa has a fiduciary duty to them and that they have the right to be consulted and negotiated with by the federal government.

The Supreme Court agreed with the first but said the second two have previously been settled and as such, do not need to be restated.

"It was already well established in Canadian law that the federal government was in a fiduciary relationship with Canada's Aboriginal Peoples and that the federal government had a duty to consult and negotiate with them when their rights were engaged," said Justice Rosalie Abella, writing for the court.

"Restating this in declarations would be of no practical utility."

The decision, says Chartrand, should mean Ottawa now has to provide funding for health care, education and social services in Métis communities. It could also lead to negotiations for land claims, natural resource revenues and other benefits.

"We don't want handouts," he said. "We just want our fair share."

Chartrand wants Trudeau to write a letter to all his ministers instructing them all that Métis people are no longer to be excluded.

"Those days are over. There are no more excuses."

Saint Boniface-Saint Vital Liberal MP Dan Vandal said the next step is for the government and Métis leaders to sit down and start talking about what the implementation of this decision should look like. The two are already in negotiations related to the 2013 land claim decision decided by the Supreme Court, so this can build from those discussions, said Vandal.

Abella said Thursday's ruling was another chapter "in the pursuit of reconciliation and redress" in the long history between Canada and its Indigenous People.

"The constitutional changes, the apologies for historic wrongs, a growing appreciation that aboriginal and non-aboriginal people are partners in Confederation... all indicate that reconciliation with all of Canada's Aboriginal Peoples is Parliament's goal," Abella wrote.

Abella cited the Report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, and the Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada.

The government considered Métis to be Indians as far back as 1818 and the notion was upheld after Confederation, Abella wrote in a ruling that offered a sweeping review of government inquiries and studies of aboriginal relations dating back decades.

Status Indians are those who are registered under the Indian Act. There are about 700,000 of them in Canada as of the 2011 census. Non-status Indians can be either those who no longer are registered under the act or mixed-race individuals who were never recognized as status Indians. They are not members of any specific band.

— with files from The Canadian Press

mia.rabson@freepress.mb.ca

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History

Updated on Thursday, April 14, 2016 at 5:01 PM CDT: Video added

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