Q: What is the Daniels case about?
A: In 1999, Harry Daniels, as the president of the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples, and two non-status Indians, brought a case to court asking for a legal declaration of three things.
1. That Métis and non-status Indians are “Indians” under s. 91(24) of the Constitution Act.
2. That the federal Crown owes a fiduciary duty to Métis and non-status Indians.
3.That Métis and non-status Indians have the right to be consulted and negotiated with.
Q: What did the Supreme Court decide?
A: After differing decisions on the matter by a federal judge and the Federal Court of Appeal, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that Métis and non-status Indians were in fact aboriginal peoples, and therefore should be treated as such when it comes to the Constitution. On the other two points, the court said that those automatically followed from the first, so declaring them separately would be redundant.
Q: What does this actually mean?
A: It means Ottawa now has clear jurisdiction for both the Métis and non-status Indians, and both groups can now begin negotiating with Ottawa for similar benefits and entitlements afforded to status Indians. At the basics, that could mean funding for culturally appropriate, accessible health programming, schools, and social services in Metis communities, and could extend even further to things such as self-governance. Manitoba Metis Federation President David Chartrand said Thursday it could mean discussions to give similar tax exemptions to Métis as are afforded to on-reserve status Indians. Non-insured health benefits such as eyeglasses and prescription drugs, which are also programs available to status Indians would also likely be put on the table. However the ruling does not specifically require the government to provide any particular program or service.
Q: What is this going to cost?
A: That is unknown. The cost could be significant. The 2011 National Household Survey estimated there were about 420,000 Métis in Canada and another 213,900 non-status Indians. In the end the cost really depends on the types of programs and benefits that are negotiated.
Q: What was the problem before?
A: Without a declaration that Métis and non-status Indians were the same as status Indians in the eyes of the Constitution, many attempts by leaders of either community to negotiate the same programs, benefits and rights as status Indians went nowhere. If they asked the province for assistance, setting up a health care centre in a community or accessing financial assistance for education programs, the province sent them to Ottawa, saying it was Ottawa's jurisdiction. In turn Ottawa would send them back to the provincial governments saying they were not Indians and therefore it was not Ottawa's jurisdiction. It was described by Justice Rosalie Abella in the 38-page ruling as a "jurisdictional wasteland." This has led, the courts found, to a denial of many of the same rights, benefits and programs available to status Indians.