The worst part about the Manitoba Metis Federation’s illegitimate attempt to interfere in the Kapyong Barracks land agreement with First Nations is that it will further delay a deal that took far too long to complete.
The federation has requested a judicial review of the land agreement with Treaty 1 First Nations, claiming they should have been consulted during the negotiation process. The federation says it has "outstanding land-related claims" in Winnipeg that include the Kapyong site.
Actually, it doesn’t. It has no outstanding land claims. Its continued attempt to turn a 2013 Supreme Court of Canada decision, which it’s using as the basis for this latest grievance, into something it’s not will come at the expense of First Nations who do have a legal claim to the land.
After 17 years of legal wrangling and court battles, the federal government in August finally signed over 69 per cent of the 160-acre site on Kenaston Boulevard to seven First Nations as part of government’s treaty obligations that date back to 1871. It’s unfortunate it took as long as it did. Even more disappointing is the fact Ottawa, under both Liberal and Conservative governments, tried to renege on its legal obligations, forcing First Nations to fight for their rights in court.
Now those First Nations have to contend with the federation.
The federation cites the 2013 Supreme Court ruling in its submission to the Federal Court, which found the federal government failed to act "in accordance with the honour of the Crown" when it distributed land, or scrip in lieu of land, to Métis children between 1871 and 1885.
The top court said while the land obligation was ultimately met (although scrip issued in 1885 was not worth what it was in 1871), the process was riddled with unnecessary delays and administrative foul-ups. What should have been done promptly was dragged out over 14 years, defeating the purpose of Sec. 31 of the Manitoba Act in Canada’s Constitution, the court found. The land grants were designed to give Métis families a "head start" over the settlers who would soon swoop in and buy up land in the area.
The court described the situation as "unfinished business" between Ottawa and the Métis, calling it an "ongoing rift in the national fabric" that remains unresolved.
But Canada’s top justices offered no prescription to right the historical wrong. It left that up to the parties involved to negotiate. It in no way ruled the federation has an outstanding land claim. The court simply made a declaration that the Métis, who made up about 85 per cent of the estimated 12,000 people who lived in the Red River Settlement at the time, weren’t treated properly.
The court even made a point of noting that the Métis were not seeking land, or cash in lieu of land. They simply wanted "declaratory relief" (the federation made two other requests in that case, but both were rejected by the top court).
"The Métis seek no personal relief and make no claim for damages or for land," the Supreme Court wrote. "Nor do they seek restoration of the title their descendants might have inherited had the Crown acted honourably."
The applicants sought the declaration "in order to assist them in extra-judicial negotiations with the Crown in pursuit of the overarching constitutional goal of reconciliation…"
Yet the federation has been trying to turn this ruling into some kind of land claim victory ever since it was issued. The federation is using it in an attempt to lay claim to some portion of the Kapyong site.
The federation is demanding the court quash the Kapyong land-transfer agreement. Although both the federal government and the federation have since agreed to set the court case aside for six months to enter into discussions over the matter. But if that fails, the federation will presumably resume court action, which could delay the development of the Kapyong site.
The Métis have no case. They should withdraw this frivolous court action and allow the rightful owners of the land to move ahead with an important development that will provide much needed revenue and economic development for First Nations. They’ve waited long enough.
Tom has been covering Manitoba politics since the early 1990s and joined the Winnipeg Free Press news team in 2019.