OTTAWA — The Kapyong Barracks years-long legal saga could again be back in the courts, with the Manitoba Métis Federation asking a federal judge to quash Ottawa's deal this summer to transfer land to First Nations.
"The Métis were just completely ignored," MMF President David Chartrand told the Free Press on Thursday.
"If the Métis are not being treated well, I’m going to react."
The group filed a request in Federal Court a month ago, arguing "all related ancillary decisions and agreements should be quashed or set aside," on the basis that Ottawa ignored Métis rights and the MMF's November 2015 request for consultation.
Last week, the MMF and Ottawa asked the court to put the legal action on hold for six months so the two can instead hold talks.
The military vacated Kapyong Barracks in 2004. Shortly after, Ottawa tried transferring the land directly to Crown corporations, sparking a drawn-out court battle that the Harper government abandoned in fall 2015, over rules that say First Nations have a right to purchase unused federal land to fulfill their treaty quotas.
The Trudeau government launched negotiations with the seven First Nations in the Treaty One area, culminating in a deal this year to transfer most of the land to become an urban reserve.
The First Nations — who are distinct from Métis people — plan to build a daycare, hotel and gas bar, along with mixed-use housing.
However, in filings the MMF argues they were ignored throughout those talks, despite Winnipeg sitting in the homeland of the Red River Colony.
The notice of application cites correspondence in which federal officials gave belated, vague responses when asked if they’d be consulting with Métis people about also buying part of the land.
In the run-up to this year’s deal, the MMF claims there was a series of meetings in which officials from the Department of National Defence said "constrained timelines" made it too late to "open up" the deal to accommodate Métis people.
The officials, the MMF claims, asked for ways to address Métis concerns outside of a "formal Crown consultation process," which the group argues is an attempt to skirt their constitutional rights.
These claims have not been proved in court, and Ottawa has not yet filed a detailed response.
The MMF says it first asked for information and a seat at the table in a November 20, 2015 letter, and still has yet to been given specific information on how the deal will work.
In filings, the MMF said it raised the Kapyong issue constantly in talks between Ottawa and the Métis National Council, an umbrella group that includes the MMF, which culminated in a May 2016 memorandum on Métis rights.
The MMF claims it got a day’s notice about the August deal, and a commitment to deal with constitutional rights after the deal had been signed.
Chartrand said he supports Treaty One’s efforts, and said he had cordial discussions about the issue with two chiefs.
Treaty One chiefs met to discuss the issue Thursday, and intend to seek intervenor status.
"Everyone knows Kapyong has been a long, drawn-out process. And just to have this come in so late is a little disconcerting," said Long Plain Chief Dennis Meeches, who speaks for Treaty One.
"Many of us were caught a little bit off guard, a little surprised," he said.
Meeches said Treaty One chiefs have not had substantial discussions with the MMF about Kapyong, but said he was hopeful the Métis could resolve their issues with Ottawa, and has cheered the Métis' past court victories against injustice by the federal government.
Both the chiefs and the MMF are concerned they're running out of federal land to purchase under allotments agreed to under the 1871 treaty and the 1870 Manitoba Act. Both argue they need that land to protect traditional hunting and medicines, and for economic opportunities within Winnipeg.
"There's a lot at stake," Chartrand said from The Pas, where he was attending a conference on land rights.
Chartrand is confident they can eke out a solution, but would not say whether he’s expecting a cut of the land, a financial settlement, or some other outcome.
The deal announced April 11 and confirmed on Aug. 30 sets out 110 acres for Treaty One and 50 acres for federal development through the Canada Lands Co.
"I’d rather negotiate than litigate," Chartrand said.
The court has not yet answered the request for the six-month period of abeyance that would put the matter on hold until mid-April.
A court challenge would likely gum up any construction on the site, and could delay the city’s Route 90 project, which involves widening Kenaston Blvd.
"Canadians in general might get fed up by all the court cases," Chartrand said. "But I think overall, they do know that if something is wrong, and you have no other option, then the court is where you need to go."
While the MMF application only deals with issues stemming from right after the Liberals took government, Chartrand said the blame is shared with the Harper government for its handling of the issue and setting the tone within the bureaucracy.
The Kapyong site sits in the riding of Jim Carr, Manitoba’s sole cabinet minister, who has been regularly briefed on the issue and successfully pushed to have it out of federal hands by the end of the first Trudeau mandate.
Carr’s office declined an interview request for this week.