Manitoba Metis Federation: a Metis land claim.

AuthorNormey, Robert
PositionManitoba Metis Federation v. Canada


The decision by Justice MacInnes of the Manitoba Queen's Bench of Manitoba Metis Federation v. Canada is a fascinating recounting of Canadian history concerning the entry of Manitoba into Confederation as well as an extremely important legal determination. It is a lengthy judgment (395 pages) which can be found at 2007 MBQB 293 (CanL11). (All paragraph numbers in this article refer to this judgment.) The case is under appeal, so all of the issues decided here will be revisited at a later date.

The Manitoba Metis Federation and 17 Metis individuals sought to establish that the Metis of Manitoba were entitled to a sizeable land base on Manitoba's entry into Confederation in 1870. The Plaintiffs sought a number of declarations, including the following:

* Canada failed to discharge its obligations, properly or at all, to the Metis under ss. 31 and 32 of the Manitoba Act, 1870 (the Act) and pursuant to undertakings given by the Crown.

* Manitoba, by enacting certain legislation and imposing taxes on the lands referred to in s. 31 of the Act prior to the grant of those lands, unconstitutionally interfered with the fulfillment of the obligations under s. 31 of the Act.

* Certain enactments were ultra vires or beyond the power of the Parliament of Canada and the Legislature of Manitoba, or were otherwise unconstitutional.

* There was a treaty made in 1870 between the Crown in Right of Canada and the Provisional Government and people of Red River.

As part of the argument pertaining to the fourth declaration, it was asserted that the Metis possessed Aboriginal title at the time of the discussions (or negotiations) in 1870 and were Indians. It was also claimed that Canada owed fiduciary duties to the Metis at the time of the discussions (or negotiations) and that the honour of the Crown was at stake in the discussions. The Metis were not seeking specific land or damages. The declarations were sought in support of a future land claim negotiation.

The case is the first in Canada to determine if Metis have Aboriginal title to land and is an important exploration of the circumstances in which a government may have fiduciary duties to the Metis. It also deals with the issue of whether constitutional claims of this nature can be barred by limitation periods. Justice MacInnes found that limitation periods barred the claims but went on to find that even if the claims were not barred, they would fail. He thus dismissed the application in every respect.


The Metis brought the action in 1981. It relates to the implementation of ss. 31 and 32 of the Act during the years 1869 to 1890. At that time Manitoba was created out of the transfer of Rupert's Land from the Hudson's Bay Company (HBC) to Canada. Section 31 provided for allocation of land to the Metis, who are of mixed Indian and either French or English ancestry. Section 31 states:

And whereas, it is expedient, towards the extinguishment of the Indian title to the lands in the Province, to appropriate a portion of such ungranted lands, to the extent of one million four hundred thousand acres thereof, for the benefit of the families of the half-breed residents, it is hereby enacted, that, under regulations to be from time to time made by the Governor General in Council, the Lieutenant-Governor shall select such lots or tracts in such parts of the Province as he may deem expedient, to the extent aforesaid, and divide the same among the children of the half-breed heads of families residing in the Province at the time of the said transfer to Canada, and the same shall be granted to the said children respectively, in such mode and on such...

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