By Jeremy Appel, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
(ANNews) – The Métis Nation of Alberta (MNA) is taking the UCP government to court for failing in its duty to negotiate with Indigenous peoples when it scrapped previous governments’ negotiations on a Métis Consultation Policy.
The nation filed a request for judicial review from the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench on June 14. The process of establishing a consultation policy began under PC Premier Jim Prentice in 2014 and continued under NDP Premier Rachel Notley, whose government released a draft policy in December 2018.
In September 2019, Indigenous Relations Minister Rick Wilson cancelled further negotiations without providing any justification, according to the MNA, whose president calls the cancellation “systemic racism in action.”
“We are calling on Premier Kenney to recognize and respect Métis constitutional rights in this province that the Métis Nation calls home,” MNA president Audrey Poitras said in a news release.
“By unilaterally cancelling half a decade of work without any explanation, the government has betrayed the trust of Métis people and broken Alberta’s constitutional obligations to uphold Indigenous rights and ensure meaningful Crown consultation.”
She said the consultation policy would have reduced red tape, ensured sustainable resource development and brought more stability for investors. “It would have let us focus on a collective goal of getting Alberta back to work,” Poitras said. “Instead of working together, we are now in the courts and industry, who overwhelmingly supported the policy, has no clarity on these important issues as we launch Alberta’s recovery plan.”
The policy would have ensured Métis people are consulted on land-use decisions that impact their Indigenous rights. A similar policy already exists for First Nations peoples, as well as individually for each of the province’s eight Métis settlements. But only five per cent of Alberta’s 114,000 Métis people live on the settlements. According to the MNA, this places 95 per cent of the province’s Métis population in a “legal void”.
The Crown’s constitutional duty to negotiate with Indigenous peoples was confirmed by the Supreme Court of Canada’s 2016 Daniels v. Canada decision, and the MNA challenge will be a test case for this ruling.
“It is exhausting for Indigenous groups to continually have to go to court to defend our rights, especially when the United Conservative Party so often changes course when the individual rights of other Alberta citizens are at stake,” said Poitras.
“Yet, our constitutional rights are always expendable and subject to political whim. The Crown’s constitutional obligations to Indigenous peoples do not simply evaporate when governments change. This is systemic racism in action. It’s time to call it what it is.”
According to court documents, a senior government official said that consultation is “burdening industry”, Global News reported.
MNA legal counsel Jason Madden says a decision in favour of Alberta’s government would render the Daniels decision meaningless. “Good faith negotiations must be promoted as the way forward instead of litigation, protests or blockades,” said Madden, who is Métis, “We will be asking the courts to protect this Crown duty owed to Indigenous peoples that is central to the national project of reconciliation.”
Wilson’s office declined comment on matters before the courts. “Alberta’s government values its relationship with the Métis as shown by our support of affordable housing projects, cultural outreach for Métis Crossing, ongoing supports during the pandemic and continuous engagement with Alberta’s Métis peoples since forming government in 2019,” spokesperson Adrienne South told the Edmonton Journal.
In the legislature, Notley said the UCP government is treating Métis people as “second-class Indigenous citizens”. “This government has ripped up any conversation about establishing a consultation policy, as required under section 35 of the Constitution,” she said on June 15.
In response, Premier Jason Kenney said that Alberta is the first province to provide “specific statutory legal recognition to Métis people,” citing the former PC government giving “unprecedented access to hunting and trapping rights” to the Métis.
“At any given time, there are hundreds of pieces of litigation between Indigenous communities and the Crown, both federal and provincial,” said Kenney. “That should not impair us from a constructive and respectful relationship.”
The Court of Queen’s Bench hearings on the MNA’s claims are scheduled for June 17 and 18.