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Intervention of Me Benoît Amyot and Me Léonie Boutin in Williams Lake: Supreme Court of Canada confirms Pre-Confederation obligations of the Crown

News – published onFebruary 12 2018

Before the Supreme Court of Canada, the Assembly of First Nations of Québec and Labrador, represented by Me Benoît Amyot and Me Léonie Boutin of Cain Lamarre, in collaboration with the law firm Dionne Schulze, successfully argued the Williams Lake Indian Band was justified in asking the Supreme Court to reverse a decision that would have proven extremely prejudicial to First Nations.

On February 2, the Supreme Court of Canada, in a landmark ruling Williams Lake Indian Band v. Canada (Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development), 2018 SCC 4, upheld the decision of the Specific Claims Tribunal which had concluded that Canada had breached its fiduciary obligations toward the Williams Lake Indian Band (T’exelcemc), one of the Shuswap Nation (Secwepemc) communities. The Williams Lake Band was forced out of its village and its lands near Williams Lake in British Columbia as part of the reserve-creation process in the 19th century.

The Supreme Court confirmed that the Imperial Crown and Canada, in accordance with their fiduciary obligations, should have acted to protect the lands of the Williams Lake Band against colonization.

The recognition by the Supreme Court of Canada of the merit under the Specific Claims Tribunal Act of the pre-Confederation specific claim in the Williams Lake case, will allow for the continuation of the case and the eventual consideration by the Specifical Claims Tribunal of damages for the Williams Lake Indian Band.

In addition to the impact for this Band as well as for other Indigenous communities in the country, this ruling provides important clarifications, notably regarding the moment when sui generis fiduciary obligations may arise, their contents, the jurisdiction of the Specific Claims Tribunal, the standards of review for decisions of this Tribunal, and the notion of the “Crown” in this particular context.