The transfer of a former military base in suburban Winnipeg to a Crown corporation for redevelopment and sale has been declared invalid, a Federal Court judge ruled Wednesday.
The 90-hectare parcel of land along Kenaston Boulevard, known as Kapyong Barracks, has been vacant since 2004 when the 2nd Battalion, Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry, relocated to CFB Shilo near Brandon, Man.
In a ruling made public Wednesday, Justice Douglas Campbell said the federal government didn't do enough consultation with First Nations groups over the future use of the land before transferring it to the Canada Lands Corp., which would redevelop and sell the land.
In his ruling, Campbell called Kapyong "prime land for commercial development."
The land in question is the site of the former barracks — south of Grant Avenue, west of Kenaston Boulevard, and north of Wilkes Avenue. It does not include the swath of homes in the area that used to be residences for soldiers and their families.
Lawyers for the government argued they had no duty to consult with the First Nations groups when decisions about the future of Kapyong were made. The court disagreed.
"Canada acted contrary to law by failing to meet the mandatory legal requirement of consultation with the Brokenhead and Peguis First Nations before the making of the November 2007 decision to transfer the surplus lands at Kapyong Barracks to the Canada Lands Company pursuant to the Treasury Board Directive on the Sale or Transfer of Surplus Real Property; and, as a result, the November 2007 decision is invalid."
"While the record discloses that some dialogue took place about the disposition of the Kapyong Barracks ... it also establishes that from the beginning to the end of the decision making with respect to the lands, it is clear that Canada had no intention to grant any meaningful consultation," Campbell said.
Major win for First Nations: lawyer
The decision marks a legal victory for a group of Manitoba First Nations communities that have been embroiled in a legal battle over the land.
Seven First Nations groups had argued the federal government should have used the property to settle outstanding land claims. They want the land to develop housing and native-owned enterprises.
Norman Boudreau, lawyer for the communities, said the ruling paves the way for the potential acquisition of some or all of the Kapyong land.
"What this says that Canada has to sit down with the First Nations, and consult with the First Nations as to what is it that they want to do with the property," Boudreau said.
Chief Glenn Hudson of the Peguis First Nation, one of seven bands that took the federal government to court, said the ruling proves First Nations land treaties are living documents the Crown must fulfill.
He also said that having land within Winnipeg is a tremendous opportunity for First Nations.
"We look at the business development side but also there's the residential component. We're going to explore all options and certainly, we want to do not only what's in our First Nations interest but also in the interest of the society around us," Hudson said.
Boudreau said the First Nations would be meeting internally to discuss their legal victory and then would likely instruct their lawyers to meet with federal lawyers to work out a plan for future steps.
Wednesday's court order also orders the government to pay the aboriginal groups' legal costs.
Officials with the federal Department of National Defence said they are studying the court ruling and its implications before making any comment.