Alberta's Métis cannot register under Indian Act

People registered as Métis in Alberta cannot also have status under the federal Indian Act — and receive benefits under both.

People registered as Métis in Alberta cannot also have status under the federal Indian Act, Canada's top court has ruled — and receive benefits under both laws.

The Supreme Court of Canada sided with the Alberta government Thursday by ruling that certain parts of the province's Metis Settlements Act (MSA) do not violate the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Members of the Cunningham family began their legal fight because their membership in Alberta's Peavine Métis Settlement was terminated according to the MSA when they voluntarily registered as status Indians.

The MSA prohibits individuals with Indian status from obtaining Métis settlement membership. The Alberta Court of Appeal allowed the appeal of the lower court's finding that the MSA doesn't contravene the Charter.

The Cunningham family had registered as status Indians so they get health benefits and in doing so lost their settlement status, which meant a loss of rights to land allocation.

They argued in court that the rule essentially amounted to discrimination and violated their Charter rights to freedom of association and freedom of liberty. The family said they shouldn't have to choose between one set of benefits and another.

The Alberta government, on the other hand, argued that the rule doesn't violate the Charter and even if it did, it would be a reasonable infringement because the government program still brings a benefit to a disadvantaged group.

As a Charter case, it raised several interesting issues.

The Cunninghams had argued that this was basically the same thing as any Canadian having the right to dual citizenship through their ancestry. Does that make them any less of a Canadian? Should they get less benefits because they have both citizenships?

The case also raised juridictional issues because it dealt with both a federal and provincial acts, so there was the question of whether governments are allowed to discriminate or make distinctions for the benefit of a disadvantaged group.

The ruling also has the potential to increase the number of people allowed to register as Métis or status Indians.