Kapyong Barracks ruling favours First Nations

Some Manitoba First Nations leaders are celebrating a Federal Court ruling on the sale of the former Kapyong Barracks site in Winnipeg.
The Kapyong Barracks site has been the focus of a dispute between a group of six Manitoba First Nations and the federal government since the base closed in 2004. (CBC)

Some Manitoba First Nations leaders are celebrating a Federal Court ruling on the sale of the former Kapyong Barracks site in Winnipeg, but it does not necessarily mean the land will be developed right away.

The court ruled on Thursday that the federal government failed to consult four First Nations, or even communicate properly with them, on the sale of the former Canadian Forces base.

"The court ruling, I think, certainly is a strong one," Chief Glenn Hudson of the Peguis First Nation told reporters on Friday.

"It reiterates our position that we need to be consulted, we need to be accommodated in terms of anything dealing with our rights."

The future of the Kapyong site has been in limbo for years, as the group of First Nations has attempted to secure it as part of a treaty land entitlement (TLE).

In 2004, the land became vacant when the 2nd Battalion, Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry, relocated to CFB Shilo near Brandon, Man.

In 2007, the federal Treasury Board decided to sell the site to the Canada Lands Co., a Crown corporation that was to oversee the land's re-development and resale.

But that plan was immediately stalled when the group of First Nations asked the Federal Court to overturn that decision.

In September 2009, Justice Douglas Campbell declared the transfer invalid, saying the federal government didn't do enough consultation with First Nations groups, who had outstanding TLE claims.

Ottawa may appeal again, chief warns

Hudson said while the First Nations have won the latest legal fight, the federal government could very well push the case back into court.

"They've appealed it once and I don't expect that they'll shy away that; they will appeal it again," he said.

"We are a people that have a treaty process in place, and we want to sit down and negotiate."

Ottawa has 30 days to appeal the ruling.

In a statement to CBC News, a spokesperson for the Minister of National Defence said the latest Federal Court ruling "does not make a determination on claims to the land."

"We are reviewing the court's decision before making any decision on next steps," the spokesperson said.

Treaty land entitlement claims are intended to settle the debt owed to First Nations who did not receive all the land they were entitled to under historical treaties.

The 90-acre barracks site is located on some of Winnipeg's most valuable property, nestled between Tuxedo and River Heights, two affluent Winnipeg neighbourhoods.

Hudson said the First Nations would prefer to sit down with the government and work out a deal, ideally towards building a mixed commercial and residential development on the Kapyong land.

The tug and pull between the federal government and the First Nations did not involve the swath of homes in the area that used to be residences for soldiers and their families.