Manitoba Métis win hunting rights case

A man has won a five-year legal battle against the Manitoba government with a landmark court ruling on Métis hunting rights. But the case has potentially wide-ranging implications beyond who can hunt where and when.

A man has won a five-year legal battle against the Manitoba government with a landmark court ruling on Métis hunting rights.

But the case has potentially wide-ranging implications beyond who can hunt where and when — a legal expert says.

Provincial court Judge John Coombs ruled Thursday on the case of Will Goodon, who was charged with hunting without a licence after he shot a ringneck duck near Turtle Mountain in October 2004.

Goodon argued his Manitoba Métis Federation harvester card was all he needed — but Manitoba Conservation officials disagreed and Goodon was charged under the Wildlife Act.

Métis, unlike status Indians and Inuit, do not have an automatic right to hunt, the province argued, since they had not established hunting was a traditional occupation of their ancestors outside Manitoba's original 1870 "postage stamp" boundaries.

The judge didn't buy that argument.

"Many community witnesses [some related to the accused] gave evidence about their ancestors hunting at the Turtle Mountains from the 1800s to the present day," the judge said in a 28-page ruling.

"I have determined the rights-bearing community is an area of southwestern Manitoba that includes the City of Winnipeg south to the U.S. border and west to the Saskatchewan border. This area includes the Turtle Mountains and its environs."

Metis must self-identify

The Métis federation had argued the Supreme Court of Canada recognized the right of Métis to hunt in an Ontario case where two brothers, Steve and Roddy Powley, were charged with illegally killing a bull moose near Sault Ste. Marie. In that case, the Supreme Court sided with the Métis.

The Powley case clarified the definition of a Métis person under Sec. 35 of the Constitution. The Supreme Court said to be Métis for constitutional purposes, a person must "self-identify" as Métis, be accepted as a member of a modern Métis community and have some ancestral connection to the founding historic Métis community.

In the end, the judge said, "the Crown presented no evidence justifying any infringement of Métis  hunting rights in the Province of Manitoba," and therefore Goodon was entitled to hunt without a licence since his right to do so under Sec. 35 was established.

'Implications could be significant'

University of Manitoba law Prof. Karen Busby said the ruling could lead to governments having to consult – and possibly compensate – the  Métis  before development goes ahead on land considered traditional Métis territory.

"The implications could be significant," said Busby. "The most important aspect of this case is clear… if there are constitutionally protected hunting rights, it means those rights can't be interfered with unless the Métis people are consulted and if necessary compensated for those rights.

"This case isn't really just about hunting rights," Busby added. " Métis  people have the right to preserve their hunting rights into the future, and that's the really important aspect of this case."

Busby said that could mean any future hydro dams, hydro transmission lines, oil pipepines or development of Crown leases that could have an impact on hunting rights would require consultation with the Métis community — and compensation — before such a project could proceed.

Meantime, Manitoba Conservation Minister Stan Struthers told CBC News that the court ruling will help the province set up a system to allow Métis hunting rights, now that the area in which they can hunt has been established.

"It was a question of how do we make this happen out on the landscape?," said Struthers. "How do we implement that decision?  And this isn't quite the whole province that the Métis Federation wanted, but it's an area of Manitoba that we can now do some good work on."

Struthers said charges against other Métis hunters in Manitoba could be dropped as a result of the ruling.