Saskatoon

Sask. Métis government to ask court to strike 'competing' land claim

The Métis government in Saskatchewan is attempting to have the Saskatchewan portion of a massive land claim filed last fall dismissed by the courts.

Métis Nation-Saskatchewan to also file motions to intervene in claim and remove legal counsel

Métis leaders leave Saskatoon's Court of Queen's Bench on Oct. 16, 2019 after filing a 120,000 square-kilometre land claim. (Matthew Garand/CBC)

Métis Nation-Saskatchewan plans to file a series of motions in Federal Court related to a "competing" land claim for a large tract of land in northwest Saskatchewan.

Tom Isaac, legal counsel for the MN-S, said he expects the motions to strike, intervene and remove legal counsel will be filed this week.

The claim in question was filed in Federal Court in Saskatoon in October 2019, includes about 50 individual plaintiffs and covers 120,000 square kilometres in northern Saskatchewan and northern Alberta.

The claim also addresses the scrip process, which was a federal land allotment system in the late 1800s that was supposed to give Métis between 160 and 240 acres of land. 

But the Métis say they were denied getting the land because of abuse, mismanagement and fraud.

The motion to strike only concerns the Saskatchewan portion of the claim, Isaac said.

Isaac, who also serves as the lead negotiator for the MN-S in its self-government and land claim negotiations with the federal government, said this new claim overlaps either all or almost all of the MN-S's existing claim filed in 1994.

Question of who are the 'rights holders'

"The claimants asserting rights in Saskatchewan [in the 2019 claim] are not the proper rights holders," he said. "As a matter of law, Métis Nation-Saskatchewan is the proper Métis rights holder in Saskatchewan."

He said the Government of Canada has also recognized the MN-S as the "proper Section 35-mandated government" to represent Métis rights in Saskatchewan, adding an agreement with the federal government was signed last summer.

"The law is very clear that while Aboriginal rights — and in this case, Métis Section 35 rights — can be exercised individually, they are held by the collective," he said. "And in this case the proper collective is the Métis Nation-Saskatchewan."

When asked if the 2019 claim had affected or complicated the self-government or land claim negotiations underway between the federal government and the MN-S, Isaac said, "absolutely not."

"And we don't see them in any way affecting, or we've not seen any indication that they will affect, what we're doing at our duly-mandated negotiations and discussions table," he said.

But he said the MN-S "will do everything possible to protect Métis land claim rights, Métis Section 35 rights and the rights of its citizens within its borders."

'Complicated' situation for federal government

Ken Coates, a Canada Research Chair in the University of Saskatchewan's Johnson-Shoyama graduate school of public policy and an expert in Indigenous rights and land claims, said he believes the 2019 claim has "complicated things a fair bit."

"Governments always like things to be uncomplicated and very straightforward," he said. "It's not automatically certain as to how it works out. And that tends to put a pause on moving forward on the larger claims."

He said the idea of negotiating with both groups at the same time runs counter to how the federal government has dealt with land claims in the past.

"They typically tell groups, 'We'll let you decide how we want to be represented. And you can do that through the courts and battle it out that way or you can negotiate amongst yourselves,'" he said.

University of Saskatchewan professor Ken Coates says he believes a new Métis land claim filed in 2019 has "complicated things" for the federal government. (Jason Warick/CBC)

He said the federal government does not want to have multiple negotiations over the same land, territories and rights.

"It's kind of hard to move forward very quickly unless you have a good and clean representation," he said.

Jim Durocher, the president of the Métis local in Ile a la Crosse and one of the plaintiffs in the 2019 claim, said the 1994 claim was "stagnant" and "wasn't going anywhere."

He said they have been researching the land claim and the scrip issue for the last 20 years, and the research is now complete.

"We waited long enough and our people told us, 'Hey, let's move on. We can't wait for these guys any longer,'" he said.

"Everything is on our side. We're the predominant Métis people in our region."

But Isaac said MN-S President Glen McCallum and others on the Provincial Métis Council "reinvigorated" the 1994 claim.

Métis Nation-Saskatchewan President Glen McCallum is being credited with helping reinvigorate a 1994 Métis land claim. (Albert Couillard/CBC)

"Any other person that wants to pursue another way of doing things totally, in my view, undermines our government," McCallum said.

"If I did that with a provincial government or federal government, then I would be dealt with in a way to wake me up in regards to the rules and the laws of this country."

'Conflict of interest' complaints

The motion to remove legal counsel concerns the involvement of former MN-S presidents Clem Chartier and Dwayne Roth, both lawyers, in the 2019 claim. Chartier is also the president of the Métis National Council, which lists the MN-S as one of its governing members.

The MN-S has also complained to the Law Society of Saskatchewan about Chartier's involvement in the case.

Issac said the MN-S argues there is a "direct conflict of interest" because both Chartier and Roth have acted as legal counsel on behalf of the MN-S in the past with respect to land and Section 35 rights, adding Chartier previously advocated for the 1994 claim.

Chartier declined comment, but in a Jan. 24 news release said he was being "dragged through a conflict of interest complaint . . . for standing up for the legitimate legal rights of the Métis living in northwest Saskatchewan."

"It is ironic, and sad perhaps, that President McCallum is willing to spend hundreds of dollars per hour for lawyers based in Vancouver and Saskatoon in order to potentially have my licence to practice law in Saskatchewan stripped from me," he stated in the release.

Clem Chartier, president of the Métis National Council, says he is facing a Law Society of Saskatchewan conflict of interest complaint for standing up for Métis rights. (David Vincent/The Associated Press)

Chartier said the law society complaint against him might be successful, "but thankfully the legal process is in place and at the end of the day, the rights of our people will prevail."

Durocher estimated Chartier has saved the Métis community about $1 million in legal fees through his pro bono work on Métis rights cases.

Meanwhile, Durocher said he doesn't see the 2019 claim as "competing" but sees a way forward for both groups.

"All the Métis Nation has to do is come and meet with us and say, 'OK, here is a (negotiation) table for you. You can go ahead with that,'" he said.

"And that would eliminate all this nonsense that's going on now."

With files from Dan Zakreski and Jason Warick

About the Author

Kelly Provost is a newsreader and reporter with CBC News in Saskatoon. Email him at kelly.provost@cbc.ca.