Ontario appeals Robinson treaties annuities case, but open to settlement negotiations
Judge ruled that $4 yearly treaty payments were not frozen in time
The Ontario government says it is appealing a landmark ruling on treaty annuities, even as it enters settlement negotiations with Ottawa and the First Nations involved in the case.
The Ontario Superior Court ruled in December 2018 that annuity payments from the Robinson-Huron and Robinson-Superior treaties signed in 1850 were not frozen in time. Beneficiaries of the treaties have been collecting $4 each annually.
Ontario's Attorney General office said in a statement it was appealing the case and it had served all the parties.
The statement said the government would be filing its appeal notice with Ontario Court of Appeal before the end of the month.
"The trial judge erred in her interpretation of the annuities provisions of the Robinson treaties," reads Ontario's court document served to the parties.
In her December ruling, Justice Patricia Hennessy wrote the annuities described in the treaties — which hadn't been raised since 1874 — were meant as a mechanism to share the wealth from the treaty territory's resources.
"As the historical and cultural context demonstrates ... the parties were and continue to be in an ongoing relationship," wrote Hennessy
No dollar amounts were set in the ruling.
Ottawa decides not to appeal
Ottawa, which was a respondent in the case, said it wouldn't be appealing the case.
Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett said in a short statement the federal government preferred "negotiation to litigation."
Mike Restoule, the lead plaintiff in the case, said Ontario had indicated in a letter that it also intends to negotiate a settlement, but filed the notice of appeal to keep the litigation option on the table.
"They are prepared to explore settlement discussions with us, that is good news," said Restoule, who is also chair of the Robinson-Huron Treaty Trust.
"On the appeal, we are not too satisfied with that."
Restoule said the legal team had requested that the first conference call of the settlement talks should take place Jan. 30.
Batchewana First Nation Chief Dean Sayers said he was "befuddled" by Ontario's decision to negotiate while holding on to a litigation hammer.
Sayers said he hoped all sides would find common ground at the negotiating table.
"As I look at the overall legal challenge, the overall historical evidence and expert report, I can't see the logic behind an appeal," he said.
with files from CBC Sudbury