Indigenous

Ontario appeals Robinson treaties annuities case, but open to settlement negotiations

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.

Judge ruled that $4 yearly treaty payments were not frozen in time

Ontario's Attorney General Caroline Mulroney during a speech in October. Ontario filed notice of appeal on Jan. 21 in a landmark ruling on treaty annuities. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)

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.

Mike Restoule is the chair of the Robinson Huron Treaty Fund and lead plaintiff in the treaty annuities case. He said Ontario has indicated it wants to negotiate a settlement. (Waubgeshig Rice/CBC)

"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.

Chief Dean Sayers of the Batchewana First Nation said he was 'befuddled" by Ontario's decision to negotiate while holding appeal option open. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

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.

About the Author

Jorge Barrera is a Caracas-born, award-winning journalist who has worked across the country and internationally. He works for CBC's Indigenous unit based out of Ottawa. Follow him on Twitter @JorgeBarrera or email him jorge.barrera@cbc.ca.

with files from CBC Sudbury