Roberts v. Canada

Supreme Court of Canada – [1989] 1 S.C.R. 322


British Columbia Tribunal jurisdiction
Summary

The Supreme Court explains the jurisdiction of the Federal Court, that often considers aboriginal law cases.

Issue

Does the Federal Court have jurisdiction over a trespass action brought by the Wewayakum Indian Band against the Wewayakai Indian Band?

Decision

Yes, the Federal Court has jurisdiction to hear the motion in this case that opposes two Indian bands and that involves a federal legislation, the Indian Act (unanimous decision).

Parties

Between: Ralph Dick, Daniel Billy, Elmer Dick, Stephen Assu and James D. Wilson sued on their own behalf and on behalf of all other members of the Wewayakai Indian Band, also known as the Cape Mudge Indian Band

And: the Crown of Canada, Roy Anthony Roberts, C. Aubrey Roberts and John Henderson, suing on their own behalf and on behalf of all other members of the Wewayakum Indian Band, also known as the Campbell River Indian Band

Facts

The disagreement in this case pertains to the rightful user and occupant of the Quinsam Indian Reserve. Both bands in question are of the Laich‑kwil‑tach Nation.

The plaintiffs are members of the Wewayakum Indian Band, also known as the Campbell River Indian Band. The members of this band predominantly reside on Campbell River Indian Reserve No. 11 situated at Campbell River, British Columbia. The others are members of the Wewayakai Indian Band, also known as the Cape Mudge Indian Band. The members of this band live partly on Cape Mudge Indian Reserve No. 10 situated on Quadra Island, British Columbia, and other members live on the Quinsam Indian Reserve, Reserve No. 12.

The Wewayakum Indian Band claims that the Wewayakai Indian Band is trespassing on Reserve No. 12 and seeks a permanent injunction from the Federal Court to put an end to this. It also asks for a declaration that “Reserve No. 12 is and always has been, since its establishment as a reserve, set aside for its exclusive use and benefit.”

Arguments

The Wewayakum Indian Band: The Crown failed in its fiduciary and statutory duties by not protecting its interests when members of the Wewayakai Band established themselves in Reserve No. 12 since they have no right to do so. The Repertory of Indian Reserves states, in 1912, that Reserves No. 11 and No. 12 are set aside for its members.

The Crown: The reference to the Wewayakum Indian Band’s right to use Reserve No. 12 in the Order in Council of 1912 (which determined the use of the reserve) is an error of inadvertence that was never corrected.

The Wewayakai Indian Band: The case should be dismissed due to the Federal Court’s lack of jurisdiction. Reserve No. 12 belonges to them.

Decision of the lower courts

Federal Court, Trial Division (1987): The motion is within the competence of the Federal Court.

Federal Court of Appeal (1987): The motion is within the competence of the Federal Court.

Reasons for Judgement

Jury

Dickson, Beetz, Lamer, Wilson, Le Dain

Reason

The Federal Court did have jurisdiction to sit in judgment of the case. The jurisdiction of the Federal Court depends on three factors:

  1. Did Parliament grant jurisdiction in a statute?
  2. Is there a federal law attached to this statutory grant of jurisdiction? If so, does it cover the area of the debate in question?
  3. Is the case based on a law of Canada in accordance with section 101 of the Constitution Act of 1867? Federal jurisdiction (as in sect. 91 of the Constitution Act of 1867) is not enough: a federal statute (or regulation or even common law) must exist.

The case here met the conditions mentioned above: the Federal Court had jurisdiction. In fact, section 17 (3) (c) of the Federal Court Act granted the court the necessary jurisdiction. This provision demands “(a) a proceeding, (b) to determine a dispute, (c) where the Crown is or may be under an obligation, (d) in respect of which there are or may be conflicting claims.”

Settling the dispute between the two bands as well as the contradictory claims regarding a duty owed by the federal Crown (its fiduciary and statutory obligations) entails the proceeding. Finally, the “Laws of Canada” were solely necessary to settle the appeal, i.e. the applicable sections of the Indian Act.

Impact

The case was sent back to the Federal Court for it to decide on the merit. The final judgement was given in 1995 (Wewayakum Indian Band v. Canada and Wewayakai Indian Band, 99 F.T.R. 1). It was appealed by the Wewayakum Band to the Federal Court of Appeal (Wewayakum Indian Band v. Wewayakai Indian Band, 1999 CanLII 8839 (F.C.A.)) and later to the Supreme Court (Wewayakum Indian Band v. Canada, 2002 SCC 79).

Related Cases

R. v. Côté, [1996] 3 S.C.R. 139
Delgamuukw v. British Columbia, [1997] 3 S.C.R. 1010
Bande indienne Wewaykum c. Canada, [2002] 4 R.C.S. 245

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