A new appointment to the Supreme Court of Canada: congratulations (and some unintended consequences)

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Sheilah Martin named by Prime Minister Trudeau to the SCC

Today, the Prime Minister announced that his pick for the next justice of the Supreme Court of Canada is Sheilah Martin, currently a member of the Alberta Court of Appeal. If approved, Justice Martin will replace retiring Chief Justice Beverly McLachlin. It is hard to argue with Justice Martin’s credentials. Fluently bilingual. Schooled in both the common law and civil law traditions. Over twenty-two years of being a judge. A former dean of the University of Calgary Law School. Her appointment will ensure that the Court’s female judges remain four of the nine justices. She is eminently qualified to serve on the Court and we should all join in congratulating Justice Martin on having been selected by the Prime Minister for this most significant role.

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The Minister and the Grizzly Bear Spirit: Another Indigenous People Loses to “Reasonable Consultation”


BC’s Selkirk Mountains as seen from space: NASA

On November 3, 2017, the Supreme Court of Canada confirmed that, yet another part of a First Nation’s claimed traditional territory could be subject to permanent development because the government had conducted “reasonable consultation”. In Ktunaxa Nation v. British Columbia (Minister of Forests, Lands and Resources), 2017 SCC 54, the Court delivered a double blow to the Indigenous Nation. Not only did the Court hold that the Indigenous Nation’s freedom of religion was not infringed by the government’s decision to approve a year-round ski resort development on their claimed sacred grounds but the Court also found that the Minister had reasonably consulted the Indigenous Nation and that, therefore, the governmental approval was upheld. There are a number of perspectives to this case so this blog post will actually be considering:

1. Freedom of religion;
2. Reasonable consultation and accommodation; and
3. Supreme Court of Canada appointments.

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The Supremes give a lesson on the duty to consult and accommodate

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On July 26, 2017, the Supreme Court of Canada rendered two much awaited decisions respecting the duty of the National Energy Board to consult and accommodate the aboriginal rights of two distinct Indigenous peoples for two distinct projects. In one, Clyde River (Hamlet) v. Petroleum Geoservices Inc., 2017 SCC 40, a tiny Inuit community from Nunavut convinced the Court that it had not been deeply and meaningfully consulted or reasonably accommodated and therefore, the National Energy Board’s approval of the petroleum-testing project was overturned and quashed. In the other, Chippewas of the Thames First Nation v. Enbridge Pipelines Inc., 2017 SCC 41, the Court held that the NEB had appropriately and sufficiently consulted and then accommodated the southwest Ontarian Indigenous nation and upheld the NEB’s approval of Enbridge’s project. Of note, the Court ordered that the Chippewas of the Thames pay Enbridge’s costs.

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Decision of Indigenous Groups to Boycott Council of the Federation Meeting Underscores the Need for Constitutional Reconciliation and Inclusion

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The headline on today’s CBC News website says “Indigenous leaders to boycott Monday’s meeting with premiers”. The article outlines how three Indigenous groups, namely, the Assembly of First Nations, the Metis National Council and Tapirit Kanatami, have decided to withdraw from the Council of the Federation meeting where the leaders of the provinces and territories will be meeting because they (the indigenous leaders) are not being recognized as full and equal participants. In my opinion, this article demonstrates the pressing need for Canada’s reconciliation process to recognize the governments of Indigenous peoples in a more formal and constitutional manner.

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Required – A Redesigned Senate for Canada, its Regions and its Indigenous Peoples

Maryam Monsef


On January 19, 2016, the Honourable Maryam Monsef, Minister of Democratic Institutions, announced the appointment of first members of the non-partisan panel that is charged with the task of coming up with qualified candidates for Senate vacancies. The panel, which has three federal representatives, two Ontario provincial representatives, two Quebec provincial representatives and two Manitoba provincial representatives, is supposed to come up with five qualified candidates for each Senate vacancy for those three provinces. The recommendations are not binding on the Prime Minister who ultimately submits his choices to the Governor General. The nine members of this initial panel are all eminently qualified. But there is criticism of the process. Some of the criticism has merit.

Last year, when Prime Minister Trudeau announced that he would press ahead with his plans for a non-partisan advisory panel to assist in choosing candidates for the Senate, BC’s Premier, Christy Clark, immediately slammed the proposal. She retorted that BC would not participate. On the same day as the Prime Minister’s announcement, she tweeted that the “Senate has never represented BC’s interests at the national level”. Later, she issued a statement: “[The proposed] changes do not address what’s been wrong with the Senate since the beginning. It has never been designed to represent British Columbians or our interests”.   She has argued that BC is grossly under-represented, only getting 6 seats in the 105 seat Senate, and Mr. Trudeau’s changes would only serve to the Senate to think that it is somehow legitimate and that this would allow it to think that it could make decisions on behalf of the country.  She stated that the Senate does not have that power and should not have it.

Premier Clark is both right and wrong. Furthermore, in my opinion, British Columbia is not the only party that should be seeking structural changes to the Senate. Specifically, I believe that the indigenous peoples of Canada should be included in any discussions involving revisions to the Senate.

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