February 5, 2004
Premier stands by commitment that Powley decision
Premier Danny Williams today announced that the province has concluded its legal review of the Supreme Court of Canada decision in R. v. Powley, handed down on September 19, 2003, and has applied the criteria set out in the decision to the Labrador M�tis Nation (LMN). "I made a commitment that this court decision would apply to M�tis in the province, and I stand by that commitment. Based on the province's legal review of Powley, it is our assessment that members of the LMN do not meet the criteria put forward by the Supreme Court to determine who may be Section 35 M�tis and enjoy aboriginal rights," Premier Williams said.
Section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982 recognized and affirmed the existing aboriginal and treaty rights of the Indian, Inuit and M�tis peoples of Canada. However, the Powley decision was the first occasion when the Supreme Court of Canada provided clarity on who are the Metis for the purposes of Section 35 and what rights they may hold. The Powley decision set out criteria for determining who is M�tis.
On October 8, 2003, then-Leader of the Opposition Danny Williams said: "A PC government I lead will acknowledge that the recent Supreme Court of Canada decision in the Powley case does indeed apply to M�tis in Newfoundland and Labrador, and we will participate with the federal government and the M�tis Nation in negotiations to define and enforce the specific rights affirmed in the Powley decision and other rights protected under section 35 of the Constitution."
Consistent with this commitment, shortly after the recent election Premier Williams requested a legal analysis of the Powley decision be carried out to determine who are the Section 35 Metis in Newfoundland and Labrador and assess what rights LMN members may be entitled to. "Based on the assessment of this decision, and the historic record available to us at this time, we have concluded that the members of the Labrador M�tis Nation do not meet the test for qualifying as section 35 M�tis," the Premier said.
"To negotiate hunting rights with the LMN at this time would not be based in law. The Supreme Court of Canada has been clear in its decision and its criteria. We believe the LMN simply does not meet the court's test," said the Premier. "Should evidence to the contrary come to light, we would be happy to review it."
Tom Rideout, Minister responsible for Aboriginal Affairs, recently advised the LMN leadership of the outcome of this legal analysis.
"The province is firmly committed to the principle of equality. Aboriginal rights are to be enjoyed by those who can demonstrate that they have such a right," Minister Rideout said. "LMN members will continue to enjoy the same rights and privileges as other residents of the province. Although we do not agree with the LMN on this issue, we are committed to maintaining a positive relationship so that we can make progress on other issues of common interest."
Premier Williams and Minister Rideout reiterated the province's desire for the federal government to make a timely decision on the LMN land claim application, and its support for LMN members to gain access to federal programs and services for which they may meet the eligibility criteria. The LMN land claim has never been accepted by the federal government.
The Supreme Court of Canada's decision in R. v. Powley is available online at://www.lexum.umontreal.ca/csc-scc/en/pub/2003/vol2/html/2003scr2_0207.html
2004 03 05 6:40 p.m.