By Clint Buehler
EDMONTON – A Manitoba court decision upholding Metis hunting rights is giving the Metis Nation of Alberta (MNA) more confidence in its own court action against the government of Alberta.
The Manitoba decision on the Goodon case began in October 2004 when Will Goodon harvest a duck near Turtle Mountain in southwestern Manitoba. He had not obtained a provincial license, but was harvesting under the authority of a Manitoba Metis Federation (MMF) Harvesters Card. He was charged by provincial wildlife officers for unlawful possession of wildlife. The MMF defended Goodon based on the Metis right to harvest, which is protected in Canada’s Constitution, as first confirmed by the Supreme Court of Canada in the Powley case in Ontario, and subsequently confirmed by court decisions in Alberta and Saskatchewan.
“On behalf of the MNA Provincial Council and all Alberta Metis, I want to congratulate Will Goodon, the MMF and Metis lawyers Jean Teillet and Jason Madden for their efforts and commitment to the Metis Nation’s ongoing ‘hunt for justice’ within our Homeland,” said MNA President Audrey Poitras.
In a written ruling released in early January, Justice Combs of the Provincial Court of Manitoba dismissed the charge against Goodon. The trial spanned more than a year and included testimony from Metis community witnesses, experts and historians.
He ruled that Goodon has a constitutionally protected Metis right to hunt and that Manitoba’s Wildlife Act is of no force and effect in its application to Goodon and other Metis harvesters because the province’s regulatory regime unjustifiably infringes the Metis right to hunt and fails to recognize or accommodate the Metis right.
In dismissing the charge against Goodon, Justice Combs ruled that “the Metis community of Western Canada has its own distinctive identity’ and that within Manitoba there is a regional rights-bearing Metis community that “includes all of the areas within the present boundaries of southern Manitoba from the present day City of Winnipeg and extending south to the United States and northwest to the province of Saskatchewan, including the area of present day Russell, Manitoba.
The court also acknowledged that this rights-bearing Metis community in historic and contemporary times extends well outside of Manitoba.
This question of which areas are available for Metis hunting in Alberta is at the heart of the Metis Nation of Alberta’s suit against the Alberta government. The MNA had successfully negotiated an Interim Harvesting Agreement that recognized right to hunt throughout the province to Metis who qualified, to be determined by the MNA.
However, when changes in the Alberta cabinet moved the agreement from Aboriginal Affairs to Sustainable Resources, minister Ted Morton arbitrarily and unilaterally changed the terms of the agreement, restricting harvesting to specific communities, all selected by his department, and all in northern Alberta.
“I truly hope that this decision will usher in a new collaborative approach on Metis harvesting rights in Manitoba and that this approach will be adopted by other provinces in western Canada. Metis harvesting rights are here to stay and governments must begin to recognize these rights in their laws. We should not be in the courts. We should be talking and working together in order to ensure Canada’s Constitution is respected,” Poitras added.
“Alberta was once a leader in working collaboratively with Metis on harvesting rights issues. After the release of the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision in Powley, the MNA negotiated an Interim Metis Harvesting Agreement that worked well for more than two and one-half years. Unfortunately, politics trumped partnership and Metis are being charged and having to defend themselves in the courts,” said MNA Minister for Metis Rights, Cecil Bellrose.
“With the Goodon case, we now have court decisions in each of the other Prairie provinces recognizing and affirming the harvesting rights of Metis living in the south, the Alberta Minister of Sustainable Resources continues to completely deny the existence of Metis rights in southern Alberta. This victory further illustrates the unreasonable and flawed unilateral Metis harvesting policy the Alberta government currently has in place,” Bellrose added.
Added Poitras, “in these times of economic uncertainty, I think Alberta taxpayers would rather have their tax dollars spent on social services and better housing than wasted on taking innocent Metis people to court for practicing their culture and traditions. The MNA remains ready and willing to work with the Alberta government once again to ensure Metis harvesting rights are respected in this province.”