Supreme Court sides with Metis in historic Manitoba land claim dispute

OTTAWA – The Manitoba Metis Federation has won a victory in a land dispute more than a century in the making.

In a 6-2 ruling, the Supreme Court of Canada says the way the federal government handed out land to children of the Metis more than 100 years ago failed to live up to its constitutional obligations.

“The federal Crown failed to implement the land grant provision … in accordance with the honour of the Crown,” the decision says.

The long-running legal battle stems from a deal that ultimately made Manitoba Canada’s fifth province.

The Manitoba Metis Federation claims the federal government never lived up to its obligation to set aside thousands of kilometres of land — including all of present-day Winnipeg — for the children of the Metis.

The Crown “acted with persistent inattention and failed to act diligently to achieve the purposes” of the land-grant agreement, the judgment reads.

“This was not a matter of occasional negligence, but of repeated mistakes and inaction that persisted for more than a decade…. This was inconsistent with the behaviour demanded by the honour of the Crown: a government sincerely intent on fulfilling the duty that its honour demanded could and should have done better.”

Government lawyers had countered that the Metis lawsuit was filed far too long after the land deal, and that Ottawa did not actually violate its side of the agreement.

The Supreme Court court ruling, which comes after a legal dispute dating back three decades, could potentially open the door to land-claim negotiations.