Yukon First Nations, Métis Nation of Ontario ask for intervenor status in Vuntut Gwitchin charter case

·3 min read
The courthouse in Whitehorse. Four parties are applying to be intervenors in appeals over a case that found the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms applies to the Vuntut Gwitchin government.
The courthouse in Whitehorse. Four parties are applying to be intervenors in appeals over a case that found the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms applies to the Vuntut Gwitchin government.

(Dave Croft/CBC - image credit)

Four parties, including two Yukon First Nations, are asking to be added to a legal battle over a judge's ruling that the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms applies to the Vuntut Gwitchin government.

Teslin Tlingit Council (TTC), Carcross/Tagish First Nation (C/TFN), the Council of Yukon First Nations (CYFN) and the Métis Nation of Ontario all filed paperwork to the Yukon Court of Appeal earlier this month.

The four are, separately, asking to be added as interveners in a case that began in 2019, when Vuntut Gwitchin citizen Cindy Dickson filed a petition challenging her First Nation's requirement that the chief and councillors reside on settlement land.

Intervenors are parties that weren't originally involved in a case but could be seriously affected by the outcome.

Dickson's legal team argued in court last year that Vuntut Gwitchin's residency requirement was a violation of the charter right guaranteeing equality for all Canadians. Vuntut Gwitchin's lawyers, meanwhile, argued that the First Nation never agreed that the charter would apply to its final and self-government agreements.

Yukon Supreme Court Justice Ron Veale ultimately ruled that the charter did apply to the Vuntut Gwitchin government, but that the residency requirement did not improperly infringe on anyone's rights.

Both Dickson and Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation are now in the midst of appealing the precedent-setting decision.

"This appeal will have implications for Indigenous communities across the country who are currently in negotiations with the federal government for the purpose of having their inherent right of self-government formally recognized in 'Canadian law,'" the Métis Nation of Ontario, which itself is currently in negotiations, wrote in a memorandum of argument.

"The issue of how the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms applies to Indigenous self-government looms large in these negotiations."

C/TFN and TTC say in their legal filings that they are worried about the status of their own self-government and final agreements, which share some similarities with Vuntut Gwitchin's and all draw from the Umbrella Final Agreement. In particular, they highlight the potential of the charter stripping away their abilities to govern based on traditional practices and values.

"I am concerned that applying the Canadian charter may lead to further erosion or assimilation of our unique TTC customs, laws and institutions," TTC elder Yankáxh Tláa (Barbara Hobbis) wrote in an affidavit accompanying her First Nation's intervenor application.

"It makes me nervous to think about our own TTC laws, based on Haa Kusteéyí, being struck down if someone thinks that they do not work with the rights set out in the charter."

Both First Nations also echoed Vuntut Gwitchin's argument that they never agreed during negotiations that the charter would apply to their self-government and final agreements, and that the matter should be left open to further negotiations between First Nations, Canada and Yukon.

CYFN Grand Chief Peter Johnston, in an affidavit, noted that although not a First Nation in and of itself, the council was a negotiator and signatory to the Umbrella Final Agreement and currently counts nine of the 11 self-governing Yukon First Nations among its members. It's also assisted in the implementation of final and self-government agreements in the territory, he wrote, and therefore has a strong interest in how the appeals turn out.

None of the intervenor applications have been heard as of Feb. 16.

Dickson and Vuntut Gwitchin's appeals have also not been heard in court yet.