R v LC, 2020 MBPC 38

Sentence confirmed. There is not enough evidence from the Indigenous offender that discloses progress substantial enough to enable a justification on the variation on her sentence of secure custody. The plan for supervision for this offender is insufficient to promote her rehabilitation and reintegration into society.

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In 2018, LC was sentenced to secure custody for forty months to be followed by conditional supervision for twenty three and one half months upon her guilty plea to second degree murder. Following an annual review that confirmed that sentence to continue without change, this proceeding is the second annual review pursuant to s 94 of The Youth Criminal Justice Act [“YCJA”].

LC seeks an end to her incarceration so that she can return to her First Nation community and take steps to enroll in University of Manitoba. She would have strong family support from three sources: her mother and grandmother, who have been in court for all of the proceedings and with whom she has had visits, as well as her preschool son whose guardian is presently the youth’s mother.

Since the last review, this youth has taken steps to remove negative influences which were a concern in the last review. She has ended troubling relationships with her son’s father and with a friend who had a tangential participation in the matter for which she is serving her youth sentence. LC has applied for, and has been involved in, an ongoing program offering support to Indigenous offenders. Although her conduct at both institutions that she has served at has not been without fault, she has completed high school and is eligible for university entrance. She was described as a role model for others and is trusted with a job in the laundry.

LC struggles with self-acceptance and thinks often of how to fit in with her peers. She’s very sensitive to criticism and internalizes what others say to her or about her. She has a tendency towards people pleasing and will give up her own values to gain acceptance from others. This is to be expected given her age and life experiences. The Healing Plan  includes appropriate cultural and spiritual activities to address this, including continued group attendance and continuing with Elders upon release and “spiritual guidance as requested”. It identifies jail tattooing with a history a self-harm and recommends appropriate education. The Plan does not specify how these resources would be provided, maintained and supervised. The young person seeking supervision instead of incarceration bears the onus of proof and it is not the burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt (R v H(D), 2008 ONCJ 78; R v Z(AA), 2013 MBCA 33).

It is determined that LC still does not appreciate the significance of her consequences; she is serving the maximum YCJA sentence for taking a life. It is to be hoped that she continues working on this. The evidence does not disclose progress substantial enough to enable a justification on the variation sought. The plan for supervision for this offender is insufficient to promote “her rehabilitation and reintegration into society, thereby contributing to the long-term protection of the public” (YCJA, s 38(1)). Although there have been changes in her life, they are not changes that are material to what led to second degree murder. The sentence is therefore confirmed.

AM v Ministry of Social Services, 2020 SKCA 114

Appeal to vary or terminate a permanent committal order under The Child and Family Services Act dismissed. Among other issues, the variation judge appropriately weighed the importance of the children’s Indigenous heritage in assessing their best interests, it was not an error to rely on hearsay evidence in a Opikinawasowin report prepared through Saskatoon Tribal Council, and there was insufficient evidence to find any breach of section 7 of the Charter due to delay in delivery of judgment.

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This appeal concerned a proceeding under The Child and Family Services Act [“Act”], where two of the Appellants’ children were apprehended by the Ministry of Social Services [“Ministry”]. At the time, the Appellants were struggling with addictions. Violence was also a problem in the home.

In June 2013, it was determined that the children were in need of protection within the meaning of the Act and ordered that they be committed permanently to the care of the Ministry. In 2016, the Appellants applied to vary or terminate the permanent committal order. Nearly two years passed before the judge who heard the application rendered a decision dismissing it. The variation judge relied in part on the recommendation of the Elders who participated in an Opikinawasowin (a Cree word that translates to “the child rearing way” in English), and concluded that the Appellants had failed to demonstrate either that there had been a material change in circumstances, or that the best interests of the children would be served by varying or terminating the permanent committal order.

The Appellants now appeal from the Variation Decision. They also argue that, by taking nearly two years to render a decision, the variation judge caused delay that violated their rights under section 7 of the Charter.

The variation judge acknowledged that the Appellants had made significant progress in their individual battles with addiction but he remained concerned that they had not addressed the issue of violence within their home. He determined the best interests would be served by remaining in a stable home where they had lived for most of their young lives and maintaining the familial bonds that they had developed with their younger sister and foster family. This decision was made after careful reflection, notwithstanding the fact it meant they would be adopted by a non-Indigenous person.

The variation judge did not underemphasize the importance of the children’s cultural heritage in reaching this conclusion. His reasons indicate that he considered a multitude of factors, including those set out in the Act. Given the discretionary nature of a judge’s task in deciding what weight to assign to each of those factors in the ultimate balancing exercise, and the governing standard of review, this Court is not persuaded that there is any basis to interfere with his conclusion.

As well in this case, there is simply not an adequate evidentiary basis upon which to properly assess the question of whether the judicial deliberation delay violated the Appellants’ rights under section 7 of the Charter. There is no evidence that the Appellants ever expressed concern about delay prior to the variation judge issuing his decision. Nor is there any evidence as to what impact the delay had on the Appellants, the children, or on any of the issues the variation judge was required to consider in disposing of the variation application. The Appellants have not persuaded that all the facts necessary to address the section 7 issue are before the Court (Canada (Attorney General) v Bedford, 2013 SCC 72).

CAS v KC and Constance Lake First Nation, 2020 ONSC 5513

The Court issued a temporary order for twin children to be returned to the care of their mother on terms of supervision. Among other things, the Court interpreted the interplay between the federal Bill C-92 and Ontario’s Child, Youth and Family Services Act as establishing an augmented best interests test that overrides the hierarchy of placement for Indigenous children in Bill C-92.

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An Indigenous mother [the “Mother”] does not deny that her twins were in need of protection but that it is in the children’s best interests to be returned to her care on terms of supervision. The Court interprets the interplay between Bill C-92 and the Child, Youth and Family Services Act as establishing an augmented best interests test as the paramount consideration that overrides the hierarchy of placement for Indigenous children set out at section 16(1) of Bill C-92. A rote application would be to the detriment of the best interests of the Indigenous child, which detracts from the legislation’s overall goal of promoting substantive equality between Indigenous and non-Indigenous children.

The Mother is a member of Constance Lake First Nation and has extended family residing there. The Mother does not know the identity of the twins’ biological father, as she was homeless and had relapsed with drug addiction when they were conceived. Although she is addicted to opiates, she has been on a methadone program for three years. She has not used opiates since discovering she was pregnant. The Mother came to the Society’s attention following her voluntary participation in the Healthy Babies, Healthy Children prenatal program in the month prior to the twins’ birth, when a call was made by an employee of that program.

The Mother’s post-traumatic stress disorder stems in large part from unrelated events that stink of racism. In 2017, a man was stalking and harassing the Mother. No charges were laid and, instead, Mother was told by police that they would warn the man to stay away from her. Police neither warned off the man, nor was any report filed about the Mother’s complaint. Police failed to advise Mother of the man’s 56 prior convictions including sex offences and an assault on his own 18-month-old child. When the man later attempted to rape the Mother, who fought him off and fled, he called Sudbury Regional Police who charged her with Break and Enter and Assault.

Although she initially intended to take the matter to trial, the Mother found the situation overwhelming and pleaded guilty to the reduced charge of unlawfully entering a dwelling house. Two subsequent instances of questioning by separate police agencies about the same violent assault from which Sudbury Region Police failed to protect the Mother from, triggered her post-traumatic stress disorder such that she found herself suffering from hallucinations and fears that she was being stalked and watched.

The Society appears to rely upon these events to suggest that the Mother has a history of domestic violence. The Society also allege that the Mother has been disengaged with them and with the medical officials, and that her partner has been “overbearing” and aggressive in his demeanour. Their approach appears high-handed rather than collaborative, despite the assertion that there is cultural sensitivity.

The Court has to start with the premise that a biological parent is entitled to parent his or her child. All parents start as first-timers; no inference should be drawn that a new parent cannot adequately care for his or her child. Three factors clearly do impact the Mother’s ability to care for the children: 1) her anxiety and attendant issues; 2) the significant burden of caring for twins in general; and 3) the additional therapeutic needs of these children (Baby A needing physiotherapy to address the congenital club feet and Baby B needing physiotherapy to address the muscles in her neck).

The best interests of the Indigenous child, however, are the paramount consideration in determining the placement of that child. The hierarchy of placements is to be followed where it is consistent with the Indigenous child’s best interests in the context of promoting substantive equality between the Indigenous child and other children.

R v Brown, 2020 BCPC 137

The Court found the sentences in their aggregate to be unduly harsh and disproportionate. The sentences were adjusted to arrive at an appropriate global sentence that considered circumstances such as the defendant’s Indigenous heritage, hope of rehabilitation and his relatively young age.

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Mr. Brown, the defendant, is a 26-year old man who discharged a firearm in the hallways of a lodging house. He then went to a nearby house and struck a resident with the firearm. At the time of the incident, Mr. Brown was bound by a 10-year weapons prohibition, which prohibited him from possessing firearms. This prohibition was imposed after he had been sentenced for a drug offence three years prior. Mr. Brown pleaded guilty to discharging a firearm, unlawful possession of a restricted firearm, assault with a weapon and breach of a prohibition order. The Crown urged the Court to impose a global sentence of six and a half years, while counsel for Mr. Brown urged for a global sentence of five years.

The Court had the benefit of reading a Gladue report that was previously prepared for Mr. Brown for his earlier drug conviction. Findings in the report noted that many of the systemic background facts that impact Indigenous peoples in Canada have also impacted Mr. Brown, including substance abuse, criminal history, family breakdown, and racism. While the Court was able to recognize how these factors have contributed to Mr. Brown’s offences, these factors did not equate to an automatic reduction in sentence (R v Gladue, [1999] 1 SCR 688).

The case law clearly establishes that the risk posed by firearms demands a sentence that denounces and deters (R v Oud, 2016 BCCA 332; R v Guha, 2012 BCCA 423). The Court found that a fit sentence in this case must adequately meet the objectives of denunciation and deterrence, however, it must not lose sight of the importance of rehabilitation. Mr. Brown’s relatively young age and accessibility to Indigenous centered programs both within his community and through correctional institutions were taken into consideration. The Court found the sentences in their aggregate to be disproportionate and destructive to any hope of rehabilitation. As a result, the sentences were adjusted, and Mr. Brown received a sentence of 5 years 9 months.

Blois v Onion Lake Cree Nation, 2020 FC 953

The Court granted an application for judicial review, quashed Onion Lake Cree Nation’s decision to terminate the appointment of its Appeals Tribunal, and ordered its reconstitution to hear the Applicant’s election appeal. Onion Lake members decided to codify their customary governance laws and nothing in their written laws allows for termination of the tribunal. The decision was also subject to procedural fairness since it was specific to the outstanding election appeal; as it was made without notice, procedural fairness was breached. 

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The members of Onion Lake Cree Nation [“OLCN”] passed the OLCN Convention Law [“Convention Law”] by community referendum in 2011. Amongst other things, the Convention Law empowers the OLCN Chief and Council to establish boards, commissions and committees as necessary for peace, order and good governance and to pass laws, regulations and codes. The members of OLCN passed the Onion Lake Election Law [“Election Law”] which came into effect in 2017. The Chief and Council subsequently passed the OLCN Appeals Regulation [“Appeals Regulation”]. Pursuant to the Election Law, an appeals tribunal [“Appeals Tribunal”] was appointed in advance of the upcoming Election.

This is an application for judicial review of a decision by the OLCN Chief and Council terminating the appointment of the Appeals Tribunal prior to the completion of its consideration and determination of an appeal of the 2018 OLCN [“Election”]. The Applicant, Florence Blois was an incumbent but unsuccessful candidate for councillor in the Election. The Applicant submitted to the Appeals Tribunal setting out various allegations. The Appeals Tribunal decided to accept the Applicant’s appeal but there were apparently concerns with the conduct of the appeal. The Applicant submits to this Court that the OLCN Chief and Council did not have the jurisdiction or authority to terminate her appeal.

By way of the Convention Law, the members of the OLCN chose to codify into writing the rules for establishing, empowering and regulating their institutions of government. OLCN effected a government (or executive) branch, the elected Chief and Council; the Elders Council to provide spiritual guidance; and a Judicial Assembly Commission.

Nothing in the Appeals Regulation speaks to the termination of the Appeals Tribunal prior to the completion of its term. That is, nothing in the Convention Law, Election Law or the Appeals Regulation provides authority to the Chief and Council, in any circumstance, to intervene in an appeal and dissolve the Appeals Tribunal before the Appeals Tribunal makes a decision in an appeal that is before it. If the legislative scheme suggested that the OLCN Chief and Council had the authority to disband the Appeals Tribunal before the expiry of its specified term, for any reason, and instead substitute its own finding, then this authority would have been clearly stated. This is demonstrated by the fact that the conduct of OLCN election appeals is exhaustively covered by the Election Law and Appeals Regulation.

Jurisprudence from the Federal Court of Appeal and this Court suggests that there must be clear legislative authority to remove appeal committee or council members (Johnson v Tait, 2015 FCA 247; Angus v Chipewyan Prairie First Nation, 2008 FC 932). It is clear that the Appeals Tribunal, as an independent body, holds a discreet and exclusive role in the conduct of election appeals, and the term of the appointment of that body is explicitly stated to start at appointment and not to terminate until an election appeal is decided.

The Court concludes that the OLCN Chief and Council did not have the authority to terminate the appointment of the Appeals Tribunal and, thereby, the Applicant’s appeal. Accordingly, that decision was unreasonable.

Cowichan Tribes v Canada (AG), 2020 BCSC 1507

Cowichan Tribes is entitled to claim privilege over information that their Lands and Governance Director learned from Cowichan Elders during Treaty Committee meetings and during his involvement in a project-specific traditional land use study. The public interest in reconciliation through good faith treaty negotiations and the duty to consult favours case-by-case privilege in this case.

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This matter is in regards to an Aboriginal title and rights case, where the testimony of Mr. George, Lands and Governance Director for Cowichan Tribes, was questioned on communications that was learned of during Cowichan Tribes Treaty Committee meetings and related to traditional use interviews, over which the plaintiffs claim privilege. The Treaty Committee meetings were held to advise on Cowichan Tribes’ approaches to treaty negotiations and the pursuit of Aboriginal rights and title. Cowichan Tribes was advised on strategic use of oral history information including oral histories shared at Treaty Committee meetings.

In establishing confidentiality at common law, the Supreme Court of Canada first adopted the Wigmore’s four criterion in Slavutych v Baker, [1976] 1 SCR 254: 1) the communications must originate in confidence that they will not be disclosed; 2) this element of confidentiality must be essential to the full and satisfactory maintenance of the relation between the parties; 3) the relation must be one which in the opinion of the community ought to be sedulously fostered; and 4) the injury that would inure to the relation by the disclosure of the communications must be greater than the benefit thereby gained for the correct disposal of litigation. The party seeking to protect the communication from disclosure must demonstrate that the authors of the communications possessed expectations of confidentiality (Northwest Organics, Limited Partnership v Roest, 2017 BCSC 673 [“Roest”]; Yahey v British Columbia, 2018 BCSC 123 [“Yahey”]).

The plaintiffs submit that the communications were made during these confidential Treaty Committee meetings which were conducted with an expectation that the information would not be disclosed. Confidentiality is essential to Cowichan Tribes’ relationship with its members and its ability to ask knowledge holders and Elders to share information about traditional use. This relationship of trust is essential to Cowichan Tribes’ ability to engage in good faith consultation with the Crown. The Cowichan community view this relationship as one that should be sedulously fostered. Allowing disclosure of the contents of the interviews in the litigation would undermine the constitutionally protected process while having minimal benefit to the disposal of this litigation.

The court in Roest held that the Wigmore criteria are not “carved in stone” but are a “general framework within which policy considerations and the requirements of fact-finding can be weighed and balanced on the basis of their relative importance in the particular case” (Roest; R v National Post, 2010 SCC 16). Case-by-case privilege may restrict disclosure where Wigmore’s four criteria for establishing confidentiality at common law exists. Those criteria seek to balance the protection of confidential communication with the public interest in the correct disposal of litigation (P(V) v Linde, [1996] 2 WWR 48).

The Wigmore criteria have been applied to preserve the confidentiality of interviews with Elders and community members undertaken in the course of traditional use studies (Yahey). These criteria must be applied to such interviews in a manner sensitive to the unique legal and constitutional context of the duty to consult, which is underpinned by the honour of the Crown and reconciliation, and involves reciprocal duties on the Crown and First Nations to participate in good faith in the consultation process. This application must also be viewed in the context of the Crown’s constitutional duty to consult and deal honourably with First Nations. This context includes Cowichan Tribes’ reciprocal duty to “express its interests and concerns regarding potential impacts to its rights, and to consult in good faith” and recognition of the fundamental importance of reconciliation between the Crown and First Nations in this process (Yahey; Mikisew Cree First Nation v Canada (Minister of Canadian Heritage), 2005 SCC 69).

In this case, the four Wigmore criteria for case-by-case privilege are met. The plaintiffs are not evincing an intention to rely on, or benefit from, the evidence they claim to be privileged. They are not seeking to adduce evidence about the substantive content of the Treaty Committee discussions. Nor do they seek to rely on the substantive content of some interviews conducted while shielding other interviews from disclosure. Rather, they adduced evidence of oral history from other sources. The question of what Mr. George learned in Cowichan Tribes Treaty Committee meetings regarding oral history of Cowichan Tribes Elders about fishing on the Fraser River is disallowed as the answers it would elicit are privileged.

Trans Mountain Pipeline ULC v Mivasair, 2019 BCSC 1512

Three Indigenous men were each sentenced to 28 days in prison for criminal contempt after breaching an injunction prohibiting interference with Trans Mountain Pipeline operations. While Gladue factors were relevant, deterrence and denunciation needed to be given primary consideration. They could not invoke Indigenous law at the sentencing stage when they failed to challenge the injunction’s validity.

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Stacy Gallagher, Justin Bige and James Leyden [“Contemnors”] are to be sentenced in this matter for breaching an order [“Injunction”] (Trans Mountain Pipeline ULC v Mivasair, 2019 BCSC 2472 [the “Conviction Reasons”]). The Injunction prohibited interference with the operations of the plaintiff, Trans Mountain Pipeline ULC [“Trans Mountain”]. In 2018, this Court granted the Injunction to address protest activity against Trans Mountain and its pipeline expansion project. In broad terms, the Injunction prohibited obstruction of access to and from various Trans Mountain work sites.

Trans Mountain’s project attracted considerable controversy at the time, which continues today. Protests and arrests of protestors began almost immediately after the granting of the Injunction. The police arrested in excess of 200 people for breaching the Injunction.

The Court’s main focus in this sentencing process is to send a clear signal to the Contemnors, and others who may be influenced by them and their actions, that such behavior will not be tolerated. Deterrence is the main sentencing objective. Although contempt of court is a common law offence, and therefore prosecuted under the common law, courts have frequently stated that guidance in respect of sentencing for criminal contempt may be sought from the Criminal Code (International Forest Products Ltd v Kern, 2001 BCCA 48; R v Dhillon, 2015 BCSC 1298; Trans Mountain Pipeline ULC v Mivasair, 2019 BCCA 156).

There is a need for the Court to restore, maintain and preserve the rule of law and the administration of justice by punishing those people who would choose to threaten its existence by taking matters into their own hands and in doing so, encourage others to do the same. It could not be reasonably assumed that “public defiance of lawful orders of the court would continue indefinitely to be visited with only nominal fines and non-custodial sentences” (MacMillan Bloedel Ltd v Brown (1994), 88 CCC (3d) 148 (BCCA)).

All of the Contemnors are Aboriginal through their mothers lineage. Their home Indigenous territories are not in BC or even in the local area, being the traditional territories of the Coast Salish peoples. None of these men have criminal records. Section 718.2(e) of the Code mandates that the Contemnors’ Aboriginal heritage be considered in determining a fit sentence in the circumstances, including the Gladue principles (R v Gladue, [1999] 1 SCR 688; R v Ipeelee, 2012 SCC 13). The fact that an offender is Aboriginal, however, does not dictate that a restorative approach is appropriate toward rehabilitation (R v Wells, 2000 SCC 10 [“Wells”]). Unlike the facts in Wells, of course the convictions here did not arise from any violent offence. The offences here were, however, serious, consistent with the need for this Court to denounce and deter such behavior, both generally and specifically.

The Contemnors repeatedly submitted that they never meant any disrespect for the Court through their actions. However, such words are meaningless when juxtaposed against their actual actions. This Court has already found that the Contemnors, knowing what the Injunction required them not to do, purposefully did just that. Their actions belie any real sense of respect for the Court’s authority. The true substance of the Contemnors’ position in relation to their Aboriginal heritage is founded on their view that they were entitled to disobey the Court’s order because of their heritage and what they perceive as being their obligations to their own Indigenous rule of law. In essence, such an argument is a backdoor collateral attack on the validity of the order and this Court’s jurisdiction to enforce its order in the sentencing process (British Columbia (AG) v Mount Currie Indian Band, [1991] BCJ No 616 (SC); R v Ignace, [1998] BCJ No 243 (CA)).

The Contemnors’ Aboriginal heritage, background and circumstances, while relevant, do not move the needle in terms of the Court’s need to give primacy to the sentencing principles of denunciation and deterrence in this case. Each of them were well aware of what they were doing at the time. The Contemnors knew that they were going to be arrested if they violated the Injunction.


Kina Gbezhgomi Child and Family Services v MA, 2020 ONJC 414

The Court ordered that four children be placed in the care and custody of their mother on terms of supervision. Among other things, the Court accepted that evidence of Indigenous kinship traditions, cultural norms, and laws is relevant, and that grandparents play an important role in Anishinaabe families, but was satisfied the mother could resume her own responsibilities under Anishinaabe traditions. 

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The Applicant, Kina Gbezhgomi Child and Family Services [“Society”], brought a motion for an order to place four children of various ages into the care of the paternal grandparents, subject to the supervision of the Society. The mother has opposed the Society’s motion under the Child, Youth and Family Services Act [“CYFSA”] and asked the Court for an order placing the children in her care.

The Society’s propose placement with the paternal grandparents because they continue to have protection concerns regarding the mother, such as health issues, specifically addictions, and her lack of cooperation with the Society. Concern of perceived lack of cooperation from the mother stems from her not having signed updated consents to verify certain information about her treatment efforts. The Society was not satisfied to have that information verified by her First Nation, with whom the Society has a protocol for service provision, and who was the service provider for at least some of the mother’s ongoing counselling.

The mother filed a sworn affidavit wherein she indicated that she is disappointed to the see the Society continue to resist a return of the children to her, even with supervision. The mother indicated that she has continued to access the support of Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territory as well as other services. Her lawyer conceded that the mother needs support, including financial assistance, but that the mother was prepared to accept that help, and that with the support of Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territory, the relationship between the mother and the Society could be repaired.

The Band Representative for Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territory, verified that the mother has completed treatment and continues to work towards pro-social and culturally-informed ways of managing her addictions. Wiikwemkoong supported the return of the children to the mother. While the grandparents could ensure access to the mother, Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territory and the mother submitted it should be the other way around. They argued that given the undisputed evidence that the mother and the grandparents work well together, the Court can be satisfied that the mother would ensure this transition is as easy on the children as possible by making sure they are seeing their grandparents frequently and regularly.

At a temporary care and custody hearing, the onus is on the Society to establish, on credible and trustworthy evidence, that there are reasonable grounds to believe that there is a real possibility that if a child is returned to the respondent, it is more probable than not that they will suffer harm. Further, the Society needs to establish that the child cannot be adequately protected by terms and conditions of an interim supervision order (Children’s Aid Society of Ottawa-Carleton v T, [2000] OJ No 2273 (Ont Sup Ct)). Only after this burden is satisfied as against the party who had charge of the child before the intervention, can the Court look to other options, such as the placement of the children in another home, using a best interests test (Catholic Children’s Aid Society of Toronto v KS, 2020 ONCJ 268).

It is trite to say that as a result of a history that requires such remedial legislation, Indigenous families sometimes find it difficult to work with child welfare agencies. The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples recognizes the importance of belonging to a community or nation, in accordance with the traditions and customs of the community or nation concerned. Courts need to consider evidence of the traditions, cultural norms and laws of the Indigenous community it is serving. It may be in some cases that where a child cannot be returned to their parent(s), courts will need to hear evidence about Indigenous kinship structures and the roles of grandparents in the communities they serve in order to make proper determinations on best interests.

The mother has been proactive in addressing the addiction issues that were the original basis for the Society’s intervention a year ago. The Court accepts evidence of Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territory that she is meaningfully engaged in services to address these concerns. The path to sobriety is often challenging and non-linear but she understands her wellness is linked to her ability to parent. She has satisfied the Court that she is committed to this, and to working towards a culturally-grounded understanding of her sacred role as a mother.

Tallcree First Nation v Rath & Company, 2020 ABQB 592

The Court allowed an appeal from a Review Officer’s decision that a $11.5 million dollar contingency fee agreement for settlement of an agricultural benefits specific claim was reasonable. The Review Officer applied an erroneous standard of review to the agreement and ignored critical factors like how quickly and easily the settlement was reached and how minimal the work product was.

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This is an appeal from the Review Officer’s [“RO”] decision with respect to the Tallcree [“Tallcree”] First Nation’s Contingency Fee Agreement [“CFA”] entered into with Rath & Company and Jeffrey RW Rath [“Rath”] of Priddis, Alberta in 2015. The CFA before the RO was a result of an agricultural benefits settlement paid by the Government of Canada to Tallcree in the sum of $57,590,375. The 20% contingency fee amounted to $11,518,075.

Tallcree filed to request “a review of retainer agreement”. The RO determined that while the 20% contingency fee resulted in an extremely high fee never seen before, it was not one that was clearly unreasonable. Tallcree now appeals the RO’s decision. Given the sensitive nature of CFA’s with respect to vulnerable members of the community and their ability to access justice, amongst other reasons, the onus is on Rath to satisfy the Court that the CFA is fair and not unreasonable at the time it was entered into (MS v DM, 2014 ABQB 702).

The Court accepts that Tallcree was aware of the terms of the CFA, was aware as to the possible range of recovery, and was aware of the 20% fee that would accompany that general range of recovery between approximately $50 to $80 million dollars. However, Tallcree was unaware at the time of the CFA about how long such a recovery would take. How lengthy a process the settlement would take, and how quickly the settlement could be reached, were critical factors for Tallcree in determining the reasonableness of the CFA . Tallcree was in “dire economic circumstances” and needed the settlement monies “urgently on an Emergency basis”.

Tallcree argues that Rath withheld critical information from Tallcree at the time of the CFA that strongly suggested that the agricultural benefit settlement that they were seeking would be resolved favourably and quickly. While Tallcree’s previous legal counsel had filed formal claims for the unfulfilled Treaty promises related to agricultural benefits on behalf of Tallcree in 2012, the Court concludes that Rath was essentially only successful in settling those claims in short order after the CFA because of the change in Federal government. Rath would have been aware of this fortuitous change, as a fixed date election was legislated by S.C. 2000 c.9 to occur on October 19, 2015.

There were approximately 20 other First Nations who settled their agricultural benefits claims around the same time Tallcree did, represented by Rath or other legal counsel. These other similar settlements by Rath and other law firms establish that these settlements were clearly attainable at the time the CFA was entered into.

The RO’s decision that the CFA was reasonable because of the resulting fee “was not unexpectedly unfair” or “clearly unreasonable” on the facts in this case is not the same as determining the “reasonableness” of a retainer agreement. Accepting 20% as a minimal contingency fee ignored other factors critical in the determination of the reasonableness of the CFA, such as the actual time Rath spent on the file, and how quickly and how easily the settlement was reached. Most of the work product found in the record are actually simple emails created and signed by his paralegal. The RO’s decision constitute reversible errors. There is no proper legal basis or foundation for the RO to have limited or fixed his low-end minimum contingency fee amount at 20% of any amount recovered, which is why the RO’s decision resulted in an incredibly high legal fee that even he stated he had never seen before. Furthermore, the RO’s standard of “clearly unreasonable” is not the “correct” legal standard with which to review the CFA.

Laforme v Law Society of Ontario, 2020 ONLSTH 112

Ontario’s Law Society Tribunal – Hearing Division granted Retired Justice Harry Laforme permission to appear as counsel in two class proceedings against Canada regarding drinking water advisories based on exceptional circumstances, including the enhancement of the administration of justice by allowing him to assist Indigenous communities with these specific proceedings. 

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The Honourable Harry S. LaForme [“Licensee”] is a retired judge of the Ontario Court of Appeal. He has applied for permission to appear as counsel before the Federal Court of Canada and the Manitoba Court of Queen’s Bench on two specific matters relating to access to clean drinking water on First Nation reserves.

The test for approval required by Rule 7.7-1.2 of the Rules of Professional Conduct [“Rules”] is onerous. The Licensee must establish that “exceptional circumstances” exist to grant approval and the hearing panel must also determine whether any restrictions should apply to the Licensee’s appearance as counsel.

The Licensee is Anishinabe of the Eagle Clan of the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation in southern Ontario. In 1994, the Licensee was appointed a judge of the Ontario Court of Justice (General Division), which is now the Superior Court of Justice. He was one of the first Indigenous judges appointed to this level of trial court in Ontario, and only one of three in Canada.

OKT and McCarthy Tétrault LLP [“McCarthys”] are jointly representing three First Nations in their class actions against Canada regarding drinking water advisories on First Nation reserves across the country, alleging breaches of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms rights of security of the person and equality, as well as the Crown’s fiduciary duties to First Nations for failure to provide clean drinking water on reserves. The actions seek to compel Canada to provide compensation and safe drinking water on reserves.

OKT has been jointly retained with McCarthy’s to act as class counsel in these proceedings and represents Curve Lake First Nation, Neskantaga First Nation, and Tataskweyak Cree Nation to prosecute the class action, including certification and a common issues trial. The Licensee is requesting to appear as counsel throughout both proceedings. All three First Nations want the Licensee to appear as one of their counsel along with other members of the McCarthy’s and OKT teams. None of the other members of those teams has the combined personal experience of living on reserve and the extensive professional experience working with First Nations that the Licensee possesses.

Canada, the sole defendant in both the Tataskweyak and Curve Lake Actions, does not oppose this application and will abide by the Tribunal’s decision. The Law Society consented to the Licensee’s application and together with the Licensee submitted that exceptional circumstances exist in this matter.

The concerns expressed about former judges appearing as counsel in the courts are related to apprehension of bias, conflict of interest, and most importantly, public perception and confidence in the justice system. While the Rule does not provide any guidance as to what constitutes exceptional circumstances, based on the particular facts of the application in question, the concerns identified above – apprehension of bias, conflict of interest and public perception and confidence in the justice system – have either been eliminated or materially ameliorated.

It is determined that exceptional circumstances exist such that the Licensee should be granted permission to appear as counsel in the two class proceedings. The applicant is restricted from using his honourific or making any reference to his status as a retired judge in any appearances in the two class action proceedings as listed above, in the courtroom and any pleadings, affidavits or other documents to be filed as part of the court record, except as required by the applicant’s professional responsibilities or any direction or order of the respective court.