The Sovereign Indigenous Power of Veto in Canada

1. The Supreme Court of Canada in Tsilhqot’in Nation v. British Columbia, 2014 S.C.C. 44, [2014] 2 S.C.R. 256 erred as a matter of law by interpreting section 35(1):— in breach of the maxim1 interpretatio cessat in claris [interpretation stops when a text is clear]; since, as held in R. v. Nicholas, 232 A.P.R.248, ¶9 (1988), by Justice Dickson of the New Brunswick Court of Queen’s Bench, the “use of the expression existing aboriginal and treaty rights in s. 35(1) can only be taken to mean those rights as they existed on April 17, 1982,” the day Canada’s Constitution Act, 1982, came into force and effect by the royal assent. [Emphasis added.]

2. Section 35(1) of the Constitution Act, 1982, unambiguously enacted, “The existing aboriginal and treaty rights of the aboriginal peoples of Canada are hereby recognized and affirmed.”

3. The following excerpts read together from Tsilhqot’in Nation are extrajudicial errors based on “interpreting” section 35(1):

[1] What is the test for Aboriginal title to land? If title is established, what rights does it confer? Does the British Columbia Forest Act, R.S.B.C. 1996, c. 157, apply to land covered by Aboriginal title? What are the constitutional constraints on provincial regulation of land under Aboriginal title? Finally, how are broader public interests to be reconciled with the rights conferred by Aboriginal title? These are among the important questions raised by this appeal. [Emphasis added]

[23] … cases such as this require an approach that results in decisions based on the best evidence that emerges, not what a lawyer may have envisaged when drafting the initial claim. What is at stake is nothing less than justice for the Aboriginal group and its descendants, and the reconciliation between the group and broader society. A technical approach to pleadings would serve neither goal. It is in the broader public interest that land claims and rights issues be resolved in a way that reflects the substance of the matter. Only thus can the project of reconciliation this Court spoke of in Delgamuukw be achieved. [Emphasis added]

[71] What remains, then, of the Crown’s radical or underlying title to lands held under Aboriginal title? The authorities suggest two related elements — a fiduciary duty owed by the Crown to Aboriginal people when dealing with Aboriginal lands, and the right to encroach on Aboriginal title if the government can justify this in the broader public interest under s. 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982. The Court in Delgamuukw referred to this as a process of reconciling Aboriginal interests with the broader public interests under s. 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982. [Emphasis added]

[88] In summary, Aboriginal title confers on the group that holds it the exclusive right to decide how the land is used and the right to benefit from those uses, subject to one carve-out — that the uses must be consistent with the group nature of the interest and the enjoyment of the land by future generations. Government incursions not consented to by the title-holding group must be undertaken in accordance with the Crown’s procedural duty to consult and must also be justified on the basis of a compelling and substantial public interest, and must be consistent with the Crown’s fiduciary duty to the Aboriginal group. [Emphasis added]

[113] And what about the long period of time during which land claims progress and ultimate Aboriginal title remains uncertain? During this period, Aboriginal groups have no legal right to manage the forest; their only right is to be consulted, and if appropriate, accommodated with respect to the land’s use: Haida. [Emphasis added]

[125] As discussed earlier, to justify an infringement, the Crown must demonstrate that: (1) it complied with its procedural duty to consult with the right holders and accommodate the right to an appropriate extent at the stage when infringement was contemplated; (2) the infringement is backed by a compelling and substantial legislative objective in the public interest; and (3) the benefit to the public is proportionate to any adverse effect on the Aboriginal interest. This framework permits a principled reconciliation of Aboriginal rights with the interests of all Canadians. [Emphasis added]

[139] As discussed, s. 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982 imposes limits on how both the federal and provincial governments can deal with land under Aboriginal title. Neither level of government is permitted to legislate in a way that results in a meaningful diminution of an Aboriginal or treaty right, unless such an infringement is justified in the broader public interest and is consistent with the Crown’s fiduciary duty owed to the Aboriginal group. The result is to protect Aboriginal and treaty rights while also allowing the reconciliation of Aboriginal interests with those of the broader society. [Emphasis added]

4. The preceding excerpts identify a revolutionary political regime arrived at by improperly interpreting section 35 by means of “openly declaring a new principle of law.” The new principle introduces expropriation into the native and newcomer relationship and by so doing, were it not extrajudicial, effectively would put an end to the independent indigenous statehood that has survived. A.V. Dicey, Lectures on the Relation between Law and Public Opinion in England in the Nineteenth Century, 1905, (at page 483), delivered a critical legal opinion about the limits on the judicial power:

Judge-made law is subject to certain limitations. It can not openly declare a new principle of law: it must always take the form of a deduction from some legal principle whereof the validity is admitted, or the application or interpretation of some statutory enactment. [Emphasis added]

5. James Kirby (2018), in an article entitled “A. V. Dicey and English constitutionalism,” History of European Ideas, accounted for the significance of Dicey:

Abstract: The jurist A. V. Dicey’s study of the Law of the Constitution (1885) has been since its publication the dominant analysis of the British constitution and the source of orthodoxy on such subjects as parliamentary sovereignty and the rule of law. This canonical status has obscured the originality of Dicey’s ideas in the history of legal and political thought. Dicey reworked the traditional idea of sovereignty into two separate concepts – legal and political sovereignty – in order to square the common law notion of the sovereignty of parliament with the democratic idea of the sovereignty of the people. He forged a new concept – “the rule of law” – to explain the legal basis of liberty in common law countries in a manner that was both Benthamite and constitutionalist. Finally, he provided a democratic and anti-federalist rationale for maintaining the Union of Great Britain and Ireland. This majoritarian, centralist and utilitarian constitutionalism has been one of the most enduring products of Victorian scholarship. This article seeks to recover it in its original context and, in so doing, to show the value of reintegrating legal thought into the mainstream of modern British history and the history of political thought.

6. The Supreme Court’s interpretation of Tsilhqot’in Nation thus purports to supersede the previously established definition of “existing aboriginal rights” within the meaning of section 35(1) of the Constitution Act, 1982 by inventing new law. The “superseded” (if that were possible in lieu of a legislative constitutional amendment) constitutional law is provided by three constitutive authorities, namely:

(a) by the Canadian common law case on the doctrine of discovery, being Connolly v. Woolrich, (1867), 11 L.C.J. 197, 205-207 (S.C. Quebec) which confirmed the continuity of the indigenous jurisdiction to create their own law governing themselves and their beneficial interest:

…will it be contended that the territorial rights, political organization such as it was, or the laws of the Indian tribes, were abrogated that they ceased to exist when these two European nations began to trade with the aboriginal occupants? In my opinion, it is beyond controversy that they did not, that so far from being abolished, they were not even modified in the slightest degree in regard to the civil rights of the natives. As bearing upon this point, I cannot do better than to cite the decision of learned and august tribunal the Supreme Court of the United States. In the celebrated case of Worcester against the State of Georgia, (6th Peters Reports, pages 515-542), Chief Justice Marshall perhaps one of the greatest lawyers of our times in delivering the judgment of the Court, said:

America separated from Europe by a wide ocean, was inhabited by a distinct people, divided into separate nations, independent of each other and of the rest of the world, having institutions of their own, and governing themselves by their own laws. It is difficult to comprehend the proposition, that the inhabitants of either quarter of the globe could have rightful original claims of dominion over the inhabitants of the other, or the lands they occupied; or that the discovery of either by the other should give the discoverer rights in the country discovered, which annulled the pre-existing rights of its ancient possessors.
After lying concealed for a series of ages, the enterprise of Europe, guided by nautical science, conducted some of her adventurous sons into this western world. They found it in the possession of a people who had made small progress in agriculture or manufactures, and whose general employment was war, hunting and fishing.
Did these adventurers, by sailing along the coast, and occasionally landing on it, acquire for the several governments to whom they belonged, or by whom they were commissioned, a rightful property in the soil, from the Atlantic to the Pacific; or rightful dominion over the numerous people who occupied it? Or has nature, or the Creator of all things, conferred these rights over hunters and fishermen, on agriculturalists and manufacturers?
But power, war, conquest give rights, which after possession, are conceded by the world; and that can never be controverted by those on whom they descend. We proceed, then, to the actual state of things, having glanced at their origin, because holding it in our recollection might shed some light on existing pretensions.
The great maritime powers of Europe discovered and visited different parts of this continent at nearly the same time. The object was too immense for any of them to grasp the whole; and the claimants too powerful to submit to the exclusive or unreasonable pretensions of any single potentate. To avoid bloody conflicts, which might terminate disastrously for all, it was necessary for the nations of Europe to establish some principle which all would acknowledge, and which should decide their respective rights as between themselves. This principle, suggested by the actual state of things, was, that discovery gave title to the government by whose subjects or by whose authority it was made, against all other European governments, which title might be consummated by possession. Johnson vs. McIntosh, 8 Wheaton’s Rep., 543.
This principle, acknowledged by all Europeans, because it was in the interest of all to acknowledge it, gave to the nation making the discovery, as its inevitable consequence, the sole right of acquiring the soil and of making settlements on it. It was an exclusive principle which shut out the right of competition among those who had agreed to it; not one that could annul the previous rights of those who had not agreed to it. It regulated the right given by discovery among the European discoverers, but could not affect the rights of those already in possession, either as aboriginal occupants, or occupants by virtue of a discovery made before the memory of man. It gave the exclusive right to purchase, but did not found that right on a denial of the right of the possessor to sell.
The relation between the Europeans and the natives was determined in each case by the particular government which asserted and could maintain this preemptive privilege in the particular place. The United States succeeded to all the claims of Great Britain, both territorial and political; but no attempt so far as is known, has been made to enlarge them. So far as they existed merely in theory, or were in their nature only exclusive of the claims of other European nations, they still retain their original character, and remain dormant. So far as they have been practically exerted, they exist; are asserted by the one, and admitted by the other.
Soon after Great Britain determined upon planting colonies in America, the king granted charters to companies of his subjects who associated for the purpose of carrying the views of the crown into effect, and of enriching themselves. The first of these charters was made before possession was taken of any part of the country. They purport, generally, to convey the soil, from the Atlantic to the South Sea. This soil was occupied by numerous and warlike nations, equally willing and able to defend their possessions. The extravagant and absurd idea, that the feeble settlements made on the sea coast, or the companies under whom they were made, acquired legitimate power by them to govern the people or occupy the lands from sea to sea, did not enter the mind of any man. They were well understood to convey the title which, according to the common law of European sovereigns respecting America, they might rightfully convey, and no more. This was the right of purchasing such lands as the natives were willing to sell. The crown could not be understood to grant what the crown did not affect to claim; nor was it so understood.
Certain it is, that our history furnishes no example, from the first settlement of our country, of any attempt on the part of the crown to interfere with the internal affairs of the Indians, farther than to keep out the agents of foreign powers, who, as traders or otherwise, might seduce them into foreign alliances. The king purchased their lands when they were willing to sell, at a price they were willing to take; but never coerced a surrender of them. He also purchased their alliance and dependence by subsidies; but never intruded into the interior of their affairs, or interfered with their self government, so far as respected themselves only.

Though speaking more particularly of Indian lands and territories, yet the opinion of the Court as to the maintenance of the laws of the Aborigines, is manifest throughout. The principles laid down in this judgment, (and Mr. Justice Story as a Member of the Court concurred in this decision), admit of no doubt.

(b) the constitutional legislation being the Indian part of the Royal Proclamation of 1763 which, excerpted, enacted:

[Paragraph 1] And whereas it is just and reasonable, and essential to Our Interest and the Security of Our Colonies, that the several Nations or Tribes of Indians, with whom We are connected, and who live under Our Protection, should not be molested or disturbed in the Possession of such Parts of Our Dominions and Territories as, not having been ceded to, or purchased by Us, are reserved to them, or any of them, as their Hunting Grounds; We do therefore, with the Advice of Our Privy Council, declare it to be Our Royal Will and Pleasure, that no Governor or Commander in Chief…do presume, upon any Pretence whatever, to grant Warrants of Survey, or pass any Patents for Lands…upon any Lands whatever, which, not having been ceded to, or purchased by Us as aforesaid, are reserved to the said Indians, or any of them.

[Paragraph 3] And We do further strictly enjoin and require all Persons whatever, who have either wilfully or inadvertently seated themselves upon any Lands within the Countries above described, or upon any other Lands, which, not having been ceded to, or purchased by Us, are still reserved to the said Indians as aforesaid, forthwith to remove themselves from such Settlements.

[Paragraph 4]…if, at any Time, any of the said Indians should be inclined to dispose of the said Lands, that same shall be purchased only for Us, in Our Name, at some publick Meeting or Assembly of the said Indians to be held for that Purpose by the Governor or Commander in Chief of Our Colonies respectively, within which they shall lie:…

(c) the proclamation’s original and authoritative precedent being St. Catherine’s Milling and Lumber Company Ltd. v. The Queen, (1888), 14 A.C. 46 (J.C.P.C.), which held:

[52-53] Of the territory thus ceded to the Crown, an area of not less than 32,000 square miles is situated within the boundaries of the Province of Ontario; and, with respect to that area, a controversy has arisen between the Dominion and Ontario, each of them maintaining that the legal effect of extinguishing the Indian title has been to transmit to itself the entire beneficial interest of the lands, as now vested in the Crown, freed from encumbrance of any kind, save the qualified privilege of hunting and fishing mentioned in the treaty….Although the present case relates exclusively to the right of the Government of Canada to dispose of the timber in question to the appellant company, yet its decision necessarily involves the determination of the larger question between that government and the province of Ontario with respect to the legal consequences of the treaty of 1873.

[54] Whilst there have been changes in the administrative authority, there has been no change since the year 1763 in the character of the interest which its Indian inhabitants had in the lands surrendered by the treaty.

[55] It appears to them [their Lordships] to be sufficient for the purposes of this case that there has been all along vested in the Crown a substantial and paramount estate, underlying the Indian title, which became a plenum dominium whenever that title was surrendered or otherwise extinguished.

[58] The Crown has all along had a present proprietary estate in the land, upon which the Indian title was a mere burden. The ceded territory was at the time of the union, land vested in the Crown, subject to “an interest other than that of the Province in the same,” within the meaning of sect. 109; and must now belong to Ontario in terms of that clause,…

[59] The fact that the power of legislating for Indians, and for lands which are reserved for their use, has been entrusted to the Parliament of the Dominion is not in the least degree inconsistent with the right of the Provinces to a beneficial interest in these lands, available to them as a source of revenue whenever the estate of the Crown is disencumbered of the Indian title.

[60] By the treaty of 1873 the Indian inhabitants ceded and released the territory in dispute, in order that it might be opened up for settlement, immigration, and such other purpose as to Her Majesty might seem fit, “to the Government of the Dominion of Canada,” for the Queen and Her successors forever…. The treaty leaves the Indians no right whatever to the timber growing upon the lands which they gave up, which is now fully vested in the Crown, all revenues derivable from the sale of such portions of it as are situate within the boundaries of Ontario being the property of that Province.

7. The status of statehood is implicit in the designation by the proclamation of “Nations or Tribes of Indians.”

The Cherokees are a State. They have been uniformly treated as a State since the settlement of our country. The numerous treaties made with them by the United States recognize them as a people capable of maintaining the relations of peace and war; of being responsible in their political character for any violation of their engagements, or for any aggression committed on the citizens of the United States by any individual of their community. Laws have been enacted in the spirit of these treaties. The acts of our Government plainly recognize the Cherokee Nation as a State, and the Courts are bound by those acts.2

8. John Burke, Osborn’s Concise Law Dictionary, 6th ed., Sweet & Maxwell, London, 1976, defined sovereignty in the unitary state of the United Kingdom:

Sovereignty. The supreme authority in an independent political society. It is essential indivisible and illimitable (Austin). However, it is now considered both divisible and limitable. Sovereignty is limited externally by the possibility of a general resistance. Internal sovereignty is paramount power over all action within, and is limited by the nature of the power itself. In the British Constitution the Sovereign de jure is the Queen or Crown. The legislative sovereign is the Queen in Parliament, which can make or unmake any law whatever. The legal sovereign is the Queen and the Judiciary. The executive sovereign is the Queen and her Ministers. The de facto or political sovereign is the electorate; the Ministry resign on a defeat at a general election.

9. Indigenous internal sovereignty is unique relative to Canada in virtue of its doctrine of discovery, its royal proclamation and the St. Catherine’s precedent.

10. The sovereign Indigenous power of veto in Canada over land development, then, consists in the right to say ‘no’ to the making of a treaty surrendering their beneficial interest (actual possession and exclusive use) in all land “not ceded to or purchased by Us” within the meaning of the Royal Proclamation of 1763. The indigenous peoples are entitled to veto developments by vetoing the applications for their consent to the use of the land without which development can not take place. Development is settlement and the proclamation orders settlers off land not proven by the Crown or its third-party grantees to be ceded.

  1. A compactly expressed and deeply entrenched principle of law. []
  2. See, Cherokee Nation v. State of Georgia, 30 U.S. 1, 1-2 (1831): []