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Manitoba treaty group launches multi-billion dollar legal action against Canada

Manitoba treaty group launches multi-billion dollar legal action against Canada

“After 22 years, the lack of action, lack of implementation, is frustrating … It’s lost revenue,” said Genaille.

Manitoba’s Treaty Land Entitlement Committee (TLEC) has taken legal action it says could clear the way for a multi-billion dollar lawsuit against the Canadian government.

TLEC filed a notice of application in court on Wednesday. The notice seeks a court declaration that releases, which were signed by its members in a 1997 land entitlement agreement, are now “void and ineffective.”

If a judge grants the declaration, that would remove the Manitoba Framework Agreement (MFA) condition that TLEC not pursue further legal action. Then, the committee could sue for damages related to lost land use.

Chief Nelson Genaille, TLEC’s president, alleges the feds failed to meet their MFA obligation to provide 1.1 million acres of land to TLEC members, with just 530,000 acres set aside so far.

“After 22 years, the lack of action, lack of implementation, is frustrating … It’s lost revenue,” said Genaille.

Genaille, chief of Sapotaweyak Cree Nation, said the potential multi-billion claim would account for lost land use and missed development revenues. For context, he said a gaming business his community developed in Swan River now generates $7 million per year, while an under-construction gas bar is soon expected to raise another $6 million annually.

“That’s $13 million a year, so when you multiply the (unaddressed) acreage and how (many) endless opportunities of business development could be had … to achieve one billion (dollars) is really easy,” Genaille said.

Since the initial treaties that required Canada to set aside lands for TLEC’s First Nations members were signed between 1871 and 1910, the committee argues annual revenues from land development present just a small fraction of the total lost revenue.

“If you’re without the use of productive land from 1871 to 2019 … even if the annual loss is small, because of compounding interest, the value of the loss on a bring-forward basis is astronomically high,” said Harley Schachter, TLEC’s lawyer.

TLEC also alleges Canada’s 2012 decision to consult other Indigenous groups before setting aside more land breaches the framework’s implementation agreement.

Schachter said the group remains willing to negotiate with the federal government but hasn’t received a response to its latest meeting request.

“The government of Canada has virtually ignored TLEC’s attempts to resolve this without a court case,” he said.

However, an Indigenous Services Canada spokesperson said the government has met with TLEC and is open to further discussion.

“Departmental officials met with the Treaty Land Entitlement Committee multiple times over the past year, in an effort to resolve outstanding issues while still meeting our Constitutional obligations to all Indigenous groups,” wrote William Olscamp, in an email. “We look forward to continuing these discussions.”

Olscamp declined further comment, citing the legal challenge.

None of the allegations have been proven in court.

jpusaga@postmedia.com

Twitter: @pursagawpgsun

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