Métis men fighting hunting, fishing charges at Sask. Court of Appeal

Two Métis men who were previously found guilty of fishing and hunting charges are fighting that decision at Saskatchewan’s Court of Appeal.

The Saskatchewan Provincial Court found Warren Boyer guilty of unlawfully fishing after he was found fishing for food at Chitek Lake in 2014. The lake is about 60 kilometres southeast of Meadow Lake.

The court also found Oliver Poitras guilty of hunting unlawfully about 37 kilometres south of Meadow Lake in 2012.

The men have been tried together based on the similarities of the cases. They were charged by conservation officers.

Both men argued that they have Métis harvesting rights in the areas where they were hunting and fishing. They also said they have harvesting rights as “Indians” as described in the Natural Resources Transfer Agreement (NRTA).

The trial judge found the Métis are not included in the term Indians under paragraph 12 of the NRTA, citing past cases before the Supreme Court of Canada for the reasoning.

The trial judge also found both men were not in areas that were historically used for hunting by members of the Historic Métis Community of Northwest Saskatchewan.

They appealed the decision at the Court of Queen’s Bench, but were denied.

“The trial judge found that Mr. Boyer has a historical connection to this community and that he was a present member of this community,” read the appeal decision. “The trial judge made a short generalization of the salient facts presented to him and determined that there was not a Métis community at Chitek Lake prior to effective European control and that was not part of the historic Métis community of northwest Saskatchewan.”

The trial judge had a similar finding for Poitras.

“Mr. Poitras was found to be a Métis person and that hunting for food was a practice integral to Métis life in the area,” the decision read. “The trial judge found as a fact that the Métis community in this area was not established until the late 1880s, which was after effective European control, and that the Métis community originated from an area of the province south of where Mr. Poitras was hunting and so not part of the northwest Saskatchewan community, in any event.”

CHALLENGING LAND RIGHTS 

Kathy Hodgson-Smith, the lawyer representing Boyer and Poitras, said they have abandoned the NRTA part of their argument for the proceedings at the Court of Appeal. Now their team is focusing on their rights to use the land where they were charged for hunting and fishing and how difficult it is for the courts to prove it was not used by historic Métis peoples.

“In order to show that the areas that they were hunting in at the time that they were charged were part of the traditional territory of this historic Métis community of northwest Saskatchewan it was necessary, we felt, to bring evidence that there was a larger Métis people with which they were a part,” Hodgson-Smith said. “We’re saying the historic Métis of northwest Saskatchewan and the Métis in Saskatchewan are the modern successors of the historic people.”

She said the their goal was to have the court consider the entire territory that was used by the historic Métis people, instead of outlining an exact boundary of the area.

Hodgson-Smith said she and her clients have fought this case for so many years in hopes of seeing some change in how these court cases are handled going forward.

“This case is part of a series of cases that has brought us to a place where the courts are applying section 35, Aboriginal Rights, in a more narrow way. Narrower and narrower that we’re fighting now, and the Crown is charging people one kilometre away from the site that was recognized last time, or 20 kilometres, or 37 kilometres,” she said. “There was a real need to revisit how the courts in this province are approaching section 35 for Métis claimants.”

Crown Counsel said because this matter is still before the courts, it has no comment at this time.

The Court of Appeal reserved its decision after Monday’s proceedings. There is not word yet on when that decision will come down.