Canada Supreme Court grants status to once-excluded aboriginals

Thu Apr 14, 2016 1:15pm EDT
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By Ethan Lou

TORONTO (Reuters) - Canada's Supreme Court ruled on Thursday that more than 600,000 aboriginal people previously denied special legal status by the federal government should receive it, granting potential access to new rights and benefits.

The court declared that Metis people - those of mixed aboriginal and European descent - and aboriginals not registered with the government are "Indians" under the Constitution Act of 1867, placing them in federal jurisdiction with respect to rights and benefits.

The ruling allows Metis and unregistered aboriginals, or "non-status Indians," to negotiate with the federal government for some of the same rights and benefits granted aboriginal people living on reserves. These include hunting and fishing privileges, tax breaks and assistance for medication, housing and education.

The case began in 1999, with the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples and one Metis and two non-status Indians as plaintiffs.

A lower court had initially ruled in the plaintiffs' favor, but the then-Conservative government raised the case to the Federal Court of Appeal, which upheld the previous ruling on Metis, but not unregistered aboriginals.

Joe Magnet, lawyer for the plaintiffs, said outside court that the lack of "Indian" status meant a lack of access to benefits and services some aboriginals badly needed.

"We will look forward to engaging the government as to how these discriminatory practices should be removed," he said.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said after the ruling the government respects the court's decision and looks forward to talks.   Continued...

A view shows the Supreme Court of Canada in Ottawa February 6, 2015. REUTERS/Chris Wattie