Wewaykum Indian Band v Canada
Court: Supreme Court of Canada
Citation: 2002 SCC 79
TAGS: Fiduciary Duty
The fiduciary duty that exists between the federal government and Indian bands is not an overarching duty that exists in every situation, but only in relation to specific interests of the Indian band.
Two bands in the Laich-kwil-tach First Nation, the Wewaykum and Wewaikai bands, both claimed possession of two reserves. They both claimed both reserves due to several errors by the federal government, which first gave both reserves to the Wewaikai in 1902. The Wewaikai then ceded one of the reserves to the Wewaykum band in 1907. When it was recorded by the official, a ditto mark was recorded next to the reserve beside it, indicating that that reserve also belonged to the Wewaykum band. This error was noted several times, but not corrected until 1943, where one was allotted to the Wewaykum, and one to the Wewaikai. In 1985, the Wewaykum band brought an action against the Crown and the Wewaikai, and the Wewaikai brought a counterclaim, both arguing for injunctive relief for both reserves. As possession would create significant hardship for the party that lost, they instead argued for financial compensation from the federal government due to the breach of fiduciary duty that caused the problem in the first place.
All levels of Court dismissed the claims of both bands. The Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) held that, while the Crown owed a fiduciary duty to the bands, it had not been breached. The Court held that the bands had agreed on several occasions which reserve belonged to which band, and that it would be unreasonable to proceed with either of the claims. The Court held that there could be no compensation to either band for dispossession as dispossession would not happen while both relied on the status quo that they had reached.
Why this Case Matters:
This case limits the application of the federal government’s fiduciary duty that was established in R v Guerin and R v Sparrow to specific circumstances. In this case, it is stated that the fiduciary duty is not “a source of plenary Crown liability covering all aspects of the Crown-Indian band relationship.” It is also stated the Crown “wears many hats and represents many interests, some of which cannot help but be conflicting” in reference to the scope of the duty in the interest of Indigenous peoples.
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