Guerin v. the Queen

Guerin v. R

Year: 1984

Court: Supreme Court of Canada

Citation: [1984] 2 S.C.R 335

Location: BC

TAGS: Fiduciary Duty

The federal government is obligated to act in the best interest of Aboriginal peoples as part of its fiduciary duty, especially with respect to “lands reserved for Indians.”


In 1958 the federal government leased a portion of the Musqueam Reserve to a private company on behalf of the Musqueam First Nation. The land was to be used for a golf course. The Musqueam band claimed that the final written agreement prepared by the federal government contained terms that the band had not agreed to when they voted to accept the terms of the lease. The disputed terms gave the private company a significant discount, which lasted until 2033. The Musqueam band brought action against the federal government claiming that the terms of the lease and the secretive manner in which they were negotiated had breached the federal government’s fiduciary duty to the Musqueam people. The Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) ruled in favor of the Musqueam. 

Why this Case Matters:

This case established that the federal government owes a legally enforceable fiduciary duty to Aboriginal Peoples, specifically in regard to reserve lands. The fiduciary duty requires that the federal government is obligated to act in the best interest of Aboriginal Peoples. A fiduciary duty arises where the legal or practical interests of one party are at the mercy of discretionary power that another party has acquired. This fiduciary duty arises from the Aboriginal interest and title to the land, and the Crown’s relationship to Aboriginal Peoples. The exact obligations of the fiduciary duty will vary depending on the circumstances. Some situations will require that the federal government avoid engaging in certain conduct, while other may require affirmative action to take certain steps or make certain efforts on behalf of the nation. 

Supreme Court Judgment:

CanLII – Guerin v. The Queen, 1984 CanLII 25 (SCC), [1984] 2 SCR 335

Go Deeper: 

UBC Arts Indigenous Foundations, Tanisha Salomons & Erin Hanson – Guerin Case

Indigenous Corporate Training Blog – Guerin v. the Queen 1984 

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