Mitchell v. Canada

Mitchell v. Canada (Minister of National Revenue – M.N.R.)

Year: 2001

Court: Supreme Court of Canada

Citation: 2001 SCC 33

Location: QC

TAGS: Constitutional; Trade; Customs; Taxation

For an activity to receive protection as an Aboriginal right, it must be core to the identity of the Aboriginal group.


In 1988, Mitchell, a Mohawk of Akwesasne and descendant of the Mohawk Nation, crossed the border from United States into Canada with items that he had purchased in the United States. He asserted at customs that he did not have to pay duty on the goods, as it his aboriginal and treaty rights exempted him from paying it. The items that he purchased were gifts for the Mohawk community of Tyendinaga, and oil to be resold to members of his community at a store in Akwesasne. He was given a claim of unpaid duty and turned to the Court for relief.

At the Federal Court, Trial Division, and the Federal Court of Appeal, his aboriginal right to cross the border into Canada without paying duties was affirmed. It was held that an aboriginal right existed within the traditional territory of the Mohawk to trade and bring goods for personal or community use. The Minister of National Revenue appealed the decision to the Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) which reversed the decisions and held that there was no established aboriginal right of exemption to duty fees.

Why this Case Matters:

This case marked the least flexible approach of using the R v Van der Peet test to interpret what a modern Aboriginal right could be. In this case, there was a focus on whether trading in the area was established at the time of contact, and whether it constituted an Aboriginal practice core to the identity of the group. The SCC found that it was not.

Supreme Court Judgment:

CanLII – Mitchell v. M.N.R., 2001 SCC 33 (CanLII), [2001] 1 SCR 911

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