The Hydro Quebec case

Quebec (Attorney General) v. Canada (National Energy Board)

Year: 1994 

Court: Supreme Court of Canada

Citation: [1994] 1 S.C.R. 159

Location: QC

TAGS: Fiduciary Duty

The fiduciary duty between the Crown and Indigenous peoples does not gives rise to a duty on the part of the NEB to make decisions based on the best interests of Indigenous peoples. 


In 1989, Hydro-Quebec entered into agreements to supply electricity to New York and Vermont via Hydro-Quebec’s grid network. This necessitated the advance construction of the James Bay II project. Hydro-Quebec applied to the National Energy Board (NEB) for licenses to export electricity. The NEB granted the licenses, provided that Hydro-Quebec ensured the new production facilities underwent appropriate federal environmental assessment procedures and adhered to federal environmental standards. Hydro-Quebec and the Attorney General of Quebec appealed the board’s conditions, and the Grand Council of the Crees of Quebec and the Cree Regional Authority appealed the granting of the licenses. The Federal Court of Appeal granted the appeals of Hydro-Quebec and the Attorney General but dismissed the others. The Crees of Quebec and the Cree Regional Authority appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada. 

Why this Case Matters:

The SCC allowed the appeal and restored the order of the NEB. The SCC said that because the appellants were Aboriginal peoples, the fiduciary relationship between the Crown and the appellants must be considered. In this case, the SCC said that this relationship did not impose a duty on the NEB to make decisions in the best interests of the appellants. The SCC said that it must exercise its decision-making authority in accordance with the Constitution, including s.35(1), but that it was not possible to determine the impact of the NEB’s decision on the appellant’s Aboriginal rights given the sources relied upon by the appellants. Further, the SCC said that even if an effect on Aboriginal rights was presumed, the NEB’s cost-benefit review was adequate to justify interference. 

Supreme Court Judgment:

CanLII – Quebec (Attorney General) v. Canada (National Energy Board), 1994 CanLII 113 (SCC), [1994] 1 SCR 159

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