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What does the Daniels case ruling mean?

Parsing out the Supreme Court of Canada's unanimous decision

The Supreme Court of Canada’s ruling on the Daniels v. Canada case was historic.

The unanimous vote among Supreme Court judges in favour of the Daniels side means that there’s no question the federal government has responsibilities towards Métis and non-status Indians, any Indigenous person who doesn’t have status under the Indian Act and is not affiliated with a First Nations reserve.  

It means that Ottawa and the provinces will no longer be able jockey responsibility to another level of government. Before this ruling, Métis and non-Status Indians existed in what some call a “jurisdictional wasteland” without a government to hold accountable and to right past wrongs.

There are a few things that might be unclear from reporting coming out of Ottawa. The Daniels case wasn't about rights or status. It was about s. 91(24) of the Constitution, which states that the federal government is responsible for “Indians, and Lands reserved for the Indians” and whether or not Métis and non-Status Indians are "Indians" under the Constitution. 

Another thing that might be unclear is that the ruling doesn’t immediately guarantee any benefits, funding, free tuition, tax breaks or any of the other things many people believe all Indians in Canada receive from the federal government. It also doesn’t mean that those affected by the ruling are Status Indians under the Indian Act. In fact, the Daniels case had nothing to do with the Indian Act. 

And there’s still a lot of uncertainty going forward.

What, exactly, the ruling will mean for the lives of the 600,000 Métis and non-Status Indians across the country is in many ways unclear. Will the federal government act quickly, or at all? Who will get what sized slices of the INAC pie?

Overall, though, the ruling is seen as a victory and incredibly meaningful for communities and individuals who, for decades, for generations really, have been left out and have in many ways been invisible in this country.

Cover photo courtesy of the Ottawa Region Métis Council. 

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