A Saskatchewan First Nation is optimistic it will receive a settlement of well over $100 million dollars for a decades-old land claim.
The Mosquito Grizzly Bear’s Head Lean Man First Nation lost over 5,800 hectares of reserve land in the Battlefords area in 1905.
In a claim filed with the Specific Claims Tribunal in 2014, the band alleged the federal government illegally took and sold the land.
In response, the government said, “The Crown does not accept and specifically denies the validity of all allegations and claims set out in the Claim.”
But in a joint statement regarding validity and compensation filed with the tribunal on December 21, 2017, the federal government agreed the loss of land was “invalid.”
The government also admitted to a “breach of its pre-surrender fiduciary obligation” to the First Nation
Band lawyer Ryan Lake, a partner with Maurice Law Barristers and Solicitors, said the government had denied the claim’s validity for decades.
“The idea that Canada can at the eleventh hour, after 25 years of litigation, admit a breach they’ve previously denied over and over and over and over again and somehow walk away with a damages scale that’s seemingly cost beneficial to them is pretty outrageous,” he said.
Struggle not unlike ‘David and Goliath’: lawyer
Lake said the admission came 22 years after the claim was initially filed under Canada’s Specific Claims Policy — and after supplementary claim submissions in 1998, 2001 and 2009 — and only on the eve of trial on liability.
“I think it’s the usual litigation strategy of David and Goliath,” he said. “The big guy has unlimited resources and will strain and stress and wait for lawyers to die, First Nation governments to change, lawyers to be fired, money to run out.”
He said a compensation hearing was concluded last week that looked at the agricultural production in the lost land to determine the loss of its use and benefits since 1905.
Lake noted there is a $150-million dollar cap on settlements awarded by the tribunal. If the uncapped value of the claim ends up being more than that, he hopes the tribunal weighs in with an opinion on the system in place.
“There is some direction that we’ve sought from the tribunal that if they believe that the damages exceed the cap they should opine because it is potentially an access-to-justice problem,” he said.
Lake said he expects the tribunal to award compensation no later than December.