Professor William Wicken Testifies for Supreme Court Case

In May 2011, Dept. of History (York University) Professor William Wicken was one of two witnesses for the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples in the case of Harry Daniels v. the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development

At trial before the Federal Court of Canada Professor Wicken led part of the historical evidence, which became the basis of the lower court's ruling and the subsequent decision of the Federal Court of Appeals. Earlier this year, the federal government appealed the lower courts’ rulings to the Supreme Court of Canada. On November 20, 2014 the Supreme Court granted that request. Oral arguments will likely be heard before the Supreme Court later next year.

The CBC story, which aired on November 20, can be viewed here: http://www.cbc.ca/news/aboriginal/supreme-court-to-hear-landmark-case-for-off-reserve-aboriginals-1.2841870 and the Supreme Court of Canada docket here: http://www.scc-csc.gc.ca/case-dossier/info/dock-regi-eng.aspx?cas=35945.

What does this all mean? If the Supreme Court of Canada decides in favour of the Congress and/or the Manitoba Metis Federation, it will set an historical precedent and potentially set in motion significant changes in the federal government’s responsibilities towards Aboriginal people. Under the British North America Act of 1867, the federal government has jurisdiction and responsibility for ‘Indians.’ Up till now, the federal government has not accepted that Metis people are ‘Indians’. Neither has the government always accepted that it has responsibility for status people living off reserve.

At trial Professor Wicken argued that at the time of Confederation (1867), the broader objectives of the 1867 Constitution was to make Metis and all ‘Indians’ wherever they lived, a federal responsibility. He did so through original research on various aspects of 19th Century British North America. Much of his research focused on analyzing the evolution of the legal regime, which colonial politicians, such as Sir John A. Macdonald and Robert Baldwin, created in order to deal with a diverse Aboriginal population in the Ontario, Quebec, and the Maritime provinces. His research illustrates how the past influences our present and future.

A short overview of Prof. Wicken’s testimony at trial can be viewed at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EU6yvhYBckY