By Shari Narine
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Windspeaker.com
Members of the Metis Nation of Alberta (MNA) will be voting on new bylaws in a special meeting May 27 that will bring the association in line with the Otipemisiwak Metis Government Constitution ratified last November.
However, if the bylaws, which change the governance structure of the MNA, including replacing locals with districts, are passed they won’t come into effect immediately or at all if the Grande Cache Mountain Metis Local (GCMML) is successful in its court challenge.
GCMML began court action in November 2022 challenging the authority of the present MNA provincial council.
Then in March, GCMML asked the court for a summary judgment ruling on the MNA provincial council’s authority to undertake any business since September 2022, when its mandate officially ended.
Falling within that timeframe is the ratification vote for the Otipemisiwak Metis Government Constitution and its ongoing implementation.
A summary judgment means a trial is not required and the issues can be determined based on affidavit evidence.
Alberta Court of King’s Bench Justice Michael Lema ordered that the MNA could not register any new bylaws with the Alberta Corporate Registry until after the GCMML’s summary judgement application has been dealt with. That is scheduled to be heard in mid-June.
However, Andrew Lokan, legal counsel for MNA, is now asking Lema to make that order–to hold off on registering any new bylaws– “subject to further order of the court.”
That addition to the order, said Garrett Tomlinson, senior director of self-government, “is the best way to ensure that its democratic process is followed, with minimal disruption for all involved.”
However, said Orlagh O’Kelly, legal counsel for GCMML, the addition is MNA’s “remedy?to appeal the order if they aren’t happy.”
A planned election in September for a new MNA executive is reliant on the new bylaws being registered.
GCMML had also asked for an injunction to delay the May 27 special meeting.
However Lema adjourned the injunction application.
O’Kelly says GCMML did not oppose that action, but notes that the injunction was not dismissed and “in theory could be revived.”
“The MNA is very pleased not to have to delay the (May 27) vote which would implement our Constitution into the MNA bylaws. Such a delay would be an affront to the will of our citizens?,” said Tomlinson in an email interview with Windspeaker.com.
He said the MNA would incur “significant costs” if the special meeting, to be held at the Edmonton Expo Centre, had to be cancelled. He noted the MNA had gone to “significant lengths” to make virtual participation an option.
Even though the meeting won’t be delayed, those costs could still be incurred for nought if Lema decides in favour of GCMML following the mid-June hearing.
“In the MNA’s view, the plaintiff’s case?is flawed and should not hold up the MNA’s democratic processes. MNA citizens voted overwhelmingly last November to adopt the Otipemisiwak Metis Government Constitution, and this special meeting and the proposed new bylaws are essential to that implementation,” said Tomlinson.
The month-long voting event saw 31 per cent of eligible MNA members turn out with 97 per cent voting in favour of ratification.
Tomlinson said the court action was being “advanced on the views and opinions of only two or three people.”
O’Kelly takes exception to that characterization. She points out that while this action is being undertaken by the GCMML, they represent a community. Support for GCMML’s action has come from the presidents of Lethbridge and Athabasca Landing.
“They are the authorized representatives of those communities,” said O’Kelly. “I think that’s disappointing to characterize them as acting as somehow rogue actors. But it’s not necessarily surprising because that’s been the positioning all along?that the MNA speaks for all the Metis in the province and that’s what’s led us to this unfortunate situation.”
Well before GCMML began its legal action, other MNA locals and regions in the province raised issues with not only the delay in the MNA’s general election, but how consultation and the vote to move ahead on the constitution was carried out.
Various actions have been taken, including letters sent to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Governor General Mary Simon and ministers Marc Miller (Crown-Indigenous Relations) and Patty Hajdu (Indigenous Services Canada). Complaints have also been registered with the MNA’s quasi-judiciary body, the Metis Judiciary Council and dismissed by that council.
O’Kelly wants MNA members to be made aware of the ongoing litigation and the potential that the results of the bylaw vote may not be upheld.
“This (litigation) is happening in the background. I think members deserve to know that there’s a question as to the validity of (the vote),” said O’Kelly.
“Citizens are free to ask about this litigation at the special meeting, but in our view, it is not meaningfully relevant to the vote,” said Tomlinson.
Also having a bearing on the special meeting is a motion argued in court May 16 by the MNA to strike GCMML’s claim in its entirety.
MNA legal counsel Jason Madden argued that the court has no jurisdiction over the internal dealings of voluntary organizations, which both the MNA and GCMML are, and that the MNA’s bylaws are not a contract.
He also said that some claims put forward by GCMML are specific to the Crown.
“In relation to the matters about consultation and fiduciary duties that were pledged against the MNA, (they) have no prospect of success because the Crown isn’t a named party in this proceeding and those duties are exclusively flowing from the Crown, not the MNA,” said Madden.
Lema reserved his decision on that matter to later this week or early next week.
O’Kelly notes that this is a case that has gotten the attention of the Metis settlements and Metis Nations that are no longer part of the MNA.
“This is the first time there’s been any kind of substantive pushback against this Constitution, self-governance plan. And it’s not that these plaintiffs or witnesses or communities are against
Metis self-governance. It’s that the way the MNA has proposed it, it’s going to supersede their own rights to self-governance in some cases where they’ve been recognized by the provincial government,” she said.
Shari Narine is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter with Windspeaker.com. LJI is a federally funded program.