The Supreme Court of Canada unanimously upheld the Trudeau government’s Indigenous Child Welfare Act, dismissing Quebec’s appeal in a landmark opinion affirming Indigenous jurisdiction over child and family services.
The High Court sided with the Canadian government. Decision made Friday morningreversed a Quebec Court of Appeal decision that declared the law partially unconstitutional.
The court concluded that “the act as a whole is constitutionally valid.”
“This legislation, developed in partnership with Indigenous peoples, represents an important step forward on the path to reconciliation.”
Bill C-92, the Respecting Indigenous, Métis and Inuit Youth and Families Act, was passed into law in 2019. The bill affirms First Nations jurisdiction over child and family services and outlines national minimum standards of care.
The Quebec government opposed the law on jurisdictional grounds, arguing that Ottawa overstepped its legislative powers, usurped provincial jurisdiction, and effectively recognized First Nations as tertiary governments.
The Supreme Court concluded that the federal Liberal government was within its jurisdiction, did not create a third level of government, and recognized rights already protected in the Indigenous Rights Clause of the Canadian Constitution.
The court also found that the law was part of Congress’ implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
“This law provides scope for indigenous groups, communities and peoples to exercise jurisdiction over the care of children,” the court said.
“This recognition of jurisdiction requires Indigenous communities to work with the Crown to integrate Indigenous, national and international law to protect the well-being of Indigenous children, youth and families.”
The Quebec Court of Appeal rejected two clauses that would have given First Nations laws the force of federal law and precedence over conflicting provincial laws. Both Ottawa and Quebec appealed this decision to the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court’s decision suggests that any conflicts between these laws will be resolved by the courts.
All nine judges heard the case, but former judge Russell Brown did not participate in the final disposition. Reasons are made by the court as a whole, not by any particular judge.