The Supreme Court of Canada announced Thursday it will hear the appeal and cross-appeal of the territory’s Court of Appeal decision involving Cindy Dickson vs. the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation (VGFN).
Dickson has been fighting to have the VGFN’s residency requirement declared unconstitutional because it means any non-Old Crow resident getting elected to its council must move back to the village within 14 days of winning the seat.
Dickson lives in Whitehorse, as she has a job here and her son needs to be near a full-service hospital.
She petitioned the Supreme Court of Yukon in 2019, asking it to rule that the residency requirement infringed her right to equality as a Canadian citizen under Section 15 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Also at issue in the case is a section of the Charter intended to ensure constitutionally protected rights do not override the rights of Indigenous Peoples.
No date has yet been set for the top court’s hearing. Months generally elapse being an announcement of the court’s intent and its actual hearing of a case.
In 2020, the Supreme Court of Yukon ruled that the Charter applies broadly to the VGFN, but that the residency requirement (except for the 14-day time limit) is not discriminatory under Section 15 and is protected by Section 25.
In 2021, the Yukon Court of Appeal upheld the requirement in the VGFN’s Constitution that requires elected council members to reside in Old Crow during their term in office.
Dickson applied to the Supreme Court of Canada for leave to appeal a portion of the 2021 decision.
It states that the Charter is “a shield” that protects the First Nation’s inherent right to self-government over the individual rights of its members.
At the direction of the General Assembly, the VGFN had asked the Supreme Court to dismiss Dickson’s application for appeal. In the event that the appeal was granted, however, the VGFN applied for leave to cross-appeal.
The VGFN government said Thursday it continues to be guided by the General Assembly, and its Constitution, inherent rights, treaties and agreements.
“Our Constitution and General Assembly continue to guide us as we navigate this ongoing legal battle to protect our inherent right to self-government, our treaty with Canada, and the sanctity of our collective voice,” VGFN Chief Dana Tizya-Tramm said in a statement.
“The potential implications of this case are far-reaching – they will not only affect the Vuntut Gwitchin people, but all Indigenous nations with modern treaties in this country.”
The current requirement for elected council members to reside on VGFN settlement lands was established under its Constitution by a consensus resolution of the 2019 General Assembly.
In signing its Final and Self-Government Agreements with Canada, the VGFN did not agree to the application of the Charter.
– With a file from The Canadian Press