A court case out of Meadow Lake is arguing for the inherent cultural – and constitutional – Metis right to hunt and fish for food.
Testimony is set to last all week for three Metis men charged with doing so without a license. The Metis Legal Research and Education Foundation is backing Warren Boyer, Oliver Poitras, and Billy Myette. The three men face a similar charge, from similar areas around Meadow Lake.
Although both sides dispute whether this was legal based on constitutional rights, there are two things they agree on: none of the men had licenses, and the men were gathering food for personal use
Defense lawyer Kathy Hodgson-Smith is co-counsel on the case with Clem Chartier and Dwayne Roth. Hodgson-Smith explained some historical cases influence this one, like R. v. Morin from the late 1990s, and R. v. Laviolette from 2005.
“The courts have already recognized the rights of the Metis of Northwest Saskatchewan to hunt and fish for food as part of their constitutionally-protected rights,” she said.
Boyer is charged for fishing on Chitek Lake, Poitras with moose hunting south of Meadow Lake, and Moyette with hunting out by Rush Lake. Hodgson-Smith says those all are about 60 kilometres from Meadow Lake.
She acknowledges that the Supreme Court has already ruled that aboriginal rights are site-specific, but Hodgson-Smith said in her view, the current boundaries being argued by the Crown are far too rigid.
“When a person practices a traditional lifestyle, they’re out and about on the land and the resources. And they are where the resources are at any given time so they’re fishing where the fish are and they’re following migrations and they’re hunting where the animals are available,” she said.
“So essentially the Crown’s arguments are saying ‘you have a right to be Metis and practice your way of life unless you move’ and we’re going to challenge that to say Metis and aboriginal rights have aspects of mobility to them and these people are entitled to practice their way of life even if they and their families have been displaced or moved, for whatever reason, to a new location within the province,”
Here’s a specific example of just how close Mr. Myette was to the already-defined boundary of his people.
“He would be recognized as, I think the Crown has called, LaViolette Metis, which is people that fall under the case of LaViolette who have a right to hunt and fish for food. But by virtue of a few kilometres, a move of a few kilometres, somehow he’s lost his constitutional right to practice his way of life,” she said.
This is something that Hodgson-Smith is passionate about – in fact she’s doing this case pro-bono.
“I think that needs to be challenged,” she said, by asking questions like “where is this Metis community? Is it province-wide? Is it prairie-wide? Who is this Metis community?”
Overall Hodgson-Smith’s hope is to have Saskatchewan considered as an entire region for Metis people, but explained it takes cases like this to slowly extend those boundaries.
She says defense will bring evidence from community about the men’s history, identity and practices as Metis people.
In June, experts will testify in the case.