Métis to appeal harvesting case

Ten years after landmark Powley decision Alberta Métis still “hunt for justice”

Edmonton, AB (July 4, 2013) – Today, the Alberta Court of Appeal refused to overturn the conviction of Métis harvester Garry Hirsekorn for hunting in the Cypress Hills in 2007. The case R. v. Hirsekorn is a harvesting rights “test case” for Alberta Métis as a part of the Métis Nation of Alberta’s (“MNA”) ongoing “hunt for justice” in the courts.  A copy of the decision is available at www.albertametis.com or www.albertacourts.ab.ca.

MNA President Audrey Poitras stated, “While we are disappointed with today’s decision, we are not deterred. Similar to the Manitoba Métis Federation land claim case, which suffered multiple losses in the Manitoba courts but was ultimately successful before the Supreme Court of Canada, we believe we will ultimately have our constitutional rights recognized and affirmed.”

“Our people are committed to seeing this case through to the end, so we have now instructed our lawyers to ask the Supreme Court of Canada to hear this case that is important to the entire Métis Nation.  It’s also timely that on the ten year anniversary of the Supreme Court of Canada’s release of the landmark Powley decision, the Métis Nation will be back before the highest court of the land asking for the promise of s. 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982 to be given meaning for Métis on the Prairies,” said President Poitras.

MNA Legal Counsel Jason Madden said, “We don’t believe this Alberta decision can be reconciled with how the Powley case has been applied in other jurisdictions such as Manitoba and Saskatchewan.  We believe the Supreme Court of Canada needs to address the perverse way in which the Alberta courts have essentially used the Powley test against the Métis on the Prairies.”  

Madden added, “The Court of Appeal’s decision that the most well-known face of the Métis Nation, the Métis buffalo hunters of the Plains, don’t have harvesting rights on those Plains undermines the promise of s. 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982 to the Métis.  We believe this is case of significant importance in the development of Métis jurisprudence.”

Backgrounder on Hirsekorn Case

R. v. Hirsekorn is the result of the Alberta Government’s cancellation of the Interim Métis Harvesting Agreement (IMHA) in July 2007.  

In September 2004, the previous Klein Government executed the IMHA with the Métis Nation of Alberta in order to implement the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision in R. v. Powley in Alberta.  The IMHA remained in place for over 2 ½ years until Ted Morton, then Minister for Sustainable Resource Development, cancelled the IMHA and implemented a unilateral and regressive policy that denies Métis harvesting rights in much of central Alberta and all of southern Alberta.

In August 2007, Alberta Métis rejected Ted Morton’s policy and unanimously passed their own Métis harvesting rights action plan and harvesting policy.  Métis community hunts were organized and held across Alberta in the Fall of 2007.  The current trial involves a Métis harvester who participated in those community hunts (Garry Hirsekorn) in southeastern Alberta.

This trial in southeastern Alberta is to act as a “test case” for the entire province, since there are over 25 other Métis harvesters charged across the province and Métis continue to reject Alberta’s current harvesting policy.  The issues raised in the appeal will also determine whether Alberta’s current policy and interpretation of the Powley case is correct.

In this test case, Mr. Hirsekorn is arguing that there is a historic rights-bearing Métis community called the Métis of the Northwest and that he is a member of a modern day Métis community that spans southern and central Alberta and extends into northern Alberta and other parts of the modern day Métis Nation, which is the continuation of the Métis of the Northwest. Mr. Hirsekorn asserts this contemporary Métis community possesses food harvesting rights that are protected by s. 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982.

Additional information about the case is available at www.albertametis.com.

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