Canada’s Specific Claims Tribunal

At a glance

Canada’s Specific Claims Tribunal

Canada's Specific Claims Tribunal has been open for business for almost five years. The first claim was filed on June 7, 2011 and the first ruling on liability was issued on July 4, 2012. To date, 75 claims have been filed with the Tribunal. Over one third of these originate in British Columbia. The Tribunal has issued rulings on liability for ten of these claims.

A Specific Claim is a claim by a First Nation that Canada failed to fulfill a historic treaty or mismanaged the First Nation’s land or other assets.

In 1973, Canada established a process which allowed First Nations to submit their Specific Claims to Canada for assessment of liability and negotiation of compensation. These claims are assessed through a special process in which the Crown does not rely on the passage of time to bar claims.

Until 2008, Canada was the ultimate arbiter of Specific Claims against itself. In 1983 the Indian Specific Claims Commission was established to conduct inquiries into the validity of claims already rejected by Canada. This Commission, however, was not authorized to issue binding decisions, and was limited to making recommendations. Often those recommendations went unheeded.

On October 16, 2008, in response to ongoing criticism about unfairness and unreasonable delays in its Specific Claims process, Canada established the Specific Claims Tribunal,1 an administrative tribunal with the authority to make binding rulings on liability and compensation for Specific Claims.

The purpose of the Specific Claims Tribunal is to resolve Specific Claims. The Tribunal is designed to adjudicate Specific Claims in accordance with law in a just and timely manner and to create conditions that are appropriate for resolving valid claims through negotiations.

The claims filed with the Tribunal raise a number of allegations that Canada breached its legal and fiduciary obligations to the claimants and that this conduct caused losses that require compensation. They include allegations that Canada failed to comply with Indian Act surrender requirements, mismanaged reserve lands and timber, failed to meet treaty commitments, failed to obtain adequate compensation for the taking of reserve lands, and failed to set aside important lands as reserves.

The Tribunal has issued rulings on a number of matters, including procedural issues relating to the Tribunal’s jurisdiction, claim eligibility, evidence, intervener status, and costs.

The Tribunal has also made binding findings on liability and in one case on compensation. In keeping with the goal of supporting resolution of claims through negotiations, the Tribunal has adopted a practice of bifurcating the validity of a claim from compensation issues, which is specifically provided for in the Tribunal’s Rules.2

Specific Claims Tribunal decisions are final, subject to the right to seek judicial review by the Federal Court of Appeal. Three tribunal rulings have been judicially reviewed by Canada and another one is being reviewed by the First Nation claimant. Two of the judicial reviews brought by Canada have been dismissed. The third judicial review brought by Canada resulted in the Federal Court of Appeal overturning the Tribunal’s ruling and substituting its own decision.

Links to all of the Tribunal’s decisions and the Federal Court of Appeal decisions can be found on the Specific Claims Tribunal website.

The Specific Claims Tribunal’s rulings on liability and compensation create Tribunal precedents and are expected to influence the expedient resolution of Specific Claims. As the Tribunal continues to issue rulings, it is anticipated that more claims will be resolved through negotiated settlements, guided by those rulings.

  1. Specific Claims Tribunal Act, SC 2008 c 22  | 
  2. Specific Claims Tribunal Rules of Practice and Procedure (SOR/2011-119) |