On September 30, 2019, the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench awarded advanced costs to Beaver Lake Cree Nation (Beaver Lake), represented by Karey Brooks and Aria Laskin. This decision enables the Nation to continue its Treaty infringement case against Canada and Alberta.
Located in Treaty Six territory northeast of Edmonton, Beaver Lake is a small community that has faced significant attacks on the way of life of its members due to widespread and increasing industrial development in the area. Fearing irreversible damage to culture and way of life, Beaver Lake launched a Treaty infringement case in 2008. The case deals with the cumulative effects of the “taking up” of land in Beaver Lake’s traditional territory and the damage done to the way of life of the Nation’s members. At its core, the case is about whether or not the Numbered Treaties, and in particular Treaty 6, provide constitutional protection for Indigenous culture and way of life.
After undertaking significant fundraising efforts and providing substantial funds to the litigation for over ten years, by 2018, Beaver Lake was unable to continue to fund the litigation effectively. As a result, it applied for advanced costs, to enable it to continue its case. Advanced costs are an extraordinary remedy that are only provided when a case has merit, is unique and publicly important, and cannot be funded by the plaintiff.
Alberta and Canada opposed the application, arguing that the case was not unique or of sufficient public importance to merit such an extraordinary remedy, and that the Nation had enough funds available to continue to fund the case. Beaver Lake disagreed, arguing that the case is unique and raises critical issues of public importance that have yet to be fully considered by the courts. It also argued that it did not have sufficient funds available, and that even if it did (which was contested), the governments were effectively arguing that the Nation had to choose between providing basic necessities of life to its members and funding the case.
In accepting the Nation’s submissions, the Court stated that it was “unwilling to force Beaver Lake leadership to choose between pursuing this litigation and attempting to provide for the basic necessities of life that most citizens take for granted.” It also agreed that the litigation was unique and raised issues of public importance. The Court ultimately ordered that each of the parties – Beaver Lake, Alberta and Canada – contribute $300,000 a year until the conclusion of the litigation..