EDMONTON – An Alberta First Nation that’s suing the province and federal government is asking a court to force them to pay all trial expenses up front to try to stop them from ragging the puck on the lawsuit.
“If the Crown has to contribute to funding the litigation, they’re going to want to find the most efficient and quickest way possible,” said Karey Brooks, lawyer for the Beaver Lake Cree, who live about 100 kilometres north of Edmonton near La La Biche.
“Right now, the incentive is the other way.”
The First Nation has filed a request — known as an application for advance costs — for the two levels of government to front all of its legal costs.
In 2008, the Beaver Lake Cree filed a lawsuit against Alberta and Ottawa alleging that so much development had been permitted on their land that it had rendered their right to traditional activities meaningless.
The band counted more than 19,000 development permits issued for the area, mostly for energy development, covering 90 per cent of its land. It alleges it has never been properly consulted on the developments or compensated for the damage they have caused.
When asked to comment on the request for coverage of legal costs, the Alberta government said in an email that it considers its relationship with the First Nation important and is committed to reconciliation with Indigenous peoples.
“We are assessing Beaver Lake Cree nation’s request and hope to be able to follow up soon,” the email from Alberta’s Indigenous relations ministry said.
The governments filed numerous applications to have the lawsuit dismissed. In 2012, a Queen’s Bench judge ruled the claim could proceed and, after the Crown filed an appeal, the province’s top court agreed the claim could go ahead.
Brooks acknowledged the case is complex and involves records numbering in the hundreds of thousands of pages.
Still, she said co-operation has been grudging, even after the Court of Appeal’s ruling. Brooks said the Crown continues to use delaying tactics and has produced few of the documents the First Nation has requested, arguing the case is so large as to be almost unmanageable.
“We’ve been saying, ‘Produce something. Start somewhere,'” Brooks said. “It’s been really difficult to get momentum.
“The Crown defendants have the benefit of the deep pockets. It’s (Beaver Lake’s) hope that advance costs will enable them to finance the litigation and drive the parties forward efficiently.”
The First Nation calculates it has already spent about $2.8 million on the lawsuit, about half paid for through outside donations and half by the band. It estimates that concluding the action will cost another $2.2 million.
That’s tough on the band’s finances, said treaty co-ordinator Crystal Lameman.
“We’re having to sacrifice housing, education, health — very basic necessities and very basic treaty rights in order to continue to fight for our treaty rights.”
— Follow Bob Weber on Twitter at @row1960