In its recent decisions in Tsilhqot’in Nation and Grassy Narrows, the Supreme Court of Canada has significantly altered the position of Indigenous peoples within the structure of Canadian federalism. This article sets out to investigate the basis for the Court’s jurisdiction to change this structure. Its approach is historical, as it covers judicial treaty interpretation from St Catherine’s Milling to Grassy Narrows. By contextualizing the most recent change in light of the last 250 years of treaty making, we can see how the notion of Crown sovereignty has become entangled with the Westphalian model of the state (i.e., the state as a politically self-contained and legally autonomous unit for a single “people” or “nation”) and how this entanglement has served to set the boundaries of treaty interpretation. By drawing out how these legal fictions continue to inform the way in which the courts have interpreted treaties, we can begin to explore the possibilities that have been hiding in plain sight. Namely, that the treaties (as documents of inter-societal law) present a conceptual challenge to the Westphalian model and its coupling together of the terms “nation” and “state.” More specifically, the treaties challenge this coupling by pluralizing the idea of the nation, which, in turn, requires us to reimagine the structure of the state. This decoupling of nation and state brings us back to a deeper engagement with the idea of federalism in Canada. This means that the treaties are constitutional documents that offer us a way to reimagine both what Canadian federalism could be and how this particular case could assist in reimagining a post-Westphalian international order.
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Nichols, Joshua Ben David.
"A Narrowing Field of View: An Investigation into the Relationship Between the Principles of Treaty Interpretation and the Conceptual Framework of Canadian Federalism."
Osgoode Hall Law Journal