Author Tags: First Nations, Law

As recalled in James Reynolds' A Breach of Duty: Fiduciary Obligations and Aboriginal People (Saskatoon: Purich Publishers, 2005), the celebrated legal case of Guerin v. The Queen has been described as one of the top three or four cases that advanced Aboriginal rights in the 20th century. This case arose after Musqueam Chief Delbert Guerin gained access in 1970 to the terms of the agreement that had enabled the Shaughnessy Golf and Country Club to lease 162 acres of the Musqueam Reserve in Vancouver, approximately one third of the small reserve. Reynolds describes the 26-year quest for justice by the Musqueam to gain full knowledge of, and compensation for, the lease to the exclusive golf club.

Some 13 years after the Club had taken control of the lands, an Indian Affairs employee named Graham Allen permitted Chief Guerin to examine basement archives and so become the first Musqueam to see the actual lease. The Indian Agent, Frank Anfield, had held private meetings with the representatives of the Club and negotiated the lease without full consultation with the Musqueam back in 1957. “When I read the agreement,” says Guerin, “I phoned Ed (Sparrow), Bill (Guerin) and Mother (Gertrude Guerin) and asked them, ‘How the hell did you guys agree to all these terms?’ and when they read the agreement they said ‘we didn't’.”

When the lease was signed, the government controlled reserve lands and Indians were not permitted to vote in federal elections. During this paternalistic era, the federal government allowed the Musqueam to be taken advantage of through the actions of Anfield, a former Anglican minister and principal of a residential school. After a Government appraiser had valued the land at $53,450 per year, Anfield pressured him to lower this amount. The appraisal was given to the Club but not the Band. Anfield also “overstated” the appraiser’s opinion of a satisfactory return to the Band members and pressured them to agree to a rent of $29,000 per year for the first ten years. They reluctantly agreed to this low rate because they wrongly believed they would be able to increase that amount to a market rent when the lease came up for renewal. Anfield did not correct their misconceptions about the proposed lease. The final version of the lease was not given to them. It stated each rental term was for 15 years -- not ten -- and there would be there was a maximum 15% increase for the second 15-year term. Future rents would not be at market rates but based on the uncleared, unimproved land value and the restricted use. Delbert Guerin's detective work also revealed that all structures (buildings) put in place by the Club could be removed by it at the end of the lease, contrary to what the Band members had understood to be the case. Anfield literally held the pen for Musqueam members when they voted on October 6, 1957.

Following the discovery of the lease, at a Musqueam General Band Meeting on December 14, 1975, a decision was made to proceed with a writ to challenge the federal government for breach of its trust responsibilities. The Musqueam initially won their case in September of 1979 with an award of compensation of $10 million plus post-judgment interest. However, the Federal Court of Appeal overturned that decision and said the Government had only a political and not a legal obligation. The Musqueam then proceeded to the Supreme Court of Canada where the award was upheld on November 1, 1984. “I consider this the second best thing that happened in my life," says Delbert Guerin. "The first important thing was my wife saying 'I do' in 1960.”

“We were pleased with the finding of liability but disappointed with the amount of the award,” Reynolds says. “The kind of numbers we put before the court ranged from $41 million to $70 million. The trial judge agreed these figures were justified. But there were contingencies (things that might happen in the future, before the lease finishes in 2033), that were used to reduce the amount; in particular, the judge's view that the Club might leave. Of course, this has not happened. The lease is too good to the Club for them to leave before it ends in 2033.”

Reynolds, who emigrated from England in 1976, specializes in Aboriginal, banking and commercial law in Vancouver. “I call it an ABC practice,” he says. He was one of the lawyers on the Guerin case along with lead lawyer Marvin Storrow, Lewis Harvey, Robert Banno and Steve Schachter. “Our advantage was, we weren't experts,” says Lewis Harvey. “But we thought, this can't be, this isn't right. Marvin Storrow thought it was constructive fraud [because] the lease terms were so terrible.” As a result of Delbert Guerin's persistence, the door has been opened for Aboriginal people in Canada to seek and obtain legal remedies for wrongs done to them by the Crown. The Guerin case has also become a matter of discussion in other countries such as New Zealand and Australia. “There is no question that what the Crown did was wrong,” says Reynolds. “In any other situation it would have been a slam-dunk. But because it was the federal government, everyone thought you couldn't sue them ... What the Guerin case did was to overturn the defence that the Crown was above the law and to achieve some measure of justice. I thought it was a story worth telling."

The Musqueam took a second legal case to the Supreme Court of Canada in 1990, winning the Sparrow case that secured the Aboriginal rights in Section 35 of the Constitution Act of 1982. These two landmark cases were key elements in persuading the provincial government to discontinue its refusal to participate in treaty negotiations for settlement of Aboriginal rights in British Columbia and they laid the foundation for the historic Supreme Court Delgamuukw (1997) decision that clearly established Aboriginal title as a legal right.

Born of British and Romany ancestry in Leatherhead, England on February, 16, 1949, Reynolds studied at the London School of Economics where he obtained his law degree in 1970 and a Ph.D. in 1974. He taught as a lecturer in law at the L.S.E. between 1970 and 1974, emigrating to Canada from England in 1976. He first worked for a bank in Toronto in international banking before moving to Vancouver to practice law in 1979. He soon became one of the legal counsel on behalf of the Musqueam Indian Band in the Guerin case. Aboriginal law has remained the focus of his practice which also includes banking and commercial law. He is the General Counsel for the Musqueam Band and acts for a number of other Aboriginal groups. He is listed as a leading practitioner of Aboriginal law in the Lexpert survey of Aboriginal lawyers. Reynolds has taught at the University of British Columbia and published many articles on legal topics in a number of legal journals. He has also published articles on gardening, particularly subtropical gardening (ie. growing palms and bananas and other subtropical plants outdoors in Vancouver). Gardening was the topic of his first book. Reynolds has been Chair of the Peoples Law School and the Vandusen Botanical Gardens Association. He has also been a director of the International Palm Society. In 2005 he was chair of the Vancouver-Burnaby branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association. He practices law with Ratcliff & Company in North Vancouver.

[Delbert Guerin is pictured at right.]


Subtropical Gardening in a Temperate Climate (Vancouver: Hylea Publishing, 1997), ISBN 0-9682951-0-X.

A Breach of Duty: Fiduciary Obligations and Aboriginal Peoples (Saskatoon: Purich Publishing Ltd, 2005), ISBN 1-895830-25-7.

[A. Twigg, B. Cramp / BCBW 2005] "First Nations" "Gardening" "Law"

A Breach of Duty: Fiduciary Obligations and Aboriginal Peoples
Press Release (2005)

“A significant contribution to our understanding of the Crown’s
fiduciary obligation and a very useful resource.” (Prof. Kent McNeil)
“…a fascinating book about a landmark case on Aboriginal rights.”
(Stephen Hume, Vancouver Sun)

In the landmark decision of Guerin v. the Queen, the Supreme Court
of Canada confirmed that Canada has a duty to act in the best interests of Aboriginal peoples. This book tells the story of the federal government’s breach of that duty toward the Musqueam people, their twenty-six year quest for justice, and the impact of the Court’s decision on the development of Aboriginal law and the law of fiduciary obligations.

In the 1950s, Indian Affairs concealed the terms of a lease negotiated on behalf of the Musqueam of over one-third of their small reserve to the Shaughnessy Heights Golf and Country Club in Vancouver. It was only because of the diligence and tenacity of the Musqueam that justice was finally achieved in 1984, with the release of Guerin v. the Queen.

This book discusses what fiduciary obligations are, unresolved issues regarding such obligations, and issues to consider in advancing or defending breach of fiduciary obligation claims. It also compares Canadian law with that of the United States, Australia, and New Zealand.

James I. Reynolds has practised Aboriginal law for over twenty-five years, and was one of the lawyers for the Musqueam on the Guerin case. He is a partner with Ratcliff & Co. in North Vancouver, and holds both law and doctorate degrees from the London School of Economics. He has written extensively on Aboriginal and other legal issues, and has lectured at both the London School of Economics and the University of British Columbia.

$38.00, 336 pages, paper, photographs, index, bibliography, 6 x 9 ISBN 1-895830-25-7

-- Purich Publishers (Saskatoon)