Manitoba Metis Federation Inc. v. Canada (Attorney General): Breathing New Life into the "Empty Box" Doctrine of "Indian Title"


  • Darren O'Toole



This article addresses the Supreme Court’s recent decision in <i>Manitoba Metis Federation v. Canada (Attorney General)</i>, the Court’s interpretation of section 31 of the <i>Manitoba Act, 1870</i>, and the ways in which the ruling seems guided by, or at least concurs with, the works and opinions of Thomas Flanagan. The author highlights various cases which have dealt with Métis rights, established canons of statutory interpretation, Crown obligations, opposing scholarly views, and the distinction between historical contextual analysis and historical legal analysis. In doing so, the author argues that the decision is essentially an invocation and resuscitation of the “empty box” doctrine. This doctrine serves both to recognize Métis rights and revoke them of any tangible substance that such recognition might bring, and seemingly obfuscates the plain meaning rule of interpretation applied to the section 31 phrase: “towards the extinguishment of the Indian Title.”