The parties were members of an Indian band in British Columbia. The wife applied under the Family Relations Act (now replaced by the Family Law Act) for one-half of the interest in the properties held by her husband under s. 20 of the Indian Act, or for compensation in lieu of division.
The Supreme Court of British Columbia dismissed the application. The British Columbia Court of Appeal concluded that the wife was not entitled to an interest in the property but made an order for compensation, which the wife appealed.
- Do the provisions of the Family Relations Act apply to land on an Indian reserve?
Chouinard, writing for a unanimous court, held the Act cannot apply to lands on reserve. When provincial legislation extends to federal jurisdiction (such as matters relating to Indians under s. 91(24)), it should be read down to preserve its constitutionality within the limits of the provincial jurisdiction. However, recognizing that this could result in inequitable results, there is nothing preventing a court from awarding compensation for the purpose of adjusting the division of family assets between the spouses.
- As land on reserve is the exclusive jurisdiction of the federal government, it cannot be divided under a provincial family law statute.
- A court can order compensation in lieu of division in order to prevent inequitable outcomes.