Honour of the Crown

Chief justice McLachlin, of the Supreme Court of Canada, spoke at the CBA Aboriginal Law conference in Ottawa this past May, 2016, on the topic of the Honour of the Crown. In her approximately 45 minute speech,  she made it plain that the Honour of the Crown requires that the Crown shall do the right thing:

‘The situations in which the Honour of the Crown applies are varied and diverse, yet the end goal is always the same, reconciliation. Quite simply, the Honour of the Crown asks the Crown, on behalf of us all, to do the right thing. As Thomas Issac has put it, “the Honour of the Crown is the cornerstone in the Crown’s fair dealings with Aboriginal peoples. It means nothing less than that the Crown must do the right thing in its dealings with Aboriginal peoples.”’

The significance of the Chief Justice’s affirmation is that she has articulated a simple test with which to measure the Crown’s dealings with Aboriginal peoples. Did the Crown do the right thing?

In other words, when the Crown deals with issues that affect Aboriginal peoples, whether for natural resource development consultation, treaty negotiation or interpretation, environmental remediation, or other matters, the Honour of the Crown will require the Crown to do the right thing.

What does it mean to do the right thing? The Oxford dictionary defines “right” as “morally good, justified or acceptable, and best or most appropriate for a particular situation.” In her speech, the Chief Justice explained the meaning of the Honour of the Crown, by reference to the Oxford dictionary. She stated:

“Which brings us back to the phrase, the Honour of the Crown. What does the phrase Honour of the Crown mean? The Oxford dictionary is a start. It offers two main meanings: an expression of high respect, esteem, deferential admiration. The second phrase equates honour with action and thought, with nobleness of mind and spirt. Magnanimity. Uprightness. Adherence to what is due or correct according to conventional and accepted standards of conduct. It seems to me that both definitions find their place in respect to Aboriginal law.

The first meaning signals respect and esteem that peoples owe to each other. The second speaks of fair dealing and adherence to what is due and correct not only in form but in substance. The ideas inherent in the Honour of the Crown are linked to legal notions of law, justice, and equity.”