R v Hatfield

The Supreme Court of Nova Scotia released a decision on March 9, 2015 in R. v. Hatfield, dismissing an appeal from two summary convictions for hunting without a license and possessing a deer carcass contrary to Nova Scotia's Wildlife Act.


The appellant, Jack Hatfield, is a resident of Cape Sable Island, Nova Scotia who admitted to shooting a deer near French Lake, Yarmouth County and delivering its carcass to a Department of Natural Resources field office in Tusket, Nova Scotia. When he was charged under the Wildlife Act for these actions, Hatfield defended himself on the basis that he was exercising Aboriginal hunting rights as a Métis person. Hatfield claimed to be a member of a contemporary Métis community with a historic connection to a Métis community on Cape Cod, Massachusetts, whose practices, customs and traditions were integral to the distinctive culture of that community prior to effective European control, and whose practices, customs and traditions still persist today. This claim was rejected at trial on the basis that Hatfield failed to prove "the existence of an identifiable rights-bearing Métis community in the area of Cape Cod or Cape Sable Island with a degree of continuity and stability that existed prior to effective [European] control sufficient to support a site-specific [A]boriginal right claim".

Court's decision

The Supreme Court found that the trial judge properly addressed each part of the test for analysing Métis rights claims that was set out in the Supreme Court of Canada's decision in R. v. Powley. The Supreme Court also found that the trial judge had been sensitive to the inherent evidentiary difficulties in proving Aboriginal rights claims and he accommodated this through allowing oral testimony with respect to history and tradition while maintaining the requirement that Hatfield's claims be established on the basis of persuasive evidence that could satisfy a balance of probabilities. The trial judge accepted that Hatfield is a member of a modern day community represented by a Métis council and probably has a genealogical connection to an Aboriginal person who lived in the Cape Cod area between 1625 and 1686. However, the trial judge found that 1670 was the date from which effective European control was exercised over Nova Scotia and found insufficient evidence to suggest Hatfield's ancestors had come to Sable Island, Nova Scotia prior to this time. He also found that the date of effective European control over Massachusetts was 1640, putting Hatfield's claim to descent from a Métis community further into issue. The trial judge also found insufficient evidence of a historic community on the island that self-identified and was perceived by others as Métis. The Supreme Court found these findings to be reasonable and supported by the expert evidence that the trial judge had preferred.

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