What is the Assertion of Crown Sovereignty?

Indigenous Rights in One Minute
By Bruce McIvor

What is the Assertion of Crown Sovereignty?


The assertion of Crown sovereignty was a political act by which the British Crown asserted ultimate law-making authority over Indigenous lands and Indigenous people. 

The assertion of Crown sovereignty over what is now Canada took place at different times and in different forms. For example, the British asserted sovereignty over much of eastern North America through the Royal Proclamation of 1763 following its defeat of France in the Seven Years War.

On the west coast, the courts have identified the Treaty of Oregon of 1846 which established the south-western boundary between British North America and the United States, as the date of the assertion of Crown sovereignty. 

The assertion of Crown sovereignty is about who has supreme law-making authority, not whether the Crown owns the land. Unfortunately, this distinction is often lost on politicians and in some cases, the courts. To the frustration of Indigenous people, Canadian courts have consistently insisted they lack jurisdiction to question the legality of the Crown’s assertion of sovereignty. 

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Bruce McIvor, lawyer and historian, is partner at First Peoples Law LLP. He is also an Adjunct Professor at the University of British Columbia’s Allard School of Law where he teaches the constitutional law of Aboriginal and Treaty rights. A member of the bar in British Columbia and Ontario, Bruce is recognized nationally and internationally as a leading practitioner of Aboriginal law in Canada. Bruce's ancestors took Métis scrip at Red River in Manitoba. He holds a law degree, a Ph.D. in Aboriginal and environmental history, is a Fulbright Scholar and author of Standoff: Why Reconciliation Fails Indigenous People and How to Fix It. He is a member of the Manitoba Métis Federation.

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First Peoples Law is a law firm dedicated to defending and advancing the rights of Indigenous Peoples in Canada. We work closely with First Nations to defend their Aboriginal title, rights and Treaty rights, uphold their Indigenous laws and governance and ensure economic prosperity for their members. 

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