Frequently-Asked Questions

What is a specific claim?

Specific claims are unresolved grievances that First Nations have with the Government of Canada relating to breaches of Canada's lawful obligations. Specific claims do not include claims relating to aboriginal rights and title.

What are some examples of specific claims?

Examples would include:

legal errors during the reserve creation process;
problems with surveys of reserve boundaries;
broken treaty promises
failure to obtain compensation (or obtaining inadequate compensation)for reserve surrender;
problems with third-party use of reserves, e.g. roads, power lines, gravel extraction.

What isn't included as a specific claim?

A specific claim must be against the Government of Canada and it must not be based on aboriginal rights and title.

What steps are involved in preparing a specific claim?

Researchers obtain historical documents from public archives, the First Nation, and other sources. The First Nation itself may have documentary evidence or oral history that is relevant to the claim. The research report is reviewed by a lawyer and, if a legal breach by the Government of Canada is found, the lawyer prepares a legal opinion. The legal opinion and the accompanying archival documents are reviewed by the First Nation and then submitted to the Specific Claims Branch of the Department of Indian Affairs for review.

What happens next?

The claim is reviewed by the Specific Claims Branch to determine whether the minimum standards for a Specific Claim have been made out and to identify any additional relevant documentation. The claim then moves to Canada's Department of Justice for a legal review. The Department of Justice will either recommend the claim be rejected or that the claim be accepted, either in whole or in part, for negotiation.

How long does the process take?

A large backlog of Specific Claims has developed at the Department of Justice stage. Recent reforms have been put in place to try to address this backlog. Legislation that came into force in October of 2008 requires that Canada either reject or accept a Specific Claim within three years of its mission. If Canada fails to meet this deadline, the First Nation may take its claim to an independent tribunal for a binding ruling.

Our First Nation may have a Specific Claim. What is the first step?

Contact the Specific Claims Research Centre, or another research association, to discuss your potential claims and to ensure that you are placed on the research association's workplan that is submitted to Ottawa for funding.

How do we get in touch with you?

You can contact Mona Donovan, Research Coordinator, at:

Phone: 604-689-5920 or 778-928-5323

Fax: 604-689-5922


Update on the Establishment of the Specific Claims Tribunal

On October 25, 2010, Justice Harry Slade, Chairperson of the Specific Claims Tribunal, issued an update on the progress made so far in preparing the Tribunal for operations. Following is a brief description of the history of the Specific Claims process in Canada and a summary of the update from Specific Claims Tribunal Canada.

Background History

Specific Claims are claims relating to breaches or non-fulfilment of lawful obligations owing to First Nations by the Federal Government of Canada. The process involved in resolving Specific Claims has until recently, been slow and cumbersome. A very large number of Specific Claims built up over time to create  a backlog in the system. Many claims sat waiting to be considered for ten years or more.  Others were rejected with minimal or no explanation. In 1990, at the request of the Federal Government, a group of First Nations Chiefs formed the Chiefs Committee on Claims. One of the recommendations made by this Committee was the establishment of an independent Specific Claims Tribunal. The Committee's  submission also led to the formation of the Indian Specific Claims Commission, which reviewed Specific Claims that had been rejected and issued non-binding reports.

 In December 2006, the Senate Standing Committee on Aboriginal Peoples issued its final report on Canada's Specific Claims process entitled "Negotiation or Confrontation: It's Canada's Choice". This report clearly stated the urgent necessity to settle Specific Claims, and called again for the establishment within two years of an independent Tribunal.  This report was followed by a document entitled Specific Claims: Justice at Last,  published by INAC in 2007. The Specific Claims Tribunal will soon be able to make binding decisions on claims that have been rejected by the Federal Government.

Recent News from the Specific Claims Tribunal

Justice Harry Slade, Chairperson of the Specific Claims Tribunal, announced recently that the Tribunal is not yet ready to commence operations. The plan is that the Registry for the Tribunal will be open for the formal filing of claims and for case management, by the end of their current fiscal year, March 31, 2011.

The Tribunal is now in a position to more accurately assess their workload.  Justice Slade states that " at least 74 claims that qualify for filing with the Tribunal on the basis of rejection by the Minister". In total, there are 577 claims in the process administered by the Specific Claims Branch. Many of these will be rejected and could also then be eligible for filing with the Tribunal. There are also as many as 87 claims that may become eligible by October, 2011 because of failure to conclude a settlement after three years from date of acceptance.

 The Tribunal has found that at least one-half of claims filed come from Western Canada, with 40% of these being from British Columbia. A more accurate assessment of the Tribunal's workload will not be possible until after the Tribunal commences operations.

The Specific Claims Tribunal Act requires that the Tribunal Registry be located in Ottawa. It is still unclear whether resources for Tribunal operations can be provided in other provinces and whether there will be access to hearing venues outside of Ottawa.

The Tribunal is also working on a revision of the first draft of Rules of Practice and Procedure. It is hoped that Rules will be ready before the end of the 2010 calendar year. However, as Justice Slade notes, " the Rules must be reviewed under the process established under the Statutory Instruments Act. This process is not within the control of the Tribunal".

Justice Slade concludes his update by explaining that the Tribunal is not in a position to accurately estimate operational requirements for the long term. This will be done over the course of the 2011-2012 fiscal year.