10/06/2014 02:51 EDT | Updated 12/06/2014 05:59 EST

Human-rights commission looking into whether Metis complaint made in bad faith

OTTAWA - The Canadian Human Rights Commission is looking into whether a complaint against the federal government by one of British Columbia's two major Metis organizations was made in bad faith.

It's the latest development in the open feud between the Metis Nation British Columbia (MNBC) and the B.C. Metis Federation, which together represent almost 17,000 of the province's 59,000 Metis people.

The commission has been looking into an allegation that Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada discriminated against some Metis people by only funding the MNBC and not the federation.

Those are the two main organizations representing Metis people in the province. The Metis Nation British Columbia is a governing member of the Metis National Council, which is the over-arching organization for Metis groups in five provinces.

The B.C. Metis Federation, on the other hand, wants to be recognized as a credible alternative to the MNBC, which it accuses of restricting membership and limiting access to federally funded programs and services.

The federation alleges that by funding only the MNBC, the federal government is excluding those Metis not among its ranks.

In August, Aboriginal Affairs officials wrote to the commission to raise a new objection to the federation's complaint.

The department claims the complaint is "trivial, frivolous, vexatious or made in bad faith." Under the Canadian Human Rights Act, the commission can refuse to deal with such complaints.

The federation is trying to "annoy, embarrass or harass" the MNBC for "political purposes," the department says in its Aug. 6 letter.

However, the federation says that's not the case.

"The BCMF unequivocally rejects the assertion that the complaint is vexatious. The complaint was not filed in order to annoy, embarrass, or harass Metis Nation British Columbia or the respondent," wrote federation president Keith Henry.

"Rather, the complaint was filed in order to protect the individual rights of Metis people in British Columbia."

The commission did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Meanwhile, Henry says he is surprised that Aboriginal Affairs decided not to look any further into the federation's complaint against the MNBC and the Metis National Council.

The federation filed a complaint with Vancouver police this summer after The Canadian Press first reported the council and its provincial affiliates had come under scrutiny over their management practices and financial controls.

But the police referred the complaint back to Aboriginal Affairs, which decided no further investigation is required.

Canada's Metis represent a fragile and ill-defined population on the cusp of becoming an even greater force in aboriginal politics in this country, depending on the eventual outcome of a long-standing court battle.

The Congress of Aboriginal Peoples and several Metis and non-status Indians took the federal government to court in 1999, alleging discrimination because they were not considered "Indians" under a section of the Constitution Act.

Last year, the Federal Court recognized them as "Indians" under the Constitution, a ruling largely upheld earlier this year by the Federal Court of Appeal.

Depending on if and when the federal government appeals that finding, a final decision would begin a long legal process that might eventually open the door to financial benefits and more programs and services for Metis people.

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