Saturday, July 26, 2014
Text Size

Supreme Court to rule Friday on Grassy Narrows case over logging rights

By: Steve Rennie, The Canadian Press

OTTAWA - The Supreme Court of Canada is set to deliver its decision Friday on a challenge of the Ontario government's right to permit industrial logging on the traditional lands of the Grassy Narrows First Nation.

An outcome in the First Nation's favour — coupled with the top court's recent landmark decision to grant land title to the Tsilhqot'in people of British Columbia — could have major consequences on the Conservative government's resource agenda.

Either way, the decision will further clarify the roles of the federal and provincial governments when it comes to resource development on treaty land.

"There's another issue in aboriginal law that has been out there for many years, which has caused a lot of controversy and has made things very complicated, namely: what are the respective roles of the federal government and the provincial governments?" said Robert Janes, lawyer for Grassy Narrows.

"Aboriginal people simply take the very strong view that the federal government has a special role and should be involved in this. That's the issue that's going to be addressed in the Keewatin case.

"In the Tsilhqot'in case, the Supreme Court of Canada gave some hints that it sees the federal government as having a lesser role and the provinces are at the forefront. But we'll have a better picture on Friday."

The Grassy Narrows First Nation appealed after Ontario's highest court ruled in March 2013 that the province has the right to "take up" treaty land for forestry and mining.

Only Ottawa, they argued, could "take up" the land because the treaty promises were made between the Crown and First Nations.

The northwestern Ontario First Nation has spent more than a decade in court fighting the province's decision to issue a licence for clearcut operations in parts of the Keewatin portion of Treaty 3 territory.

Chief Simon Fobister has said Ontario continues to plan for clearcut logging throughout Grassy Narrows territory and is seeking input on a new 10-year forest management plan that includes dozens of large clearcuts.

The First Nation says scientific studies indicate that clearcut logging in boreal watersheds raises mercury levels in fish above the Health Canada limit for safe human consumption.

It says recent clearcut logging in Grassy Narrows territory has exacerbated the impact of mercury poisoning that began when a paper mill upstream in Dryden, Ont., dumped mercury between 1962 and 1970.

The Ontario case differs from the one involving the Tsilhqot'in people of British Columbia in that it involves treaty rights. Unlike other provinces, the Crown has not signed treaties with most First Nations in B.C.

The Supreme Court's unanimous decision on the Tsilhqot'in case recognized, for the first time in Canada, aboriginal title to a specific tract of land and set a historic precedent affecting resource rights.

The Tsilhqot'in case essentially made it easier for First Nations to establish title over lands that were regularly used for hunting, fishing and other activities prior to contact with Europeans.

The decision places a greater burden on governments to justify economic development on aboriginal land. Title, however, is not absolute. Economic development can still go ahead on titled land without consent in cases where development is pressing, substantial and meets the Crown's fiduciary duty, the high court ruled.

The Ontario case, however, deals with treaty rights and not aboriginal title.

"There's no doubt that in the situation where treaties are involved, the courts have generally taken the view that the lands are more easily opened for development," Janes said.

"There's no doubt that that will help the province advance a resource agenda. But what we've seen in Alberta and northeastern B.C. is that even in those lands, the courts have not said that it's a free-for-all.

"I think what we're seeing is a situation where governments have a slightly easier job, but it's not an open door."

Whatever Trevor

Dis is Trevor.

Blast from the past: FP archive

When is Consultation, Consultation?

Write comment (10 Comments)

Ovide Mercredi

National Chief – AFN

During a Treaty Roundtable meeting of the Alberta Chiefs, I took note of a federal government document outlining their strategy to define and ultimately impose their own form of self-government. Read more...

Letting go of residential schools

Write comment (7 Comments)

by Gilbert Oskaboose, Nov 1993 First Perspective

There is a lot of "unfinished business" in Indian Country. Garbage that we as a people have never really dealt with. Chief among them is the whole issue of those infamous residential schools and their impact on people. Read more...

OBIDIAH

obidiah picture

ANALYSIS - Bill Gallagher

gallagher picture

Under the Northern Sky by Xavier Kataquapit

Under the Northern Sky by Xavier Kataquapit

EVENTS

July 2014
S M T W T F S
29 30 1 2 3 4 5
6 7 8 9 10 11 12
13 14 15 16 17 18 19
20 21 22 23 24 25 26
27 28 29 30 31 1 2
Fri Jun 27 @12:00AM
Adäka Cultural Festival
Wed Jul 23 @ 9:00AM - 05:00PM
Asinabka Film Media Arts Festival
Sun Jul 27 @12:00AM
World Indigenous Business Forum 2014
imageimageimageimageimage
cartoonscartoonscartoonscartoonscartoons

Current Video

RIP Percy Tuesday

Write comment (1 Comment)

 

Thanks to Althea Guiboche for allowing The First Perspective to share her video taken at the Manitowapow book launch at McNally Robinson. 

Percey sings Freddy Fender's "Wasted Days and Wasted Nights" and people join in to harmonize. 

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO): The Washington Redskins

Write comment (0 Comments)