Supreme Court of Canada rules for Tsilhqot'in Nation in protracted legal case over aboriginal title claim to land near Williams Lake, British Columbia; province says ruling provides 'certainty' and will analyze it, working with First Nations and industry

VICTORIA, British Columbia , June 26, 2014 (press release) – Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Suzanne Anton, has issued the following statement in response to today’s Supreme Court of Canada decision in Roger William et al. v. HMQBC and AG Canada:

“Today, the Supreme Court of Canada rendered its judgment on the appeal brought by Roger William on behalf of the Tsilhqot’in Nation. This decision follows many years of litigation on complex and significant issues.

“The decision provides additional certainty around processes and tests that are applied to the relationship between the Province and Aboriginal peoples. We will take the time required to fully analyze it and work with First Nations, industry and all of our stakeholders as we do so.

“In the meantime, the relations we have built with First Nations and industry will provide a strong foundation going forward.

“We believe this is the right approach as it enables First Nations to fully participate in economic development and brings benefits more quickly to Aboriginal communities.”

A backgrounder follows.

Media Contacts:

Lori DeLuca
Ministry of Justice
Government Communications and Public Engagement
250 953-3196

BACKGROUNDER

Legal chronology of the Roger William case

Treaty Process Context

Under the Jobs Plan, the Province has now reached 31 non-treaty agreements, more than triple the original commitment. Specifically, since 2006, B.C. has reached more than 200 agreements relating to the land base with First Nations, both through the treaty process and non-treaty agreements such as revenue-sharing agreements, which can serve as building blocks towards a treaty.

BC Supreme Court

1990-1998: Roger William, on behalf of Tsilhqot’in Nation, filed action in BC Supreme Court seeking a declaration of Aboriginal title over 438,000 hectares in B.C.’s Cariboo-Chilcotin region. The claim area represents approximately one-half of the traditional territory claimed by the Xeni Gwet’in First Nation and about 5 to 10% of the traditional territory claimed by the Tsilhqot’in Nation.

Chief William also sought a declaration of Tsilhqot’in Aboriginal rights to hunt and trap in the claim area and to trade animal skins and pelts.

2002-2007: The trial began in November 2002 before the BC Supreme Court and was heard over 339 trial days. Reasons for judgment were delivered in November 2007. Justice Vickers found that:

The Tsilhqot’in Nation had demonstrated required evidence of the existence of Aboriginal title in an area amounting to approximately 190,000 hectares but due to a procedural defect no declaration of title could be made;
The Tsilhqot’in Nation has an Aboriginal right to hunt and trap birds and animals and an Aboriginal right to trade in skin pelts as a means of securing a moderate livelihood;
Provincial laws cannot apply to Aboriginal title.

BC Court of Appeal

2012: Chief William, Canada and B.C. appealed Justice Vickers’ decision. The BC Court of Appeal dismissed all three appeals.

The Court of Appeal expressed a different opinion on aboriginal title than Justice Vickers in that aboriginal title must be demonstrated on a site-specific rather than territorial basis.

The Court of Appeal agreed with Justice Vickers that the Forest Act infringed on the Tsilhqot’in Nation’s Aboriginal rights.

Supreme Court of Canada

2013: Chief William appealed the Court of Appeal decision to the Supreme Court of Canada. The appeal was heard on November 7, 2013.

2014: On June 20, 2014, the Supreme Court of Canada announced that they would deliver a judgment on June 26, 2014.

In today’s decision, the Supreme Court of Canada upheld the trial judge’s findings regarding title and provided guidance and clarity regarding the continuing validity of provincial laws of general application. As well, it offered clarity related to the scope of consultation and accommodation applicable to those lands over which Aboriginal title is asserted or proven.

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