Supreme Court makes landmark ruling on land title rights

"The Canada I want to be a part of is respectful to us as a people. It’s a new Canada today, and it’s a better Canada because it now includes us." — Chief Joe Alphonse, Tl’etinqox Government, Tsilhqot’in National Government Tribal Chairman.

Ottawa (07 June 2014) — A major ruling by the Superme Court of Canada will have serious implications for the Conservative government's plans to proceed with the Northern Gateway Pipeline, among other projects that seek to tread on Aboriginal land. On June 26, in an 8-0 decision, the Supreme Court of Canada granted Aboriginal groups the right to claim possession of ancestial lands and control them permanently. 

Tsilhqot'in ruling by the Supreme Court shifts the landscape for Aboriginal rights in Canada

The ruling stems from a case involving the Tsilhqot’in Nation which has been fighting for decades to assert possession of land west of Williams Lake, B.C. The legal fight began 20 years ago with a dispute between the group of 3,000 Aboriginal people and a company that had approval from the B.C. government to cut trees on lands claimed by the Tsilhqot’in.

The ruling grants land title to the Tsilhqot'in of 1,700 square kilometres of land. As the CBC reported, Pam Palmater, a Mi'kmaq lawyer with the Centre for Indigenous Governance at Ryerson University said this decision provides important clarification over what having aboriginal title means and how it will affect resource development projects. "The aboriginal group in question has the exclusive authority to decide who uses that land and who benefits from that land and, as a result, provincial laws don't apply."

Ruling has massive implications for government and corporations wanting to assume land for projects

This has wide implications for First Nations across British Columbia. In some parts of Canada, many First Nations gave up their claim to land in exchange for other promises but many in B.C. did not. There are hundreds of outstanding land claims across the province.  In other parts of Canada, where land treaties do no exist, this ruling may have implications as well. 

While First Nations will still have to prove their land title, governments must now only proceed if their duty to consult and accommodate has been carried out properly. Any previous decisions must be reviewed in this light and must be cancelled if the obligations have not been met. 

This clarification really changes everything across the country,” Pamela Palmater said to the CBC.  “So, it’s not just about the duty to consult anymore, this really changes it to a requirement to get consent over all unceded territory in this country.” 

At the press conference celebrating the SCC's ruling, Chief Joe Alphonse, Tl’etinqox Government, Tsilhqot’in National Government Tribal Chairman, stated, "We fought this case to be recognized, be treated as equals in a meaningful way… The Canada I want to be a part of is respectful to us as a people. It’s a new Canada today, and it’s a better Canada because it now includes us."

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