Wednesday, November 04, 2009

First Nations claim victory in long running fishery court case

A court action which first began back in June of 2003 came to an end on Tuesday as the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council claimed a legal victory after British Columbia Supreme Court Justice Nicole Garson gave the aboriginal people of the west coast of Vancouver Island the right to harvest and sell fish and other seafood in their territory.

Justice Garson recognized the aboriginals’ territory as extending nine nautical miles offshore, not accepting the claim of the 100 miles which they had asserted as well she dismissed their “claims to aboriginal title to their fishing territories are dismissed.

She also added that the right to harvest and sell fish and seafood, is not unrestricted and must be negotiated with B.C. and Canada over the next two years. She went on to advise the First Nations “are entitled to a declaration that they have aboriginal rights to fish and to sell fish” and have proven that the “fisheries regulatory regime (which includes statutes, regulations and policies) has excluded them from the fishery and infringed their aboriginal rights.”

The Government of Canada has not decided if they plan on appealing her decision.

The trial began in 2006 and evidence was heard in both Vancouver and the First Nation community of Ahousaht over the course of the next three years, the final arguments took place in March of this year.

A number of groups and individuals provided testimony during the course of the case, but surprisingly not the province of British Columbia, which sat this case out advising that they had no opinion on the direction of the debate.

As Madam Justice Garson outlined her decision both sides appeared to be finding something they liked about the judgement.

Phil Eidsvik of the BC Fisheries Survival Coalition found relief that as he understands the decision it “does not affect DFO’s ability to manage the fishery” and does not “create race-based fisheries.”

As for the Nuu-chah-nulth, their Tribal council was “very pleased” that the decision finally recognized their and other aboriginals’ traditional culture of trading seafood, including with the first Europeans to arrive on the B.C. coast.

They also suggested that there is “no question” the decision would assist other coastal first nations in their own fight to obtain the right to trade in seafood as their ancestors once did.
It's the kind of groundbreaking decision that could have an impact on local First Nations and their efforts regarding their rights on the North coast.
With the Ahousaht case now complete, the legal eyes will turn towards the ongoing court case of the Lax Kw'alaams, where the British Columbia Court of Appeal this week is hearing their claim for priority over the commercial fishery.
It's another legal procedure which the province is apparently more than content to let the Federal government take on and feel the heat over a decision that hasn't been well received by some of the intervenors in the case.

It will be interesting to note if the precedent set on Tuesday provides for some hint as to where the Lax Kw'alaam action will be heading.
The developments of Tuesday will also provide for more interesting times in the fishery in British Columbia, as all sides determine how it will affect their interests and stakes in the resource.

Vancouver Sun-- B.C. natives claim victory in landmark court ruling on commercial fisheries

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