The Grassy Narrows First Nation has won an important legal
victory, affecting Ontario lands north of the English River, the "Keewatin Lands". After 11 years of
litigation, they have succeeded in obtaining a ruling that the
Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) had no right to issue forestry
licenses permitting logging in part of their traditional
territories, because of the interference that such logging would
cause to their rights to hunt and fish under Treaty 3.
Justice Anderson of the Superior Court of Justice granted Grassy
Narrows a declaration that the MNR had no authority to approve any
forest licences, forest management plans, work schedules or make or
give any other approvals or authorizations for forest operation,
within the Keewatin Lands, so as to infringe, violate, impair,
abrogate, or derogate from, the right to hunt and fish guaranteed
to the band by Treaty 3. The Keewatin Lands have a special legal
status because they only became part of Ontario in 1912. According
to Justice Anderson, they are therefore exempt from special
legislation passed by the governments of Canada and Ontario in
1891, which apply to the rest of the province. The 300 page
decision should be available to the public in the next few days.
Many of the background facts are available in a 2006 procedural decision.
The decision will have an important impact on all forms of
resource extraction north of the English River. It could also have
an impact on renewable energy projects in that area. For example,
MNR claims the final say on approving waterpower developments, even
though some are fiercely opposed by local residents and First
Nations. The Grassy Narrows decision will strengthen the hands of
the bands, and make it much more risky to proceed with renewable
energy projects without First Nations support.
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