Supreme Court to hear NL ap­peal in Innu-Rio Tinto law­suit

The Aurora (Labrador City) - - Saltwire Homes - BY THOM BARKER

The Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) will hear an ap­peal of a Que­bec court’s de­ci­sion to deny a New­found­land and Labrador ap­pli­ca­tion to strike cer­tain al­le­ga­tions from a law­suit by two Que­bec Innu groups against Rio Tinto/Iron Ore Com­pany of Canada (IOC).

In 2013, the Innu First Na­tions of Uashat mak Mani-ute­nam and Ma­timekush-Lac John, launched the $900 mil­lion suit claim­ing the com­pany’s mines in Sch­ef­ferville, Que­bec and Labrador City, its rail­way and deep-wa­ter port have caused en­vi­ron­men­tal dam­age, dis­placed com­mu­nity mem­bers and pre­vented Innu from prac­tis­ing their tra­di­tional way of life.

When Que­bec’s high­est court ruled the First Na­tions had the right to sue Rio Tinto (IOC), New­found­land and Labrador in­ter­vened ap­ply­ing to the Su­pe­rior Court of Que­bec to re­move the por­tions of the case that per­tained to the com­pany’s oper­a­tions out­side Que­bec.

“When you look at the plead­ings, there’s mul­ti­ple pos­si­ble im­pli­ca­tions,” said An­drew Par­sons, New­found­land and Labrador at­tor­ney gen­eral. “One of the ones ob­vi­ously that we were very con­cerned with as a prov­ince was one of the pos­si­ble reper­cus­sions would be these groups get­ting ti­tle over cer­tain lands in New­found­land and Labrador, specif­i­cally Labrador, and ob­vi­ously that would be an is­sue to us.”

Specif­i­cally, the plead­ings as­sert ti­tle over an­ces­tral ter­ri­tory that over­laps the Que­bec-Labrador bor­der. Par­sons ar­gues Que­bec doesn’t have ju­ris­dic­tion.

“Labrador doesn’t an­swer to the courts in Que­bec,” he said.

The ini­tial ap­pli­ca­tion by the at­tor­ney gen­eral was turned down in 2016 so New­found­land and Labrador ap­pealed to the Que­bec Court of Ap­peals.

“The trial judge held that, in light of the par­tic­u­lar na­ture of Abo­rig­i­nal rights, the pro­ceed­ing can­not be char­ac­ter­ized as a real ac­tion,” the ap­peals court panel wrote in its 2017. “The ac­tion is, more­over, against pri­vate com­pa­nies and not against the Crown.”

It con­tin­ued: “As for the im­mu­nity of the provin­cial Crown, in­voked by the ap­pel­lant, the judge held that it was in­ap­pli­ca­ble since the Innu seek recog­ni­tion of ex­ist­ing rights which pre­date even the found­ing of the State and its bor­ders.”

The Court of Ap­peals agreed and up­held the de­ci­sion.

Par­sons still sees a se­ri­ous risk, how­ever.

“It’s a sub­stan­tive mat­ter when groups, es­pe­cially when we have Indige­nous groups go­ing through a court process, make, ba­si­cally, a land claim,” he said.

So, New­found­land and Labrador ap­pealed to the SCC.

“We’re pleased,” Par­sons said. “The Supreme Court re­ceives a large num­ber of ap­pli­ca­tions for leave and the vast ma­jor­ity are turned down, so the fact that this one was ac­cepted was ob­vi­ously good news.”

In a press re­lease, the Que­bec Innu groups main­tained its claims do not stop at provin­cial bor­ders and ex­pressed dis­ap­point­ment in the Supreme Court’s de­ci­sion to hear the ap­peal.

“This con­sti­tutes yet an­other de­lay for our peo­ple who have been wait­ing for Rio Tinto (IOC), ever since it be­gan oper­a­tions here in 1950, to fi­nally show us a mea­sure of re­spect,” said Ma­timekush-Lac John Chief Tshani Am­broise. “The fact re­mains that Rio Tinto (IOC) con­tin­ues to op­er­ate on our ter­ri­tory with­out our con­sent and that sit­u­a­tion can no longer stand.”

A date for the Supreme Court hear­ing has not been set and Par­sons did not know how long the process would take.

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