New Democrats welcome the historic decision of the Supreme Court of Canada in favour of the Tsilhqot’in and Xeni Gwet’in Nations, recognizing Aboriginal title to land in British Columbia. The Supreme Court found that British Columbia had failed to consider their interests when granting forestry licenses to third-parties to harvest timber in the Tsilhqot’in traditional territory.
We finally have a decision that makes it clear that all levels of government must consult with and obtain consent from First Nations with Aboriginal title to their land, because they have the exclusive right to proactively use and manage land that they have title to.
For too long, both levels of government have taken chances that Aboriginal title would never be recognized and gone ahead with developments against the wishes of First Nations.
Now, all levels of government will need to stop and consider whether or not they’ve met the duty to consult or justified an infringement. Governments will have to meet this obligation so development can continue, with First Nations determining how to use the land, not third-parties, to the benefit of many Canadians.
The Supreme Court also said that government may have to re-assess prior conduct and legislation if it unjustifiably infringes Aboriginal title.
It is very likely that the changes to the Environmental Protection Act and Navigable Waters Protection Act which the Conservatives forced through in Bill C-38 and Bill C-45 will be some of the first legislation that First Nations challenge based on this decision.