OTTAWA, Dec. 9, 2015 /CNW Telbec/ - Following their recent victories in Canadian courts against the Rio Tinto multinational mining company, First Nations communities from Quebec and British Columbia are speaking with a single voice to let all natural resource companies know that they can no longer hide behind governments. Any company wishing to develop the natural resources of the traditional territory of a First Nation cannot ignore its rights and must obtain its consent.
On the occasion of the meeting of Chiefs of the Assembly of First Nations of Canada, the Innu Chiefs of Uashat mak Mani-utenam and Matimekush-Lac John in Quebec and the Chiefs of the Saik'uz and Stellat'en First Nations in British Columbia have publicly shared their historic joint victory in the Supreme Court of Canada over mining giant Rio Tinto, handed down on October 15, 2015. The Supreme Court released its decisions in the two cases on the same day because, although the cases are somewhat different, both involved a similar ploy by Rio Tinto to avoid meeting its legal responsibilities toward First Nations.
"The Supreme Court of Canada was quite clear," said Mike McKenzie, Chief of Uashat mak Mani-utenam. "Canadian courts can hear our communities' lawsuits against Rio Tinto or any other company. After doing everything it could to delay the legal process, Rio Tinto will finally have to answer for its actions."
It is important to note that this rejection of Rio Tinto's demands by Canada's highest court sets a major precedent. This ruling clearly establishes the right of First Nations to take direct legal action against a company without being required to have this right recognized beforehand by a court or a government. The result is an immutable right to sue a company.
"We were able to see the similarities in our struggles and to appreciate the courage of our Innu brothers against the mining company," said Chief Stanley Thomas of the Saik'uz First Nation. "Like us, they had to show determination in fighting Rio Tinto's lack of respect for our rights."
Chief Réal McKenzie of Matimekush-Lac John added: "Our meeting confirms the culture of denial and injustice that prevails at some companies and that has being going on since the 1950s. In Western and Eastern Canada, we will do everything we can to make sure that history does not repeat itself and that companies wishing to exploit the resources can no longer act to our detriment."
The Supreme Court ruling marks another major advance following the Tsilhqot'in ruling. It is worth remembering that the Supreme Court in that ruling warned developers and governments that they could avoid disruption of their activities by seeking First Nations' consent when using or exploiting their territory.
"With our historic ruling against Rio Tinto, all First Nations now have an important tool to ensure that companies obtain the necessary social license for their development projects," stated Chief Archie Patrick of the Stellat'en First Nation. "As of now, all private companies operating on our lands require our consent."
SOURCE Director of the Office for the Protection of Rights and the Territory, ITUM
For further information: Jackie Thomas, Land & Resources Manager, Saik'uz First Nation, [email protected], Cell: (250) 567-0364; Jean-Claude Therrien Pinette, Director, Office for the Protection of Rights and the Territory, ITUM, Cell: 418-409-5681, [email protected]