Ontario wraps up decade-long industrial dispute

Ruling in First Nations case could have implications for future logging and mining in Ontario

August 18, 2011   by The Canadian Press

TORONTO—A recent court decision to outlaw logging on a First Nations territory could set the legal precedent to squash similar projects in Canada.

Grassy Narrows First Nation had challenged the Ontario government’s right to allow logging on its traditional lands north of Kenora, Ont.

The First Nation argued that logging activity would infringe on its hunting and trapping rights protected under an 1873 treaty they signed with the federal government.

This week, Ontario Superior Court Justice Mary-Anne Sanderson ruled the province doesn’t have the power to interfere with the First Nation’s treaty rights, adding it’s an area of federal jurisdiction.

The Ontario government wouldn’t say whether it plans to appeal the ruling.

Robert Janes, a lawyer for the First Nation, said the court decision could have legal implications for similar disputes in Ontario, such as the massive Ring of Fire chromite deposit in the north.

It could change government policy as well.

“The ruling also made it clear that the federal government has a duty to protect the rights of aboriginal people,” Janes said, adding, “that is a very important decision…that will have implications across the country.”

The Northern Ontario region has seen its share of disputes.

In 2008, forestry company AbitibiBowater pulled out of the Whiskey Jack Forest north of Kenora, saying it couldn’t wait four more years for the province and the First Nation to agree on logging practices.

The same year, several Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug First Nation members were jailed for their role in blockades to stop mining company Platinex from entering their territory.

The company wound up walking away from the project in exchange for more than $5-million and expenses incurred during the mediation process with the province.