Globe and Mail – Supreme Court rules band in B.C. can claim compensation for land theft during 1860s gold rush.
By Sean Fine.
In a major victory for Indigenous peoples, the Supreme Court of Canada has ruled that a band in British Columbia can claim financial compensation for the theft of its lands during gold-rush times in 1860.
The court took an expansive view of Canada’s obligations to Indigenous peoples under a process set up in 2008 to settle historical disputes. The court said Canada can be held legally responsible for pre-Confederation wrongs.
The ruling was cheered by advocates for Indigenous peoples. “We’re on a path of reconciliation, as of today,” Leah Pence, a lawyer representing the Williams Lake Indian Band, said in an interview.
The new Chief Justice, Richard Wagner, wrote the majority ruling in a kind of passing of the torch. Canada had not met “the standard of conduct” expected of it in its dealings with the First Nations, he wrote.
His predecessor, Beverley McLachlin – who retired in December – also sat on the case and, although she has often led the way in expanding Indigenous rights, she dissented from the majority.
The office of Carolyn Bennett, Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations, said in a statement that the government is reviewing the decision and is committed to “renewed relationships with Indigenous Peoples based on recognition of rights, respect, cooperation and partnership.”
The statement added: “We also believe that negotiation over litigation is the best way to right historical wrongs and settle past grievances.”
That last statement prompted a burst of laughter when The Globe and Mail read it to Ms. Pence and other lawyers on the band’s legal team. The band first made the claim to the government, seeking a negotiated solution, in 1993, Ms. Pence said.