William v. British Columbia et al. 2012 BCCA 285
Indians, Inuit and Métis - Lands - Land claims - Claim for ownership - Procedure
The Xeni Gwet’in First Nation was part of the Tsilhqot’in Nation (the plaintiff). This litigation involved aboriginal title and aboriginal rights in two areas (collectively, the claim area) in the west central interior of British Columbia that the plaintiff considered its traditional territory: Tachelach’ed (the “Brittany Triangle”) and the “Trapline Territory”. In response to proposed logging in the claim area, the plaintiff brought an action against British Columbia, Canada and others, seeking (a) a declaration that the Tsilhqot’in Nation had aboriginal title to the claim area; (b) a declaration that the Xeni Gwet’in had aboriginal rights to hunt and trap in the claim area; (c) a declaration that British Columbia did not have jurisdiction to authorize forestry activities within the claim area; (d) declarations that British Columbia’s authorization of forestry activities within the claim area unjustifiably infringed the aboriginal title of the Tsilhqot’in Nation and the aboriginal rights of the Xeni Gwet’in; (e) injunctive relief restraining British Columbia from authorizing forestry activities in the claim area in the future; (f) damages for unjustifiable infringement of the aboriginal title of the Tsilhqot’in Nation and Aboriginal rights of the Xeni Gwet’in; and (g) damages for breach of fiduciary duty.
The British Columbia Supreme Court, in a decision with neutral citation 2007 BCSC 1700, (a) dismissed the plaintiff’s claims for declarations of aboriginal title without prejudice to the Tsilhqot’in’s ability to make new claims to aboriginal title within the claim area; (b) dismissed the plaintiff’s claims for damages without prejudice to the Tsilhqot’in’s right to make new damages claims in respect of aboriginal title land; (c) declared that the Tsilhqot’in Nation had aboriginal rights to trap and hunt birds and animals for specified purposes, and to trade in skins and pelts taken from the claim area “as a means of securing a moderate livelihood”, as well as to capture and use horses; and (d) declared that forestry activities in the claim area unjustifiably infringed Tsilhqot’in aboriginal rights. The plaintiff and Canada appealed regarding aboriginal title. British Columbia appealed regarding a number of issues surrounding aboriginal rights claims.
The British Columbia Court of Appeal dismissed the appeals.
Editor’s Note: There are a number of reported decisions related to this litigation which are accessible at www.mlb.nb.ca by searching under “William v. British Columbia et al.”