Economic Development in Jeopardy?
The Saik’uz First Nation and Stellat’en First Nation v. Rio Tinto BC Court of Appeal decision opens the door for future aboriginal title litigation against private parties—litigation that was previously only brought against provincial and federal governments.
Following the BC Court of Appeal decision, First Nations no longer have to prove aboriginal title before bringing damages claims against private parties, such as resource companies. Simply claiming aboriginal title is enough to bring forward litigation against private parties. In provinces like British Columbia, where over 100% of the province is currently under claim, this puts all current and future economic development projects in jeopardy.
Specifically, this judgment could put the Kitimat aluminum smelter and the Kenney Dam, which has been operating for over 60 years with the support of Haisla First Nation, in jeopardy. Just as the Tsilhqot’in decision resulted in increased litigation against the Crown, this judgement will now result in litigation against private parties regarding aboriginal title, which prior to this case was unprecedented.