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Supreme Court of Canada denies leave to Rio Tinto Alcan; Upholds Saik’uz and Stellat’en First Nations win at B.C. Court of Appeal

October 15, 2015

The Supreme Court of Canada today denied Leave to Appeal to Rio Tinto Alcan, and dismissed Rio Tinto Alcan’s Application for Leave to Appeal from the earlier BC Court of Appeal decision in favour of the Saik’uz and Stellat’en First Nations.

The case now confirms that, in British Columbia, First Nations may sue an industry or private company for damaging lands or interfering with their use and occupancy of lands and rivers.  The case is the first to confirm that common law tort actions such as nuisance and breach of riparian rights can apply on First Nation traditional lands, even where the company holds a permit from the Crown.

Chief Archie Patrick stated “This is a significant victory and a step forward for First Nations.  Rio Tinto Alcan had claimed immunity authorizing them to willfully continue to damage our lands until we proved aboriginal title.  We’re pleased that the Court recognized that such rights are under Canada’s constitution “existing” and that we have rights to access the Courts just as much as non-First Nation landowners.”

Jackie Thomas, former Chief of the Saik’uz First Nation and the named Plaintiff, stated “Alcan has been destroying the Nechako River and damaging our fishery since the 1950’s, by diverting massive quantities of water out of the River.  This is one of the largest environmentally damaging projects in BC history, and First Nations’ interests were never considered nor were we ever consulted.  We’re pleased to finally have a victory in front of Canadian Courts.”

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