2019-2022

Saik’uz and Stellat’en First Nations v. Rio Tinto Alcan

In 2019, Ratcliff lawyers Matthew Kirchner, Kevin Lee, Melinda Skeels, Emma Hume and Natalia Sudeyko began a trial in British Columbia’s first private nuisance claim based on Aboriginal Rights and Title. The claim seeks to restore flows and fisheries in the Nechako River that was dammed in the 1950s by the Aluminum Company of Canada (Alcan), which is now owned by the multi-national Rio Tinto Inc.

In January 2022, the British Columbia Supreme Court held that Saik’uz and Stellat’en have a constitutionally-protected Aboriginal right to fish for food, social and ceremonial purposes in the Nechako watershed and that Alcan’s operation of the Kenney Dam has caused significant historic and ongoing harm to the Nechako River and its fisheries.

2019-2021

Yahey and Blueberry River First Nation v. British Columbia

In 2019-2020, Ratcliff lawyers Maegen Giltrow, Greg McDade QC, Lisa Glowacki and Jamie Arbeau brought to trial a landmark case seeking to prove an infringement of Treaty 8 rights through unchecked oil and gas development and forestry activity in Northeast BC. This is the first case seeking to prove a comprehensive infringement of Treaty 8.

In June 2021, the BC Supreme Court ruled that the cumulative encroachment of Blueberry territory by provincial development projects effectively barred members of the Nation from exercising their rights and amounted to a breach of Treaty 8. The judgment opens up a greater role for First Nations in designing protections and management systems for their lands, and ensures that further public development is consistent with Treaty promises.

2017

Coldwater Indian Band v. Canada

In 2017, Ratcliff lawyers proved that the Government of Canada breached its fiduciary duty to the Coldwater Indian Band when it approved the transfer of the existing Trans Mountain Pipeline easement through Coldwater’s reserve.

2011

Maa-nulth Treaty Ratified

The Maa-nulth First Nations are five Nuu-chah-nulth-speaking Indigenous peoples located on the West Coast of Vancouver Island. The journey to once again become self-governing has been long and difficult. For over 150 years Canada denied any Aboriginal right to self-government. In 1982 with the repatriation of the Canadian Constitution, Aboriginal identity and rights became constitutionally protected in Canada. Since much of British Columbia is not under treaty, the substance of these now-protected identities and rights required clarification and the BC Treaty Commission was established in 1992. Negotiations between the Maa-nulth, Canada and British Columbia through the BC Treaty Process, with Gary Yabsley as lead negotiator, culminated with ratification of a Final Agreement on April 9, 2009. The Maa-nulth Final Agreement was only the second treaty to be ratified through the BC Treaty Process and was the first multi-nation treaty. On April 1, 2011 the Maa-nulth Final Agreement, in recognition and affirmation of Maa-nulth’s inherent right to self-government, came into effect and since that date Brent Lehmann has been leading the team of Ratcliff lawyers assisting Maa-nulth in exercising and benefiting from their treaty rights.

2009

Ahousaht decision recognizing Aboriginal Commercial fishing rights

In 2009, after more than 120 days of trial, Ratcliff lawyers John Rich, Matthew Kirchner, Lisa Glowacki, Kevin Lee and Kate Blomfield won a landmark case for five Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations on the West Coast of Vancouver Island establishing Aboriginal rights to fish commercially in their territory. To this day, the Ahousaht case, as it is known, is the only court decision to recognize an Aboriginal right to fish commercially for a broad range of marine resources.

1999-2000

Squamish v. Canadian Pacific Railway

In 1990, the Canadian Pacific Railway attempted to sell former railway land that it had expropriated from the Squamish Kitsilano Reserve in 1886 and 1902. Ratcliff lawyers John Rich, Charles Stein, Matthew Kirchner and Brent Lehmann brought an action against Canadian Pacific Railway and Canada on behalf of Squamish asserting that the CPR had no rights to sell the land once it was no longer needed for the railway. Even though the CPR held a certificate of indefeasible title stating that it held “absolute title” to the land, the Court agreed with Squamish that CPR had no rights to sell or even continue to use this land because it still belonged to Squamish. As a result, 10 acres of the former 80-acre Kitsilano Indian Reserve were returned to Squamish. Squamish is now proposing a revolutionary development for the land that will see hundreds of rental units introduced into Vancouver’s challenging rental market.