OTTAWA - The Supreme Court of Canada has upheld the Ontario government's right to permit industrial logging on a First Nation's traditional lands.
Today's 7-0 ruling comes on the heels of a historic judgment in the Tsilhqot'in case in British Columbia that changed the way governments must deal with First Nations over land where aboriginal title is claimed.
The Grassy Narrows First Nation appealed after Ontario's highest court ruled in March 2013 that the province has the right to "take up" treaty land for forestry and mining.
Grassy Narrows argued that only Ottawa has the power to take up the land because the treaty promises were made between the Crown and First Nations.
The Supreme Court disagreed.
The decision says that even though the treaty was negotiated by the federal government, it is an agreement between the Ojibway people and the Crown. Under the Constitution, Ontario has exclusive authority to take up provincial lands for forestry, mining, settlement and other matters.
The court also noted that nothing in the text or history of the treaty suggests there needs to be a two-step process requiring the federal government's approval.
"I agree with the Ontario Court of Appeal that Ontario and only Ontario has the power to take up lands under Treaty 3," Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin wrote in the decision.
The tiny community from northwestern Ontario has spent more than a decade in court fighting the province's decision to issue a licence for clearcut operations in parts of the Keewatin portion of Treaty 3 territory.
The Supreme Court's decision clarifies the roles of the federal and provincial governments when it comes to resource development on treaty land.
Thunder Bay-Superior North MPP Michael Gravelle said the decision by the country’s highest court concludes what has been a “lengthy” process.
Gravelle, the current Minister of Northern Development and Mines, headed the natural resources portfolio when the Ontario Court of Appeals ruled on the case
The decision was highly anticipated by various parties across the country as it had the potential to set a precedent for future natural resource development.
With Ring of Fire development expected in the next decade, Gravelle was paying close attention.
“We were all looking to the Supreme Court to give what would be a fair ruling on it and I think it’s fair to say that’s happened,” he said.
“We view this decision was one that will allow us to move ahead with some certainty and reassurance we can move forward together.”
With files from Matt Vis, tbnewswatch.com