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Aboriginal issues are increasingly important in all areas of Canadian law and environmental law is no exception. One area of conflict concerns environmentally hazardous activities carried out on reserves, without provincial environmental regulation. Equivalent federal rules are often weak and rarely enforced, and bands have been slow to perform environmental enforcement themselves.

In Maracle versus Brant, the Mohawk eventually took action against an unregulated gas station on their land. More precisely, the Chief of the Mohawks of the Bay of Quincy and the Tyendinaga Mohawk Council sued to evict “Sir” Andrew Miracle and his company from their reserve. Miracle had allegedly purchased the land from Brant, and had built there a gas station and other profitable enterprises. But he knew all along that Brent’s claim to the land was weak, and he refused to allow any provincial inspection of his gas station.

After years of quiet negotiations, the Band took Brent and Miracle to court to reassert their ownership of the land and to ensure that the gas station is investigated and, if required, remediated. They were entirely successful. Justice Ratushny issued an injunction evicting the Brants and Miracle, and requiring them to pay the Band general damages of $250,000 for trespass and conversion, $65,000 in special damages, and $50,000 in punitive damages, plus costs. Miracle must remove his chattels forthwith and restore the Lands and Building to their prior condition. He must also obtain an environmental assessment of the Lands and Building and pay for any remediation if required.

[119] I fully recognize that Miracle has invested substantial effort and monies in the Lands and Building. For all of the reasons expressed before, however, he has made these investments with full knowledge of his risks. He is very experienced businessman. In addition, he has taken the initiative to install and operate an unregulated gasoline station, ignoring the Band’s request for a provincial inspection. He has profited well from his unlawful possession, however, his actions, in my view, have been sufficiently blameworthy that he should not be able to continue to profit from these investments in the future.

[120] It is unfortunate that the 20 employees of Miracle on the Lands and Building will lose their employment in the Building. However, the six year history of Miracle’s blatant disregard of the Band’s rights and concerns, the Band’s need and right to regain and assert complete control over the Lands and Building and the Band’s justifiable concerns over the health and environmental dangers that it fears may be present in the Lands and Building, make this unfortunate consequence necessary.

[123] …There is, however, evidence of potentially serious health and environmental issues that need to be investigated, primarily regarding the safety of the gasoline station equipment and installations by Miracle, that justify this order.

This is a welcome sign of the growing maturity, and capacity, of First Nations governments.

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