The Grassy Narrows First Nation has won an important legal victory, affecting Ontario lands north of the English River, the “Keewatin Lands”. After 11 years of litigation, they have succeeded in obtaining a ruling that the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) had no right to issue forestry licenses permitting logging in part of their traditional territories, because of the interference that such logging would cause to their rights to hunt and fish under Treaty 3.
Justice Sanderson of the Superior Court of Justice granted Grassy Narrows a declaration that the MNR had no authority to approve any forest licences, forest management plans, work schedules or make or give any other approvals or authorizations for forest operation, within the Keewatin Lands, so as to infringe, violate, impair, abrogate, or derogate from, the right to hunt and fish guaranteed to the band by Treaty 3. The Keewatin Lands have a special legal status because they only became part of Ontario in 1912. According to Justice Anderson, they are therefore exempt from special legislation passed by the governments of Canada and Ontario in 1891, which apply to the rest of the province. The 300 page decision should be available to the public in the next few days. Many of the background facts are available in a 2006 procedural decision.
The decision will have an important impact on all forms of resource extraction north of the English River. It could also have an impact on renewable energy projects in that area. For example, MNR claims the final say on approving waterpower developments, even though some are fiercely opposed by local residents and First Nations. The Grassy Narrows decision will strengthen the hands of the bands, and make it much more risky to proceed with renewable energy projects without First Nations support.