Exclusive aboriginal fishery in B.C. not a charter violation: top court
Last Updated: Friday, June 27, 2008 | 3:17 PM PT
A federal program in 1998 that allowed a native-only commercial fishery a day ahead of the usual commercial fishing season in B.C. did not violate the charter rights of non-aboriginal fishermen, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled Friday.
The Supreme Court ruling upheld the 2004 convictions of more than 50 non-native B.C. fishermen who took part in a protest fishery during a prohibited period.
On Aug. 19, 1998, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans granted an exclusive communal fishing licence to the Musqueam, Burrard and Tsawwassen bands to fish for salmon in the mouth of the Fraser River for 24 hours in advance of the usual commercial season, and to sell their catch.
"The agreement entered into with the Musqueam, Burrard and Tsawwassen bands expressly stated that it did not create any aboriginal rights," the court said.
In 2003, a B.C. provincial court stayed all the charges against the more than 50 commercial fishermen on the grounds that the special fishing licence granted to the three bands breached the charter rights of non-natives. A year later, the B.C. Supreme Court overturned the decision and the protesters were convicted.
The B.C. Fisheries Survival Coalition appealed the B.C. Supreme Court decision in 2006, but was dismissed by the B.C. Court of Appeal on the grounds that the special fishery licence did not constitute denial of non-native fishermen's rights. The coalition then appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada.
Despite the Supreme Court ruling, the judges identified a "real conflict" over the issue, because non-native fishermen were treated differently based on "racial differences."
"It is established, in this case, that the right given by the Pilot Sales Program is limited to aboriginals and has a detrimental effect on non-aboriginal commercial fishers who operate in the same region as the beneficiaries of the program," the court ruling said.
"It is also clear that the disadvantage is related to racial differences … The right to equality afforded to every individual under Section 15 [of the charter] is not capable of application consistently with the rights of aboriginal fishers holding licences under the Pilot Sales Program. There is a real conflict," it said.
On Friday, Phil Eidsvik, a spokesman for the B.C. Fisheries Survival Coalition, which spearheaded the Supreme Court challenge, said the judges got it wrong.
The "aboriginal only" fisheries opening is still a practice that is unfair to other Canadian citizens, Eidsvik said.
"The proper way to do this if they wanted to increase aboriginal participation would have been what they have been doing in recent years … buy licences and vessels for aboriginal bands, issue them to aboriginal bands and let them fish in the same fishery that I do … We all fish together under the same rules and regulations," Eidsvik said.
Each of the 97 aboriginal bands on the Fraser River will now expect their own exclusive fishing opportunity, he said.
Eidsvik told CBC News Friday that the coalition will make a direct appeal to Prime Minister Stephen Harper on the matter.
Latest British Columbia News Headlines
- Retired police officer killed in Mexico remembered as animal lover
- A CFL player says a Vancouver woman killed in Mexico earlier this week will be remembered as a loving and generous person who loved animals. more »
- Body found inside burning van in East Vancouver
- Police are investigating after a man's body was found inside a burning van in East Vancouver Saturday morning. more »
- Protesters march against GMO giant Monsanto in 430 cities
- Marches and rallies against seed giant Monsanto were held across Canada, the U.S. and in dozens of other countries Saturday. more »
- Hundreds come out for Abbotsford's first pride march
- About two hundred people came out on Saturday for the first ever Fraser Valley Pride parade in Abbotsford, B.C., a city with deep religious roots. more »
Top News Headlines
- Toronto mayor's brother says he never dealt drugs
- The brother of Toronto Mayor Rob Ford has vehemently denied allegations in Saturday's Globe and Mail that he was involved in the illicit drug trade in the 1980s. more »
- Hockey Canada votes to ban bodychecking in peewee hockey
- Hockey Canada's board of directors voted to eliminate bodychecking from peewee-level hockey on Saturday in Charlottetown. more »
- Neil Macdonald: How serious is Obama about curbing the drone surge?
- In a key speech this week, the U.S. president set out a host of supposed new safeguards for America's controversial practice of remote-controlled rough justice. But as Neil Macdonald writes, the underlying rationale for drone use has not fundamentally changed. more »
- Ontario man lost in Australian mountains has survival skills
- The sister of an Ontario man who disappeared in Australia's Snowy Mountains nearly two weeks ago says she remains hopeful he will be found, partly because of his training as a Canadian Forces reservist. more »
- McDonald's CEO chastised by 9-year-old B.C. girl
- Dog snared on baited hooks near Vancouver's Grouse Grind trail
- UBC student took 'nose dive into water' after bridge collapse
- Motorists warned to avoid Washington bridge collapse area
- Body found inside burning van in East Vancouver
- Vancouver man abandons Porsche on B.C. ferry
- VIDEO: Cruise ship chaos kicks off season in Vancouver
- Railway conduit planned to ship oilsands bitumen
- Washington police blame bridge collapse on Alberta trucker