The Supreme Court of Canada has refused to hear the appeal of a New Brunswick man and his son, convicted of illegally harvesting clams in Kouchibouguac National Park nearly 20 years ago — but Jackie Vautour's legal fight for Indigenous rights is far from over, says his lawyer.
"It's unfortunate. However, the struggle continues and we will redouble our efforts in the [class-action lawsuit] we have in the [New Brunswick] Court of Queen's Bench, which deals with Aboriginal title," and the expropriation of Kouchibouguac National Park, said Michael Swinwood.
On Thursday, Canada's top court dismissed the application by Vautour and his son Roy for leave to appeal, bringing an end to their criminal proceedings.
The case began in 1998 when they were charged for contravening the National Parks of Canada Fishing Regulations and the Canada National Parks Act.
As is customary, the Supreme Court gave no reasons for its decision.
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The Vautours, who admitted harvesting the clams in the park but argued they are of Métis descent and had a constitutional right to do so, are disappointed but not deterred, said Swinwood.
"It's not the end, it's just really the beginning for us because we have this parallel case and it is a little bit more deep and profound than the fishing charge and so that's what we have to go forward with."
Vautour, who is in his late 80s, is one of the lead plaintiffs in a class-action lawsuit against the federal and provincial governments over the expropriation of land in 1969-70 to create Kouchibouguac National Park in Kent County.
An estimated 1,200 people of Mi'kmaq and Métis Acadian origin saw their homes bulldozed to the ground, as 10 Acadian villages were destroyed to create the park, north of Moncton.
Vautour still lives in the park with his wife and and continues to fight for the right to live off the land.
The class-action, which involves 110 families, is "extremely important," according to Swinwood, because it is the first title case for Indigenous people in New Brunswick.
He anticipates it will be heard within the next year and feels confident.
Although the Vautours were convicted after the provincial court ruled they failed to establish the presence of a historic Métis community in the area, Swinwood will argue that requirement is "an absurdity," given what he described as "acts of genocide."
The expulsion of the Acadians in 1755, also known as the Great Upheaval, "was in fact a complete destruction of community and there was fear thereafter to establish oneself within the territory, although this was their traditional territory," he said.
"And I say the expropriation that occurred in 1969 was just a repetition of the grand dérangement."
Vautour was given an absolute discharge for the illegal fishing charge. His son was fined $800.
The New Brunswick Court of Queen's Bench dismissed their appeal in 2015 and the Court of Appeal of New Brunswick refused to hear their appeal in 2017, prompting the application for leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada.