A New Brunswick-based aboriginal group and three men are suing the New Brunswick and federal governments for $13 billion in damages for alleged "genocide" and loss of native lands over the past 400 years.
They are also seeking a declaration that the two levels of government have no jurisdiction over aboriginal and Métis people in the province.
The lawsuit also demands the province stop all hunting, fishing and forestry prosecutions against aboriginal and Métis people until the case is heard.
'Historically, it's not been what you could consider a good relationship ... and therefore the need for redress in certain areas basically has an economic component to it.' —Michael Swinwood, lawyer
The notice of action, filed in Moncton's Court of Queen's Bench, cites colonial actions dating back to 1610, saying they amount to genocide against native people.
Aboriginals never ceded their land to European powers and they deserve compensation for their losses, the court document states.
"Historically, it's not been what you could consider a good relationship from the perspective of how it's unfolded, and therefore the need for redress in certain areas basically has an economic component to it," said lawyer Michael Swinwood, who works for Elders Without Borders, an Ottawa-based non-profit group backing the lawsuit.
The plaintiffs are: the East Coast First People Alliance; Mi'kmaq hereditary chief Stephen Augustine of the Elsipogtog band, who now lives in the Ottawa area; and Jackie Vautour and his son, Roy Vautour, of the Moncton area, who say they are Métis and have long fought for Métis constitutional rights.
The federal government has not recognized Métis — people with mixed European and aboriginal ancestry — in New Brunswick.
A 2003 Supreme Court of Canada ruling said Métis status requires the presence of sustained Métis communities. But that requirement doesn't recognize that Métis in New Brunswick were dispossessed and scattered by colonial powers, said Swinwood.
"You're basically putting up a criteria that you know they are not going to be able to meet, or that you feel is going to defeat the concept of establishing a right," he said.
The Vautours live in Kouchibouguac National Park, north of Moncton, in defiance of an expropriation order that dates back decades.
Provincial government officials are aware of the lawsuit, but no one was immediately available to comment.
The United Nations defines genocide as acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, including:
- Killing members of the group.
- Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group.
- Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part.
- Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group.
- Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.