SCOC title claim decision could apply to large parts of Quebec, expert says

A veteran aboriginal rights lawyer says this morning's Supreme Court of Canada decision could be applied to two-fifths of the Quebec's territory.

James O'Reilly, aboriginal-rights lawyer, says First Nations could claim land in most of northern Quebec

The Supreme Court of Canada decision resolves important legal questions, such as how to determine aboriginal title and whether provincial laws apply to those lands. (CBC)

A veteran aboriginal-rights lawyer says this morning's Supreme Court of Canada decision could be applied to two-fifths of the Quebec's territory.

“I think [this decision] has wide-sweeping consequences for virtually every set of negotiations with aboriginal nations in Quebec,” said lawyer James O'Reilly, who has argued for the rights of First Nations in Quebec for 50 years.

There will be consequences for Quebec.- Geoff Kelley; Quebec Minister of Aboriginal Affairs

In a unanimous decision, Canada's highest court ruled First Nations have a measure of control over their ancestral lands.

The Supreme Court of Canada agreed that a semi-nomadic tribe can claim land title even if it uses it only some of the time, and set out a three-point test to determine land titles, considering:

  • Occupation.
  • Continuity of habitation on the land.
  • Exclusivity in area.

O'Reilly said the decision lays out exclusive rights on land that First Nations have used, and still use for traditional purposes such as hunting and fishing.

He said that will likely rule out most developed parts of the province, but will still leave a lot:

“Fairly close to two-fifths of Quebec, actually, in my view. Certainly all of the Quebec North Shore, extending from the Saguenay River right up to the Labrador coast.”

O'Reilly said there are about nine groups in Quebec involved in land claim negotiations and this decision could encourage more bands to assert their rights.

Quebec's minister of Aboriginal Affairs Geoff Kelley agreed that Thursday’s landmark decision from the Supreme Court will affect Quebec.

“It's a judgment dealing with a case in B.C., but there will be consequences for Quebec so the government will have to look at it quite carefully,” Kelley said.

Ghislain Picard, the chief of the Quebec Assembly of First Nations, said the high court's ruling will give bands more leverage during negotiations over the development of natural resources:

“To me, it presents yet a challenge, but what is more clear today is that the onus finally falls in the hands of government,” Picard said, adding that the federal and provincial governments will be forced to do more than politely consult First Nations.