Supreme Court rejects Rio Tinto's efforts to dismiss Innu class action lawsuit

The Supreme Court of Canada has refused to end a class action lawsuit filed by two Innu communities against the Iron Ore Co. of Canada and the Quebec North Shore and Labrador Railway Co.

Innu claim mines have harmed environment and their way of life

Rio Tinto says it accepts the court's decision. (Radio-Canada Archives)

The Supreme Court of Canada has refused to end a class action lawsuit filed by two Innu communities against the Iron Ore Co. of Canada and the Quebec North Shore and Labrador Railway Co.

The country's highest court dismissed with costs their appeal of a Quebec Court of Appeal ruling. No reasons were provided Thursday as is customary when the court makes such a decision.

The Innu First Nations of Uashat Mak Mani-Utenam (Uashaunnuat) and Matimekush-Lac John claim the IOC, which is majority owned by Rio Tinto, has violated their rights for nearly 60 years and are seeking $900 million in compensation.

The Innu claim the mines and other facilities have ruined the environment, displaced members from their territory and prevented them from practising their traditional way of life.

They also say a 578-kilometre railway between Schefferville and Sept-Iles has opened up their territory to "numerous other destructive development projects."

'A great victory'

The allegations have not been proven in court.

"Today's decision by the Supreme Court is, in fact, a great victory for all First Nations in Canada that are seeking to force companies to respect their rights," the chiefs of the communities said in a news release.

Uashaunnuat Chief Mike McKenzie said the Supreme Court ruling means Rio Tinto and its subsidiaries will no longer be able to evade its lawsuit, which now reverts to the Quebec Superior Court for trial.

"We are more determined than ever to see it through to the end and, sooner or later, the company will have to answer for what it has done, including its systematic violation of our rights since the 1950s," he said.

The chief said the Innu has tried since 2010 to find "an honourable solution" to their conflict. Several Innu chiefs attended Rio Tinto's annual meeting in April and asked the mining giant's CEO and board to intervene to end the dispute.

"Rio Tinto (IOC) stubbornly and blindly continues down its rogue path rather than seeking to turn the page on this dishonourable period in its history," added Real McKenzie, chief of Matimekush-Lac John.

Rio Tinto said it accepts the court's decision.

"Obviously, Rio Tinto is committed to build and maintain solid relationships with the communities where we operate, including with the aboriginal communities," said spokeswoman Claudine Gagnon.

Mines on traditional territory, Innu say

The Innu allege the companies have been running a large mining complex and railway on traditional territory in northeastern Quebec and Labrador for decades without prior consent.

The operations are located in the communities of Schefferville, Labrador City and Sept-Îles.

The Quebec Superior Court has rejected IOC's claim that the Innu had to sue the government instead of the company.

Rio Tinto owns a 58.7 per cent sake in IOC, followed by Mitsubishi with 26.2 per cent and Labrador Iron Ore Royalty Corp. at 15.1 per cent, which also receives a royalty on all IOC iron ore sales.

The Innu communities have reached agreements with miners ArcelorMittal, Cliffs Natural Resources, Tata Steel, New Millennium Iron and Labrador Iron Mines that provide financial compensation for the mining activities.


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