Nfld. & Labrador

Supreme Court of Canada dismisses N.L. appeal to hear mining lawsuit outside of Quebec

In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court of Canada has dismissed an appeal by N.L. related to a lawsuit filed by two Innu nations against mining giant Rio Tinto.

2 Innu nations seeking $900M in compensation from Rio Tinto

The Innu of Uashat and of Mani-Utenam are seeking $900 million in compensation from the Iron Ore Company of Canada, which is majority-owned by Rio Tinto. (CBC)

The Supreme Court of Canada has dismissed an appeal by Newfoundland and Labrador to strike parts of a lawsuit by two Innu Nations in Quebec against mining giant Rio Tinto.

The Innu First Nations of Uashat mak Mani-utenam and Matimekush-Lac John are seeking $900 million in compensation from the Iron Ore Company of Canada, which is majority-owned by Rio Tinto. 

The Innu wanted Quebec courts to make a declaration over their traditional territory, and part of that is in Newfoundland and Labrador.

The government of Newfoundland and Labrador launched the appeal in the Supreme Court of Canada after Quebec's highest court ruled the Innu and others could sue the company and its Iron Ore Company subsidiary through Quebec courts.

The N.L. government argued Quebec doesn't have jurisdiction, but in a 5-4 spilt decision released Friday, the Supreme Court dismissed that appeal. 

Lawsuit alleges environmental damage

The lawsuit was originally filed in 2013, claiming the mine was constructed without consent of the two Innu Nations on their traditional territory in northeastern Quebec and Labrador. 

They allege the mine, which has been in operation since the 1950s, has caused environmental damage, displaced members of the community, and prevented traditional practices.

The mining complex and activities are located in the communities of Schefferville and Sept-Îles in Quebec and in Labrador City.

The majority ruled that provincial borders shouldn't affected Aboriginal rights, since those rights existed before Crown sovereignty.

"Where a claim of Aboriginal rights or title straddles multiple provinces, requiring the claimant to litigate the same issues in separate courts multiple times would erect gratuitous barriers to potentially valid claims," reads part of the ruling. "This would be particularly unjust when the rights claimed predate the imposition of provincial borders on Indigenous peoples."

The four dissenting judges warned the ruling could damage Canadian federalism.

"Far from promoting access to justice or reconciliation with Indigenous peoples, it would lead to increased litigation and delays, as well as confusion and loss of confidence in our justice system," reads part of the ruling.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Matt McCann

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