Ont. Mtis community given right to hunt

Canada's top court has ruled that an Ontario Mtis man has the aboriginal right to hunt.

Canada's top court has ruled that an Ontario Mtis community has the aboriginal right to hunt for food, a decision seen as a first step toward granting full hunting rights to the community.

The Supreme Court of Canada's landmark decision was specific to the Mtis in Sault Ste. Marie.

The 9-0 ruling said that resident Steve Powley and his son Roddy have the same hunting rights as a full-status Indian. The Powleys had been charged under a provincial law with hunting moose without a licence.

Status Indians are permitted to hunt for food without provincial licences and out of season.

Three lower courts had previously ruled that the Powleys had an aboriginal right to hunt.

The Ontario government persuaded the Supreme Court to make a final decision.

The Supreme Court's ruling was its first opportunity to define Mtis rights.

The court went further to say that any Mtis who can prove a connection to a stable continuous community can also invoke the aboriginal right to hunt.

The rights of around 300,000 Mtis people in Canada, who have mixed aboriginal and non-aboriginal ancestry, have never been defined under the 1982 Constitution.

Although the judgment was specific to the Mtis community around Sault Ste. Marie, it could be used as a precedent for future cases.

Federal and provincial government lawyers had argued against allowing Mtis hunting rights.

They told the top court in March that Mtis people did not exist before European contact and should not be granted aboriginal privileges.

"The highest court of this land has finally done what Parliament and the provincial governments have refused, to deliver justice to the Mtis people," said Audrey Poitras, acting president of the Mtis National Council.

"To all the Mtis people watching I want to say two words: we won, we won," she said.

Jean Teillet, the Powleys' lawyer, said while the decision doesn't define the scope of those rights for Mtis in Canada, it's a huge step forward.

"The decision is broad enough to point the way. It's like a neon flag out there for the government to say, 'Hey start working on this.'"

"I'm glad. I'm glad for my children and for the rest of the Mtis in Canada," said Steve Powley.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court dismissed the final appeal of a Manitoba Mtis convicted of hunting deer out of season.

Ernie Blais claimed he had a right to hunt for food under the Natural Resources Transfer Agreement, a constitutional document that gave the right to "Indians."

The court ruled that the historical context of the document suggested that the term "Indians" did not include the Mtis.