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No title? No problem. Aboriginal people can sue over property rights: appeal court

Staff, APTN, 16/04/15

Industrial giants, from forestry companies to mining operations, must respect Aboriginal territorial claims in British Columbia just as they would heed the rights of any other Canadian landowner, the province’s highest court has ruled.

A decision from the B.C. Court of Appeal paves the way for First Nations to launch lawsuits to protect their territory from private parties, even without proving Aboriginal title.

Two northwestern First Nations expressed vindication on Wednesday after a panel of three judges overturned a lower court ruling that denied them opportunity to sue the aluminum producer Rio Tinto Alcan.

The Saik’uz and Stellat’en First Nations, based downstream of the company’s Kenney hydroelectric dam and reservoir, were refused a trial on the premise that aboriginals must first establish their title. Their initial suit was mounted in September 2011.

The nations contend the dam, in operation since the 1950s, causes nuisance and breaches their rights to the natural waterway that runs through their land. They’re seeking damages for property-rights violations, alleging the electricity generator has harmed the Nechako River system and its fisheries.

The decision means they can now take their claims to trial.

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