(Coast Salish Territory/Vancouver, B.C. – December 16, 2016) Sixty-eight years after the Huu-ay-aht First Nation first challenged Canada’s unlawful issuance of a long-term logging licence on the community’s reserve lands, the Specific Claims Tribunal has awarded the Nation compensation of $13.88 million. The Union of BC Indian Chiefs congratulates Huu-ay-aht First Nation on the successful resolution of this claim and strongly condemns Canada’s conduct in the proceedings.
The Tribunal issued a decision on the claim in 2014, finding that Canada had breached its duties regarding the sale of timber on the reserve. Canada did not revoke the 21-year, renewable licence even after learning that, under the Indian Act, such licences could only be issued for a single year. Moreover, Canada “failed completely” to consult the Huu-ay-aht First Nation. The decision this week finally put a dollar value on the compensation due for these breaches. It is the Tribunal’s first decision on compensation.
In the decision, Justice W.L. Whalen highlighted the “overarching importance of the Crown’s fiduciary obligations to First Nations.” Canada tried to argue for substantially less compensation because the Huu-ay-aht First Nation existed in extreme poverty at the time of the timber sale and would therefore have spent the money on “non-durables,” such as food and medicine, rather than investing it. However, Justice Whalen concluded that equitable compensation must factor in the impact of the lost funds on the Nation at the time and be translated into present-day value. In his decision he emphasized fairness: “the goal of equitable compensation is to achieve fairness and a more complete justice based on conscience and bearing an ethical quality.”
“We congratulate the Huu-ay-aht First Nation on the successful resolution of this important claim,” said Grand Chief Stewart Phillip. “In its very prejudicial arguments, Canada tried to penalize the Huu-ay-aht Nation for its poverty at the time when Canada was illegally selling timber off its reserve lands. This decision by the Tribunal reflects an honourable interpretation of the law. Now Canada must uphold this decision and accept the settlement as fair restitution for its serious breach of fiduciary duty.”
Since 2013, Canada has applied for judicial review of a number of Tribunal decisions, undermining their legislated finality and imposing significant costs and challenges on First Nations. In a recent statement Huu-ay-aht Chief Councillor Robert Dennis expressed hope that Canada’s representatives would accept the Tribunal’s decision: “We are hopeful that the Minister of Indigenous Affairs, Caroline Bennett, and the Minister of Justice, Jody Wilson-Raybould, will choose the path of reconciliation over the path of court appeals.”
Chief Maureen Chapman, co-chair of the BC Specific Claims Working Group, agreed, stating, “Canada must respect the authority of the Tribunal and not compound the Huu-ay-aht’s loss by challenging the decision in Federal Court. I hope they consider the ethical dimensions of the ruling and accept that justice has been done.”
Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, Union of BC Indian Chiefs
Phone: (604) 684-0231