Open Letter: Appeal of legal decision regarding transfer of diseased salmon

Dear Minister Tootoo and Minister Wilson-Raybould:

We are writing in regard to the circumstances surrounding the 2015 legal decision Morton v. Minister of Fisheries and Oceans and Marine Harvest. It has come to our attention in British Columbia that in your capacity as Minister of Fisheries and Oceans Canada you appear as a co-appellant with the salmon farming corporation, Marine Harvest, to appeal that 2015 legal decision. We find your decision very disturbing and we ask you to immediately reconsider your participation.

We understand that the original decision which you are appealing prohibited transfer of disease-carrying Atlantic salmon from freshwater hatcheries into marine net pens on the migration routes of wild salmon. Originally, the court had ruled that the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada (“DFO”) aquaculture transfer licence was unlawful because, section 56 (b) of the Fisheries Act prohibits the Minister from issuing a transfer licence for fish where a disease or disease agents are present that “may be harmful to the protection and conservation of fish.” Through this appeal, the DFO and Marine Harvest seek to reinstate the salmon farming industry’s right to transfer fish from stocks known to have diseases of regional, national or international concern that can “severely impact fisheries,” if the company veterinarian deems the risk “low.”

Your decision to co-appeal with Marine Harvest is very troubling and disruptive to building positive working relationships with First Nations as this decision has real potential to impact on our Aboriginal Title, Rights and our right to food security. Please be advised that we do not accept any risk transferred to wild salmon from disease in farmed salmon. We are very mindful that since the October 19th election, Prime Minister Trudeau has publicly stated in mandate letters to his Cabinet Ministers that, “No relationship is more important to me and to Canada than the one with Indigenous Peoples. It is time for a renewed, nation-to-nation relationship with Indigenous Peoples, based on recognition of rights, respect, co-operation, and partnership.” Further, in the Prime Minister’s mandate letter to you as DFO Minister, you received instruction to work with Indigenous People to better co-manage our three oceans.

We believe your current trajectory to be incompatible with the principles foundational to the Cohen Commission’s Final Report, “The Uncertain Future of the Fraser River Sockeye,” which necessitates the further analysis of possible impacts salmon farms pose to wild populations before their continued promotion. Thus your decision to co-appeal the 2015 legal decision Morton vs. Minister of Fisheries and Oceans and Marine Harvest, is in direct conflict with the Liberal party’s election commitments of acting on the recommendations of the Cohen Commission on restoring sockeye salmon stocks.

We understand that Prime Minister Trudeau, through the Minister for Justice and Attorney General for Canada’s Mandate letter, instructed Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould to “review Canada’s litigation strategy, including early decisions to end appeals or positions that are not consistent with our commitments, the Charter or our values”. We urge you to consider engaging in discussion on Canada’s litigation strategy as a final step in reaching a decision in regard to this matter. We believe that the time for this renewed relationship must begin now and ask that you immediately reconsider your participation as co-appellant in the aforementioned case. To be clear, we view the outcome of the case as a potential threat to our most important food resource (see: court file No. A-275-15).

We thank you for your prompt attention to this matter and look forward to your timely response. Please do not hesitate to contact us if you have any questions or wish to discuss this matter further. Please note that for ease of reference, we have also copied key provide-wide organizations assisting First Nations in advancing Aboriginal Title and Rights and issues of common concern.


Grand Chief Stewart Phillip

Chief Robert Chamberlin

Kukpi7 Judy Wilson

BC Assembly of First Nations
First Nations Summit
BC First Nations Fisheries Council