Heiltsuk Tribal Council v. British Columbia (Minister of Sustainable Resource Management) [2003] B.C.S.C. 1422

Heiltsuk Tribal Council and Heiltsuk Hemas Society,

on their own behalf and on behalf of all other members

of the Heiltsuk Nation

Petitioners

v.

 

Her Majesty the Queen in Right of British Columbia

as represented by the Minister of Sustainable Resource

Management, Land and Water British Columbia Inc.,

The Deputy Comptroller of Water Rights, The Regional

Water Manager (Cariboo Region) and Omega Salmon Group Ltd.

Respondents

 

Indexed as:  Heiltsuk Tribal Council v. British Columbia (Ministry of Sustainable Resource Management)

Neutral citation:  2003 BCSC 1422.

2003:  June 16-20, 23-26.

Present:  E.P. Murphy, A. McCue, K.E. Gillese, E.K. Christie, C.F. Willms, K.G. O’Callaghan

Before: The Honourable Madam Justice Gerow

 

[1] The petitioners apply pursuant to Judicial Review Procedure Act, R.S.B.C. 1996, c. 241, to set aside the decisions of the Minister of Sustainable Resource Management (the Minister), the Deputy Comptroller of Water Rights, the Regional Water Manager (Cariboo Region) and Land and Water British Columbia (LWBC)(collectively, the decision makers) with respect to:

• Conditional water licence 116890 for Martin Lake dated December 19, 2001 (the Martin Lake water licence 2001) and the replacement licence no. 117538 dated August 29, 2002 (the Martin Lake water licence 2002);

• A licence of occupation to operate a commercial fish hatchery, dated January 15, 2002 (the hatchery licence of occupation);

• A licence of occupation for a salt water intake pipe, effluent pipe and general dock, dated October 1, 2002 (the dock and pipe licence of occupation); and

• Conditional water licence 116629 for Link River, dated November 18, 2002 (the Link River water licence).

(collectively, the licences)

[2] The licences were issued to Omega Salmon Group Ltd. (Omega) and, together with other licences issued to it, allow Omega to operate a land based fish hatchery in Ocean Falls, B.C.

[3] The Heiltsuk claim aboriginal rights and title to a large area of land encompassing approximately 33,735 square kilometres. The land being claimed includes the 8.83 hectares or .08 square kilometres granted to Omega under the hatchery licence of occupation and the dock and pipe licence of occupation.

[4] The land is described in the two licences as:

That part or those parts of the following described land shown outlined by bold line on the schedule attached to the Industrial Licence:
Those unalienated and unencumbered portions of District Lots 31 and 104; together with unsurveyed foreshore or land covered by water being part of the bed of Link River, all within Range 3 Coast District, containing 5.88 hectares more or less,
Except for those parts of the land that, on the January 15, 2002 Date, consisted of highways (as defined in the Highway Act) and land covered by water;

And

That part or those parts of the following described land shown outlined by bold line on the schedule attached to the Utility Licence:
That part of District Lot 847, together with unsurveyed foreshore or land covered by water being part of the bed of Cousins Inlet, Range 3, Cost District, containing 2.95 hectares, more or less,
Except for those parts of the land that, on October 1, 2002, consisted of highways (as defined by the Highway Act).

(hereinafter the “land”)

[5] Much of the land impacted by the hatchery licence of occupation and the dock and pipe licence of occupation is filled land created prior to the construction of a pulp mill which was operated in Ocean Falls in the 1900s.

[6] The Heiltsuk also claim aboriginal title and rights to the water in their claimed territory and as a result take the position that they were owed a duty of consultation prior to the issuance of both the Martin Lake water licences and the Link Lake water licence.

[7] The Martin Lake water licence 2002 allows Omega to divert up to 100 cubic feet per second of water from Martin Lake to Link Lake. The Link Lake water licence authorizes the diversion of up to 200 cubic feet per second of water from the Link River to the hatchery. The water which is diverted will pass through the hatchery and then be discharged to Cousins Inlet. If not diverted the water will spill over the existing dam into Cousins Inlet.

[8] The Heiltsuk are seeking the following orders and declarations:

• A declaration that the decision makers had a duty to consult with and accommodate the Heiltsuk’s interests and concerns before issuing the licences and that the decision makers breached their duties.

• A declaration that Omega had a duty to consult with and accommodate the interests and concerns of the Heiltsuk and that Omega breached that duty.

• A declaration that the licences issued by the decision makers are of no force and effect and an order quashing and setting aside the licences.

• An order in the nature of a prohibition barring the issuance of any approvals, permits or other authorizations relating to the proposed Atlantic salmon hatchery development;

• An interim or interlocutory injunction prohibiting Omega from operating the hatchery until either a final disposition of the proceedings or order of the court.

[9] Both the petitioners and Omega object to portions of the affidavit material which has been filed. I agree with both the petitioners and Omega that many statements in the affidavits are irrelevant or inadmissible hearsay, opinion or argument. I am not going to deal with each objection raised, however I have disregarded the statements which are objectionable. In reaching my conclusions, I have relied on direct evidence and the oral histories contained in the affidavit material.

[10] The issues to be determined are:

• Have the Heiltsuk established a prima facie claim of aboriginal title or rights in respect of the lands and waters covered by the licences?

• Have the Heiltsuk established a prima facie infringement of the aboriginal title or rights which they claim?

• Was a duty of consultation and accommodation owed to the Heiltsuk by the decisions makers before they made their decisions to issue the licences and, if so, did they fulfill those duties?

• Was a duty of consultation and accommodation owed by Omega to the Heiltsuk and, if so, did Omega fulfill its duty?

• Is this an appropriate case for the court to exercise judicial review?

• If there were breaches of duty by the decisions makers or Omega what are the appropriate remedies?

CHRONOLOGY REGARDING ISSUANCE OF LICENCES

[11] Omega began the application process in September 2001.

[12] The Heiltsuk became aware of a proposed salmon hatchery to be located at Ocean Falls in November 2001. Following the meeting at which they were advised by LWBC of the proposed salmon hatchery the Heiltsuk met with Omega in November 2001.

[13] On December 17, 2001 Mr. Williams, the Aquaculture Manager at LWBC, sent an email to the Heiltsuk in response to an inquiry from the Heiltsuk as to why there had been no referral regarding the proposed Omega hatchery. He advised the Heiltsuk that Omega had applied for a licence of occupation to construct a fish hatchery on the old industrial lands in Ocean Falls. He further advised that the Province was not sending out any referrals as the land was Crown granted in the past and had been developed. As well, the land was mainly filled foreshore and that, following the Aboriginal Consultation Guidelines, referrals were not required. However, Mr. Williams was aware that the Heiltsuk had at that point had one meeting and another planned with Omega. Omega had been told to document any feedback from the Heiltsuk in the meetings and provide it to LWBC. Mr. Williams further advised that the Martin Lake water licence 2001 was being assigned to Omega.

[14] An Aboriginal Interest Assessment Report was prepared December 19, 2001 by LWBC and a copy was provided to the Heiltsuk.

[15] The Martin Lake water licence 2001 was issued to Omega on December 19, 2001. The licence had originally been granted to Pacific Mills Ltd., who ran a pulp and paper mill on the site, in 1929. The Martin Lake water licence 2002 was issued to Omega on August 29, 2002 relocating the diversion. At the time the Martin Lake water licence 2002 was issued a report was prepared which stated that no referral was required as this was a minor modification to an existing licence.

[16] A letter was sent to Heiltsuk by LWBC regarding the decision not to consult on December 24, 2001 with an invitation to discuss the Aboriginal Interest Assessment report. The letter explained why a referral had not been made and advised the Heiltsuk that they would be kept apprised as the review process continued.

[17] The explanations given as to why the Province did not feel it was necessary to refer the issue to the Heiltsuk were:

• The site had been privately owned for nearly 80 years;

• The core areas of the town and millsite had been extensively disturbed and developed;

• The nature of the land use over that time effectively precluded the exercise of any aboriginal traditional uses;

• A significant portion of the application area was filled foreshore, i.e. land which did not exist prior to the development of the mill and town;

• There were extensive areas of relatively undisturbed vacant Crown land in the area surrounding Ocean Falls;

• Impacts which occurred were at the time of the original development of the site and any aboriginal issues associated with past activity on the land could not be resolved through consultation about the current land use proposal.

[18] Heiltsuk representatives visited another hatchery with Omega in December 2001. Following the meeting Omega advised the Heiltsuk that it wanted to continue an ongoing dialog with the Heiltsuk people.

[19] On January 7, 2001 a letter was sent by the Heiltsuk to LWBC expressing disappointment that there would be no referral and requesting that the Province reconsider its position.

[20] The Heiltsuk attended an open house at Bella Bella with Omega on January 9, 2002 where the Heiltsuk expressed their concerns. The Heiltsuk advised that they did not consider the meeting to be consultation.

[21] On January 11, 2002 Omega sent a letter to Heiltsuk expressing a willingness to work with the Heiltsuk and enter into a partnership with the Heiltsuk.

[22] On January 16, 2002 LWBC sent a letter to the Heiltsuk expressing that although there had been no referral, staff had communicated with members of the Heiltsuk regarding the proposed project and an information package was sent. LWBC advised the Heiltsuk it had requested Omega meet with the Heiltsuk, and understood that Omega had expressed a willingness to enter into a commercial arrangement with the Heiltsuk. LWBC made an offer to assist the Heiltsuk in preparing an application for other lands in the vicinity which could be utilized for the Heiltsuk proposed salmon enhancement facility and in exploring potential opportunities to maximize the benefits from the Omega hatchery. As well, the Heiltsuk were advised that the provincial agencies responsible would ensure that the hatchery was in compliance with all regulatory requirements relating to the Heiltsuk’s concerns about the potential for the introduction of diseases or chemical effluent into the marine environment and the escape of Atlantic salmon.

[23] Memos were sent by Omega to the Heiltsuk providing information on January 15 and 16, 2002 which responded to concerns expressed by the Heiltsuk.

[24] The hatchery licence of occupation was issued to Omega on January 15, 2002.

[25] LWBC sent a referral package to the Heiltsuk on April 10, 2002 with respect to the dock and pipe licence of occupation.

[26] On May 7, 2002 the Heiltsuk sent a letter expressing concerns regarding effluent, clean up of the contaminated site and Atlantic salmon escapes. As well, the Heiltsuk expressed concern that the dock and pipe licence of occupation and project as a whole would impact the Heiltsuk’s ability to site a village and a wild salmon enhancement facility in Ocean Falls.

[27] A meeting was held on May 30, 2002 between representatives of the Heiltsuk, Omega and the Province where details of the project were discussed and the time line for approvals and construction of the project was provided to the Heiltsuk.

[28] Omega sent a follow up letter and information package to the Heiltsuk on June 11, 2002 addressing concerns raised by the Heiltsuk.

[29] Omega sent a letter and video to the Heiltsuk showing various underwater and foreshore video clips from Omega’s habitat survey on June 21, 2002 in response to some of the questions raised by the Heiltsuk.

[30] The Dock and Pipe licence of occupation was issued to Omega on October 1, 2002.

[31] A referral package was sent by LWBC to the Heiltsuk on August 28, 2002 regarding the Link River water licence.

[32] The Heiltsuk responded to the referral on October 15, 2002 outlining their aboriginal claims to Ocean Falls.

[33] A Report for Water Act decision was prepared November 15, 2002.

[34] On November 18, 2002 a letter was sent to the Heiltsuk attaching a copy of the Link River water licence issued to Omega on November 18, 2002.

DUTY OF CONSULTATION

[35] In the cases dealing with the issue of consultation the courts have considered the factual context, including:

• whether there is a general right to occupy lands or whether there is a right to engage in an activity;

• whether there is or has been an infringement; and

• if there is or has been an infringement, whether there is any justification for the infringement.

[36] It is in the final stage of the analysis, i.e., whether there is any justification for the infringement, that the courts have considered whether the Crown has met its fiduciary and constitutional duty of consultation and whether there has been an attempt to accommodate the First Nations. R. v. Sparrow, 1990 CanLII 104 (SCC), [1990] 1 S.C.R. 1075, ¶ 64 – 72 and ¶ 81 – 82, R. v. Adams, 1996 CanLII 169 (SCC), [1996] 3 S.C.R. 101, ¶ 46 and 51 – 52.

[37] In Delgamuukw v. British Columbia, 1997 CanLII 302 (SCC), [1997] 3 S.C.R. 1010, Lamer C.J. discussed the issue of consultation in the context of the justification of an infringement of aboriginal title and stated at ¶ 168:

There is always a duty of consultation. Whether the aboriginal group has been consulted is relevant to determining whether the infringement of aboriginal title is justified, in the same way that the Crown’s failure to consult an aboriginal group with respect to the terms by which reserve land is leased may breach its fiduciary duty at common law: Guerin. The nature and scope of the duty of consultation will vary with the circumstances. In occasional cases, when the breach is less serious or relatively minor, it will be no more than a duty to discuss important decisions that will be taken with respect to lands held pursuant to aboriginal title. Of course, even in these rare cases when the minimum acceptable standard is consultation, this consultation must be in good faith, and with the intention of substantially addressing the concerns of the aboriginal peoples whose lands are at issue. In most cases, it will be significantly deeper than mere consultation. Some cases may even require the full consent of an aboriginal nation, particularly when provinces enact hunting and fishing regulations in relation to aboriginal rights.

[38] In Haida Nation v. British Columbia (Minister of Forests) 2002 BCCA 147 (CanLII) (Haida No. 1), Lambert J.A. recognized a three stage analysis in determining whether the Crown has breached its duty to consult consisting of:

1. consideration of whether aboriginal title or rights have been established on a balance of probabilities and a decision regarding the nature and scope of the title and rights;

2. determination of whether the particular title or rights have been infringed by a specific action; and

3. a consideration of whether the Crown has discharged its onus to show justification, including whether it has fulfilled its obligation to consult.

(¶ 46)

[39] Lambert J.A. acknowledged that although both the consultation and the infringement are likely to precede the determination of the aboriginal rights and title, that when determining if there has been a breach of duty the Court must first look at whether the First Nation has proved the title and then whether there has been an infringement of the right. Once those elements are established the onus shifts to the Crown to establish that there was justification for the infringement both before and at the time the infringement occurred. (¶ 46)

[40] In Haida No. 1 the Court of Appeal held that due to the circumstances surrounding the Minister’s consent to the transfer of tenure from MacMillan Bloedel to Weyerhaeuser, the Minister had a legally enforceable duty to consult with respect to the transfer. The main issue in Haida No. 1 was whether any consultation had taken place in the face of a good prima facie case of infringement of aboriginal rights to red cedar.

[41] In TransCanada Pipelines Ltd. v. Beardmore (Township) (2000), 2000 CanLII 5713 (ON CA), 186 D.L.R. (4th) 403 (Ont. C.A.), the Court held that it was only after a First Nation has established an infringement of an existing aboriginal or treaty right that the duty of the Crown to consult with the First Nation was a factor for the Court to consider in the justificatory phase of the proceeding. Borins J.A. stated at ¶ 120:

As the decisions of the Supreme Court illustrate, what triggers a consideration of the Crown’s duty to consult is a showing by the First Nation of a violation of an existing Aboriginal or treaty right recognized and affirmed by s. 35(1) of the Constitution Act, 1982. It is at this stage of the proceeding that the Crown is required to address whether it has fulfilled its duty to consult with a First Nation if it intends to justify the constitutionality of its action.
[42] In Taku River Tlingit First Nation v. Tulsequah Chief Mine Project 2002 BCCA 59 (CanLII), it was argued that aboriginal right or title had to be established before there was duty to consult with the aboriginal peoples. In rejecting the argument, Rowles J.A. held that while the onus of proving a prima facie infringement of an aboriginal right or title is on the group challenging the legislation (or in this case the decisions of the statutory decision makers), it did not follow that until there was court ruling the right did not exist. (¶ 183)

[43] In Taku, the court accepted as findings of fact that the proposed road would impose serious impacts on the resources used by the Tinglit, that the Tinglits were not adequately prepared to handle the predicted impacts and that there was no plausible mitigation or compensation possible. The project had not been commenced and it was found that the proposed road would have a profound impact on the Tinglit’s aboriginal way of life and their ability to sustain it. The Tinglit’s were willing to participate in the environmental review process to have their needs accommodated but the project approval certificate had been issued without their concerns being met. (¶ 132 and 202)

[44] In the circumstances, the court felt it was appropriate to dismiss the appeal of the order quashing the certificate and remit the matter to the Ministers to consider afresh the issuance of the project approval certificate. In her dissent, Southin J.A. referred to the fact that the right to be consulted is not a right of veto and was of the view that to remit the matter back to the Ministers would prolong the agony for both the proponent of the project and the Tinglit. (¶ 100 and 101)

[45] Although the Court in Haida No. 1 agreed that the requirement to consult could arise prior to the aboriginal right or title having been established in court proceedings, and that the Crown and Weyerhaeuser were in breach of an enforceable duty to consult and to seek accommodation with the Haida, it did not necessarily follow that the replacement of the licence was invalid. The Court was not prepared to make a finding regarding the validity, invalidity or partial validity of the transfer of the licence but was of the view that it was a matter that could be more readily determined after the extent of the infringement of title and rights had been determined. (¶ 58 and 59)

[46] Lambert J.A. stated that the courts have considerable discretion in shaping the appropriate remedy in a judicial review proceeding before the final determination of the title and rights of the aboriginal people and that the aim of the remedy should be to protect the parties pending the final determination of the nature and scope of title and rights. At the time of the final determination of rights and title the issues of the nature and extent of the infringement and the issue of justification could be dealt with. (¶ 53 and 54)

HAVE THE HEILTSUK ESTABLISHED A PRIMA FACIE CLAIM OF ABORIGINAL TITLE OR RIGHTS IN RESPECT OF THE LANDS AND WATERS COVERED BY THE LICENCE?

[47] The Heiltsuk advance claims based on aboriginal rights and title that have not yet been judicially determined. I am of the view that in interim proceedings of this type, I am not in a position to do more than make preliminary general assessments of the strength of the prima facie claims and potential infringement.

[48] I agree with Tysoe J.’s comment in Gitxsan and other First Nations v. British Columbia (Minister of Forests), 2002 BCSC 1701 (CanLII) that the Court should avoid making detailed evidentiary findings on affidavit material unless it is essential to do so. Critical findings of admissibility or assessing the weight to be given to oral histories should be left to the trial judge responsible for making the final determinations of the claims of rights or title. (¶ 70)

[49] The Heiltsuk’s evidence is that they have been engaged in treaty negotiations with the Province regarding their land claim since 1981 when they filed a Statement of Comprehensive Aboriginal Rights Claim. In 1993, the Heiltsuk filed a Statement of Intent with the B.C. Treaty Commission and were accepted into treaty negotiations with the Provincial and Federal government. Throughout that time, the Heiltsuk have continuously asserted title over the land, including the area described in the licences.

[50] As well, the Heiltsuk have established an aboriginal right to harvest herring spawn on kelp. R. v. Gladstone, 1996 CanLII 160 (SCC), [1996] 2 S.C.R. 723.

[51] The Heiltsuk argue that based on the affidavit material they have a strong or good prima facie claim of aboriginal rights or title with respect to their territory including Ocean Falls.

[52] Given that I am of the view it is not appropriate for me to assess the weight to be given to the oral history or make findings of admissibility on the basis of the affidavit material, I have accepted the evidence contained in the oral histories at face value for the purpose of determining if the Heiltsuk have a prima facie claim of aboriginal rights and title to Ocean Falls.

[53] The evidence contained in the affidavit material regarding the oral history is that one of the main winter villages of the Heiltsuk was located at Ocean Falls. The Heiltsuk moved away around the time the pulp mill was constructed in 1909. Approximately 300 – 400 Heiltsuk lived in Ocean Falls prior to industrialization in the early 1900s. The area was a good village site in the winter because it was sheltered from the winds and open waters of the outer coast. Link Lake provided fresh water and Cousins Inlet provided seafood including halibut, ling cod, rock cod, spring salmon, crabs, prawns and herring. The evidence is that the Heiltsuk were forced to relocate from the area when the pulp mill was built.

[54] Although the Heiltsuk assert that the village of Tuxvnaq or Duxwana’ka was located in Ocean Falls prior to the establishment of the pulp mill, there is also evidence that in the early 1900s there may have only been one First Nations individual living at Ocean Falls. The survey map prepared at the time of the original Crown grant in 1901 shows one Indian house near the tide flats with an Indian trail leading to it.

[55] There is little direct evidence and no documentary evidence of a forced relocation of the Heiltsuk at the time the pulp mill was constructed. There is no evidence in support of a forced relocation in the Bella Bella story, a book which was referred to by both the Heiltsuk and the Crown. As well, there has been no mention of a forced relocation in the materials filed by the Heiltsuk in the treaty negotiations.

[56] “… [C]laims must be proven on the basis of cogent evidence establishing their validity on the balance of probabilities. Sparse, doubtful and equivocal evidence cannot serve as the foundation for a successful claim.” Mitchell v. M.R.N., [2001] S.C.R. 911 at ¶ 51.

[57] Chief Justice McLachlin was clear that Mitchell did not impose upon aboriginal claimants the requirement of producing indisputable or conclusive evidence from pre-contact times. However, she observed that there was a “distinction between sensitively applying evidentiary principles and straining those principles beyond reason”. In Gladstone, for example, the recognition of an aboriginal right to engage in trading herring roe on kelp was based on an indisputable historical and anthropological record corroborated by written documentation. The Court in Gladstone concluded that there was clear evidence from which it could be inferred that the Heiltsuk were involved in trading herring roe on kelp prior to contact. (¶ 52)

[58] I am of the view that there is insufficient evidence before me to make a finding that the Heiltsuk were forcibly removed from Ocean Falls and I decline to make any finding in that regard.

[59] There is evidence that another First Nation, the Nuxalk Nation, asserts that Ocean Falls, including the land impacted by the licences, is within its territorial boundaries. The Nuxalk have put the Heiltsuk, Omega and the Crown on notice of their claim. The Nuxalk oppose the construction of the hatchery and have advised both Omega and the Crown that they will not permit salmon aquaculture in their territory.

[60] Although the petitioners argue that I should ignore the claims of the Nuxalk, I am of the view that making any findings regarding the Heiltsuk claim of rights and title which could potentially impact the overlapping claim of the Nuxalk in this proceeding is inappropriate.

[61] As set out in Delmaguukw, there are a number of criteria that must be satisfied by the group asserting aboriginal title including exclusive occupancy at the time of sovereignty:

Were it possible to prove title without demonstrating exclusive occupation, the result would be absurd, because it would be possible for more than one aboriginal nation to have aboriginal title over the same piece of land, and then for all of them to attempt to assert the right to exclusive use and occupation over it.

(¶ 155)

[62] Although Lamer C.J. recognizes the possibility of a finding of joint title shared between two or more aboriginal nations, which would involve the right to exclude others except with whom possession is shared, no claim to joint title has been asserted by the Heiltsuk and the Nuxalk are not represented on this application. It is not possible therefore to assess the relative strengths of the two competing claims to the land or what impact the two claims have on each other.

[63] Based on the evidence before me of the overlapping claims, the only conclusion I have been able to reach is that both Heiltsuk and Nuxalk assert aboriginal title over the land, but I am unable to determine whether either has a good prima facie case of aboriginal title.

[64] However, the oral history of the Heiltsuk, which I accept at face value for the purpose of this application, is that the area of Ocean Falls was used as a winter village and the Heiltsuk have fished in the area. I find, therefore, that the Heiltsuk have a strong prima facie case of aboriginal rights to fish in the area and to non-exclusive use of the land. The Heiltsuk’s prima facie claim for aboriginal rights does not require exclusivity.

HAVE THE HEILTSUK SHOWN AN INFRINGEMENT OF AN ABORIGINAL RIGHT?

[65] The Heiltsuk take the position that the licences infringe their claims for aboriginal rights to the land impacted by the licences.

[66] In Gladstone, the Court refers to the Sparrow test for determining whether the government has infringed aboriginal rights which involves:

• asking whether the legislation, or in this case the decisions to grant the licences, has the effect of interfering with an existing aboriginal right; and

• determining whether the interference was unreasonable, imposed undue hardship, or denied the right to the holders of their preferred means of exercising the right.

[67] Even if the answer to one of the questions is no, that does not prevent the court from finding that a right has been infringed, rather it will be a factor for the court to consider in determining whether there has been a prima facie infringement. The onus of proving a prima facie infringement of rights lies on the Heiltsuk, i.e., the challengers of the decisions. Gladstone, ¶ 39 and 43.

[68] Because aboriginal rights are not absolute and do not exist in a vacuum, claimants must assert both a right and the infringement of the right. Cheslatta Carrier Nation v. British Columbia, 2000 BCCA 539 (CanLII), ¶ 18 and 19, Delgamuukw, ¶ 160, 162 and 165.

[69] In Cheslatta, the Court of Appeal referred to R. v. Nikal 1996 CanLII 245 (SCC), [1996], 1 S.C.R. 1013 for the proposition that aboriginal rights are like all other rights recognized by our legal system. The rights which are exercised by either a group or individual involve the balancing of those rights with the recognized interests of others. Any declaration regarding an aboriginal right would not be absolute in that it may be subject to infringement or restriction by government where such infringement is not unreasonable and can be justified. (¶ 18 and 19)

[70] The Heiltsuk have raised concerns that the issuances of the licences adversely affect their fishing rights and their non exclusive use of the land.

[71] They say the prima facie infringements regarding their right to the use of the land are:

• the hatchery licence of occupation allowing Omega to operate a hatchery is not their chosen use of the land;

• that it will prevent them from utilizing the area as a village site in the future;

• that the diversion of water will result in an inadequate amount of water for the future village;

• the hatchery will impact the availability of electricity to service a village; and

• the Heiltsuk do not support Atlantic salmon aquaculture, and take the position that their right to self government is irreparably harmed by the imposition of the hatchery in a territory over which they have asserted a claim.

[72] The Heiltsuk say the prima facie infringements regarding their fishing rights are:

• That the discharge from the factory into Cousins Inlet will cause pollution and disease thereby impacting the Heiltsuk fishing rights in the area;

• The construction of the facility has potentially caused pollution as a result of hazardous wastes, in particular asbestos, which was disturbed during construction; and

• The fish reared in the hatchery may escape from the hatchery, or alternatively, from fish farms outside Heiltsuk claimed waters and enter Heiltsuk claimed waters thereby impacting their fishing rights.

(i) Have the Heiltsuk established a prima facie infringement of their right to non exclusive use of the land?

[73] The Heiltsuk argue that this case falls within the cases referred to in Delgamuukw which may require the full consent of the aboriginal nation, particularly when provinces enact hunting and fishing regulations in relation to aboriginal lands. (¶ 168) They argue that the Province’s actions authorize aquaculture over Heiltsuk title through the regulation of farmed fish and therefore the Province should have obtained the consent of the Heiltsuk.

[74] I do not agree that the issuance of the licences in question is analogous to the type of situation contemplated in Delgamuukw which would require the full consent of the aboriginal nation. There is no evidence that the Province by issuing the four licences is impacting the right of the Heiltsuk to hunt or fish in the area.

[75] There is no evidence that the Heiltsuk will not be able to locate a village there because of the licences of occupation. The hatchery in issue is a land based facility. The licences of occupation over the .08 square kilometres are for 10 years. Most of the land on which the hatchery is located is filled land created prior to the construction of the pulp mill. The site was a contaminated industrial site which has required significant expenditure by Omega to clean up. There is evidence that Omega has removed 700 tons of industrial debris from the site and plans to continue a process of remediation of the site in co-operation with LWBC.

[76] The Heiltsuk have not established that the issuances of the licences have resulted in a prima facie infringement to their right to non exclusive use of the land.

[77] There is a large area adjacent to the pulp mill site where the town of Ocean Falls was located which had a population of 4,000 people that could be used as a village site. The total population has declined to less than 100 since the closure of the pulp mill 20 years ago.

[78] The diversion of water is not new. The original licence to divert water from Martin Lake was issued 70 years ago and there was sufficient water and electricity to service the town of Ocean Falls.

[79] There is no evidence that the issuance of the licences allowing construction and operation of the hatchery will impact the Heiltsuk’s ability to pursue their negotiations with the Province regarding their claim of aboriginal title or locate a village there in the event they decide to do so.

[80] As well, there is no evidence that the licences will prevent the Heiltsuk from establishing a wild salmon enhancement facility in the future.

[81] With respect to the Heiltsuk’s assertion about self government, there is no evidence to support their position that the hatchery will cause irreparable harm. On the contrary, the evidence is that Omega has cleaned up industrial waste from the site and is committed to continuing rehabilitation of a contaminated site. The licences are of fixed duration.

[82] The right to self govern is, in my view, inextricably bound up in the Heiltsuk’s aboriginal claim to title and their right to use the land for their preferred use, i.e., the Heiltsuk want to decide what the land will be used for and the ability to veto uses of the land which do not accord with their philosophy. The Heiltsuk’s complaint in this regard is that they are opposed to Atlantic salmon aquaculture and do not want any Atlantic salmon aquaculture in their territory.

[83] The necessary factual basis on which to determine whether the claim for self government has been made out is lacking. As set out above, the Nuxalk Nation is also claiming title to the same area and is not before me on this application. A determination regarding the Heiltsuk’s right to self govern in the area would by necessity impact the Nuxalk.

[84] There is no evidence that the construction and operation of the hatchery pursuant to the licences will impact the Heiltsuk’s ability to negotiate or establish the right to self govern in the area in the future. There is no evidence that the construction and operation of the hatchery either has or will cause irreparable harm whereby the Heiltsuk will not be able to utilize the land as they choose in the future.

[85] It is not within the ambit of this application to deal with the many difficult issues which would have to be addressed in order to make a determination of the Heiltsuk’s right to self government beyond the finding that, in my view, there is no evidence to support the Heiltsuk argument that their asserted right to self govern, i.e., the right of the Heiltsuk to make decisions as to the use of the land in the event that they establish their aboriginal title in the future, has been infringed by the issuance of the licences.

[86] Accordingly, I find that the Heiltsuk have not discharged their burden of establishing a prima facie infringement of their aboriginal rights to non-exclusive use of the land.

(ii) Have the Heiltsuk established a prima facie infringement or their aboriginal right to fish?

[87] In Nikal the Supreme Court of Canada, in the course of finding that the bare requirement for a licence did not constitute an infringement of aboriginal fishing rights, rejected the proposition that any government action which affects or interferes with the exercise of aboriginal rights constitutes a prima facie infringement of the right. The Court held that the government must ultimately be able to balance competing interests. (¶ 91-94)

[88] In Gladstone, Lamer C.J. sets out that the threshold requirement for infringement and states that legislation infringes an aboriginal right when it “clearly impinges” upon the rights. (¶ 53 and 151) An infringement has been defined “as any real interference with or diminuation of the right.” Mikisew Cree First Nation v. Canada, 2001 FCT 1426 at ¶ 104.

[89] The Heiltsuk argue that their right to fish could be infringed by discharge of deleterious substances or disease into the marine environment during the construction or operation of the hatchery, the diversion of water and the potential impact of escaped Atlantic salmon on the wild native stock.

[90] There is evidence from Omega’s expert that the construction of the facility will not impact the marine habitat in the area and that the discharge from the hatchery during operation will not pose a threat to marine life.

[91] The Minister of Fisheries and Oceans confirmed on August 16, 2002 that “a harmful alteration, disruption, or destruction (HADD) of fish habitat will not occur as a result of the construction and operation of this facility as proposed.” The Regional Waste Manager, pursuant to the Waste Management Act, R.S.B.C. 1996, c. 482 and regulations confirmed on April 29, 2002 that the hatchery was a regulated site under the Land-Based Fin Fish Waste Control Regulation, B.C. Regulation. 68/94. Neither the Federal Minister of Fisheries nor the Provincial Minister of Water, Land and Air Protection are parties to this petition.

[92] Omega’s expert report was provided to the Heiltsuk and he was in attendance at a meeting with the Heiltsuk in May 2002 in Bella Bella to provide information.

[93] The Heiltsuk presented no evidence that the effluent or construction will impact the marine environment in an adverse way thereby impacting the Heiltsuk’s fishing rights in the area. Although they have presented evidence that asbestos may have been present on the site, the Heiltsuk have presented no evidence that any asbestos or other deleterious substances leached into the marine environment during construction of the hatchery.

[94] The Heiltsuk have expressed concern regarding the possibility of escape of smolts from the hatchery which could adversely impact the wild Pacific salmon in the area. Omega explained that the discharge pipe will have a triple screening system, as required by Provincial and Federal regulations, in order to prevent the escape of fish from its tanks. The likelihood of escapes from a land based facility is remote. The screening criteria and requirements to prevent smolts being introduced into the ocean are governed by the terms of the aquaculture licensing tenure, not by the licences in issue in this application. A federal permit is required for the transporting of smolts. The evidence is that the smolts will be removed by boat from the area.

[95] In my view, the Heiltsuk’s concern about potential escape of salmon from fish farms outside Heiltsuk claimed territory is not an issue before the Court. The issues before me are whether the decision makers erred in granting the four licences to Omega, not whether fish farms, aquatic or land based, should exist in B.C.

[96] The Heiltsuk also argue that the diversion of water could possibly infringe their fishing rights in the area. The original Martin Lake water licence was granted over 70 years and there is no evidence that the diversion of water allowed by it has infringed the Heiltsuk’s asserted right to fish in the area. There is no evidence that the water diverted pursuant to the Link River water licence infringes the fishing rights in the area. The water, although diverted through the hatchery, eventually flows into Cousins Inlet and as a result there is no impact on the volume of water in the Inlet.

[97] On the evidence before me, I find that the Heiltsuk have not discharged their burden of establishing a prima facie infringement of the aboriginal right to fish in the area of Ocean Falls.

IS THERE A DUTY TO CONSULT AND, IF SO, HAS THERE BEEN CONSULTATION?

[98] The Crown has acknowledged that it has a duty to consult with the Heiltsuk regarding any licences it issues to Omega. This is a change of position from when the initial licence, the Martin Lake water licence 2001, was granted to Omega at which time the Crown took the position that it did not need to consult with the Heiltsuk.

[99] In light of the Crown’s concession that it has the duty to consult with the Heiltsuk regarding issuance of the licences, I am granting the order sought by the Heiltsuk that the Crown has a duty to consult with the Heiltsuk regarding the licences.

[100] The Heiltsuk also take the position that Omega owes them a duty of consultation. While not making a formal concession that it owes a duty to consult to the Heiltsuk, Omega has been clear from the commencement of the project that it is willing to consult with the Heiltsuk and says that it has made attempts to do so.

[101] As set out by Lamer C.J. in Delgamuukw, the duty to consult can range from a duty to discuss important decisions that will be taken in respect of lands held pursuant to aboriginal title to a requirement for the full consent of the aboriginal nation depending on the circumstances. Consultation must be in good faith and with the intention to substantially address the concerns of the aboriginal people whose lands are in issue. (¶ 168)

[102] The Crown may rely on consultation which it knows is taking place between aboriginal groups and third parties. In Kelly Lake Cree Nation v. Ministry of Energy and Mines et al., also known as Calliou, [1999] 3 C.N.L.R. 126, (B.C.S.C.), Mr. Justice Taylor dealt with the issue:

[154] There is no question that there is a duty on government to consult with First Nation people before making decisions that will affect rights either established through litigation or recognized by government as existing….It is my view that a consideration of the question of consultation must be taken into account not only the aspects of direct consultation between First Nations people and the provincial government whose officials were charged with responsibility to decide upon these applications, but also the consultations between First Nations people and Amoco that were known to the government to have occurred. The process of consultation cannot be viewed in a vacuum and must take into account the general process by which government deals with First Nations people, including any discussions between resource developers such as Amoco and First Nations people.

[103] The Heiltsuk take the position they have not been consulted at all with respect to the issuance of the licences and that any meetings held between the Heiltsuk and the Province or between Heiltsuk and Omega do not constitute consultation.

[104] In Ryan et al. v. Fort St. James Forest District (District Manager), Smithers Registry, No. 7855 (BCSC) aff’d (1994), 40 B.C.A.C. 91, Macdonald J. dealt with the issue of whether the Gitksan could argue that there had not been adequate consultation when they had refused to participate in the process:

¶ 23 I accept that the Gitksan are entitled to be consulted in respect of such activities. They do not need the doctrine of legitimate expectations to support that right, because the Forest Act itself and the fiduciary obligations toward Native Indians discussed in Delgamuukw, establish that right beyond question. However, consultation did not work here because the Gitksan did not want it to work. The process was impeded by their persistent refusal to take part in the process unless their fundamental demands were met.

. . .

¶ 26 I accept the submission that the M.O.F. more than satisfied any duty to consult which is upon it. It was the failure of the Petitioners to avail themselves of the consultation process, except on their own terms, which lies at the heart of this dispute.

[105] A similar finding was made in Halfway River First Nation v. BC (Ministry of Forests), 1999 BCCA 470 (CanLII). On a review of the consultation which took place in that case, Mr. Justice Finch held:

There is a reciprocal duty on aboriginal peoples to express their interests and concerns once they have had an opportunity to consider the information provided by the Crown, and to consult in good faith by whatever means are available to them. They cannot frustrate the consultation process by refusing to meet or participate, or by imposing unreasonable conditions: see Ryan et al v. Fort St. James Forest District (District Manager) (25 January, 1994) Smithers No. 7855, affirmed (1994), 40 B.C.A.C. 91.

(¶ 161)

[106] Here the evidence is that Omega attempted to meet with and consult with the Heiltsuk:

• Omega met with the Heiltsuk in Bella Bella concerning the proposed hatchery in October 2001 just after it had commenced the application process for the licences.

• Omega met with the Heiltsuk in Campbell River in December 2001.

• Omega requested a meeting with the Heiltsuk in January 2002 and met with them in Bella Bella on January 9, 2002.

• Omega provided information to the Heiltsuk in January 2002 following the meeting in response to questions and concerns raised by the Heiltsuk.

• Omega met with the Heiltsuk in Bella Bella on May 30, 2002 and provided additional information following the meeting.

[107] During the various meetings and correspondence with Omega and the Crown the Heiltsuk have taken the position that they have zero tolerance to Atlantic salmon aquaculture and do not want the hatchery in their claimed territory, i.e., they have asserted a right to veto all Atlantic salmon aquaculture operations in their claimed territory.

[108] The Heiltsuk have remained firm in their position that they are opposed to any type of Atlantic salmon aquaculture in the territory over which they are asserting a claim. I find on the evidence that prior to the petition the Heiltsuk have been unwilling to enter into consultation regarding any type of accommodation concerning the hatchery. This is apparent both from the position they have taken throughout the meetings where they have clearly indicated that they do not consider the meetings to be consultation and from correspondence between counsel in which the Heiltsuk have continued to express the view that no consultation has taken place.

[109] The Heiltsuk have never advised the Crown or Omega of any terms upon which they would be willing to withdraw their opposition to the hatchery. Rather, they have maintained their position of zero tolerance for Atlantic fish farming in their claimed territory, including this hatchery site. It is apparent on the evidence that the Heiltsuk do not want a hatchery on the site; i.e., they want a veto with respect to what use the land can be put.

[110] In oral submissions, counsel for the Heiltsuk attempted to characterize the “zero tolerance” of the Heiltsuk as “zero tolerance to law breaking” in that Heiltsuk law prohibits any activities that damage the environment and the Heiltsuk are of the view that the hatchery has the potential to damage the environment.

[111] However, the Heiltsuk clearly advised the Crown and Omega at the various meetings and in correspondence that the Heiltsuk had zero tolerance for fish farms and this hatchery. They told Omega in January 2002 that they did not want the hatchery in Ocean Falls. As of January 2003, their stated position that the proposed hatchery was not welcome in Heiltsuk territory had not changed and they advised Omega and the Crown that they were opposed to the hatchery and wanted it removed.

[112] The conduct of the Heiltsuk both in stating their position as one of zero tolerance to Atlantic salmon aquaculture and in attending meetings at which they stated they did not consider the meeting to be consultation indicates, in my view, an unwillingness to avail themselves of the consultation process.

[113] On all of the evidence, it is clear that the Heiltsuk seek a veto over Omega’s operations. They “want it removed”. While saying they want to consult, their position has reflected an unwillingness to consult.

[114] No authority has been provided to me to support the proposition that the right to consultation carries with it a right to veto a use of the land. On the contrary, the Supreme Court of Canada has recognized that the general economic development of the Province, the protection of the environment or endangered species, as well as building infrastructure and settlement of foreign populations may justify the infringement of aboriginal title. The government is expected to consider the interests of all Canadians including the aboriginal people when considering claims that are unique to the aboriginal people. It is in the end a balancing of competing rights by the government. Any accommodation must be done in good faith and honour. When dealing with generalized claims over vast areas, the court held that accommodation was much broader than a simple matter of determining whether licences had been fairly allocated. (Delgamuukw, ¶ 165, 202, 203)

[115] Although the Crown took the position that consultation was not required regarding the initial two licences, the evidence is that the Crown changed its position and attempted to consult with the Heiltsuk prior to the issuance of the dock and pipe licence of occupation and the Link Lake water licence. There is evidence that there are ongoing opportunities for consultation and accommodation with respect to the hatchery.

[116] Additionally, the evidence is that Omega has made and is making ongoing efforts to provide information to the Heiltsuk about the impact of discharge from the hatchery on the marine environment and to consult in relation to the procedures that are in place to prevent escapes from the hatchery. Omega has expressed a willingness to work with the Heiltsuk to create jobs and establish a wild salmon enhancement facility in the area.

[117] The Heiltsuk have not disclosed their position about the terms they would find acceptable to withdraw their objection to the issuance of the licences to Omega. They have not suggested any terms that should be added to the licences or identified any specific impacts the licences have had on their rights.

[118] In the circumstances, I find that the duty of the Crown to consult was adequately discharged by the Crown and Omega. The process has been frustrated by the Heiltsuk’s failure “to avail themselves of the consultation process, except on their own terms, which lies at the heart of this dispute”. Ryan, at ¶ 6, 24 and 26.

WHETHER THIS IS AN APPROPRIATE CASE TO EXERCISE JUDICIAL REVIEW AND, IS SO, WHAT ARE THE APPROPRIATE REMEDIES?

[119] The Heiltsuk are seeking to have the licences quashed.

[120] Relief under s. 8(1) of the Judicial Review Act is discretionary.

[121] In Klahoose First Nation v. British Columbia (Minister of Forests) (1995), 1995 CanLII 1467 (BC SC), 13 B.C.L.R. (3d) 59 (S.C.), Mackenzie J., as he then was, dismissed an application by a First Nation to quash the Minister’s consent to the transfer of a tree licence. The Court assumed, without deciding, that the Minister had acted in breach of a duty to consult, but exercised its discretion to deny the petitioners their remedy under the Judicial Review Procedure Act. Mackenzie J. held that although the Band had lost the opportunity to consult before the Minister gave his consent, the consent was for the transfer of an existing tenure and no additional interests were alienated which could prejudice the Band’s aboriginal claims. (p. 65)

[122] In this case, not only is there no evidence that the Heiltsuk’s aboriginal claims are prejudiced by the issuance of the licences, but the fact that the Heiltsuk have zero tolerance for Atlantic salmon aquaculture within their claimed territory must also be considered.

[123] Although the Heiltsuk speak to their willingness to consult in regard to the licences which provide the tenures necessary for Omega to operate the hatchery this must be questioned in light of their consistently stated position to the Crown and Omega.

[124] Section 11 of the Judicial Review Procedure Act provides that an application for judicial review is not barred by the passage of time unless: “(b) the court considers that substantial prejudice and hardship will result to any other person affected by reason of delay.”

[125] The Heiltsuk were advised that Omega’s plans for construction and operation of the facility were progressing. In addition, information was provided to them about the amount of the planned investment and the timelines for completion of the project. It is clear from the Heiltsuk’s evidence that they were aware of the issuance of the hatchery licence of occupation and the lack of consultation as early as mid December 2001. At that time, no significant investment had been made by Omega.

[126] The Heiltsuk chose neither to bring the petition at the time nor to apply for an injunction prior to construction of the facility commencing in late 2002. Rather, they waited 13 months after they were aware that the Crown had determined that no consultation about the initial licences was required. The evidence is that as of March 2003 Omega had invested $9.5 million in cleaning up the site and building the facility. Further losses will be incurred if the facility cannot be operated.

[127] Given my findings that the Heiltsuk have not established that there has been a prima facie infringement of their aboriginal rights and that the Crown and Omega have attempted to consult with the Heiltsuk, it is my view this is not an appropriate case to exercise my discretion to either quash the licences or make a prohibition order barring issuance of approvals or licences relating to the hatchery.

[128] I suggest that the parties continue to consult to determine whether the hatchery may adversely affect the Heiltsuk’s rights and, if so, seek a workable accommodation with the Heiltsuk through negotiation. Given the expressed desire of Omega to continue to seek agreements with the Heiltsuk, I find that it is not necessary at this time to make an order in that regard.

CONCLUSION

[129] The following orders and declarations are made:

• The decision makers had in December 2001 and continue to have a duty to consult with the Heiltsuk in good faith and to endeavour to seek workable accommodations between the aboriginal interests of the Heiltsuk and the short and long term objectives of the Crown and Omega with respect to the licences;

• The decision makers are to provide the Heiltsuk with all relevant information reasonably requested by them;

• The parties are at liberty to apply to this Court with respect to any question relating to the duty of consultation and accommodation;

• The relief in the petition to quash the licences and for a prohibition order is adjourned generally;

• The balance of the relief sought in the petition regarding the decision makers, including the application for a declaration that the decision makers breached their duty to consult and accommodate the Heiltsuk interests and concerns is dismissed.

• The application regarding a declaration that Omega had a duty to consult and seek accommodation with the Heiltsuk is adjourned generally.

• The balance of the relief sought in the petition with respect to Omega, including,, that it was in breach of its duty to consult, is dismissed.

• As well the application for an interim or interlocutory injunction is dismissed.

[130] Given the divided success on the petition, I order that each party bear its own costs.

“L.B. Gerow, J.”
The Honourable Madam Justice L.B. Gerow

 

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