Ontario (Attorney General) v. Bear Island Foundation [1991] 2 S.C.R. 570

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The Bear Island Foundation and Gary Potts,

William Twain and Maurice McKenzie, Jr.

on behalf of themselves and on behalf of all

other members of the Teme-Augama Anishnabay

and Temagami Band of Indians                                                        Appellants




The Attorney General for Ontario                                                                   Respondent




The Attorney General of Canada,

the Attorney General of Quebec,

the Attorney General of British Columbia,

the Attorney General for Alberta,

the Attorney General of Newfoundland,

Union of Ontario Indians,

Association of Iroquois and Allied Indians,

National Indian Brotherhood/Assembly of First Nations,

Mocreebec, Randy Kapashesit and

Delgamuukw, also known as Earl Muldoe,

on his own behalf and on behalf of all members

of the House of Delgamuukw, and others                                        Interveners


Indexed as:  Ontario (Attorney General) v. Bear Island Foundation

File No.:  21435.

1991: May 27, 28, 29, 30; 1991:  August 15.

Present:  Lamer C.J. and La Forest, Gonthier, McLachlin and Stevenson JJ.

on appeal from the court of appeal for ontario

                   Indians — Aboriginal rights — Land claims — Title — Treaties — Appellate court unable to interfere with findings of fact — Legal findings based on facts subject to appellate review — Indians found to exercise sufficient occupation to establish aboriginal right.

                   Courts — Appellate courts — Jurisdiction — Appellate courts unable to interfere with findings of fact of lower courts — Appellate courts able to deal with legal findings based on those facts.

                   Respondent Attorney General for Ontario brought action against appellant Bear Island Foundation after the latter had registered cautions against tracts of unceded land on behalf of the Temagami Band of Indians.  Respondent sought a declaration that the Crown in right of Ontario has clear title and that the appellants have no interest therein, and further sought certain injunctive relief.  The Foundation counterclaimed and sought a declaration of quiet title on the ground that the Temagami have a better right to possession of all the lands by virtue of their aboriginal rights in the land.  Ontario claimed that the Temagami had no aboriginal right in relation to the land, or that any right they might have had has been extinguished, either by treaty or unilateral act of the sovereign.

                   The trial judge found that the appellants had no aboriginal right to the land, and that even if such a right had existed, it had been extinguished by the Robinson-Huron Treaty of 1850, to which the Temagami band was originally a party or to which it had subsequently adhered.  These findings were essentially factual, and were drawn from the mass of historical documentary evidence.   The counterclaim was dismissed.  An appeal to the Court of Appeal was dismissed.  On the assumption that an aboriginal right existed, that court held that that right had been extinguished either by the Robinson-Huron Treaty or by the subsequent adherence to that treaty by the Indians, or because the treaty constituted a unilateral extinguishment by the sovereign.

                   Held:  The appeal should be dismissed.

                   This case raised for the most part essentially factual issues on which the courts below were in agreement.  On such issues, the rule is that an appellate court should not reverse the trial judge absent palpable and overriding error which affected his or her assessment of the facts.  The rule is all the stronger in the face of concurrent findings of both courts below.  A detailed examination of the facts was undertaken by this Court and no issue is taken with the numerous specific findings of fact in the courts below.  There was not agreement, however, with all the legal findings based on those facts.  In particular, the Indians exercised sufficient occupation of the lands in question throughout the relevant period to establish an aboriginal right.

                   It was unnecessary, however, to examine the specific nature of the aboriginal right because that right was surrendered, whatever the situation on the signing of the Robinson-Huron Treaty, by arrangements subsequent to the treaty by which the Indians adhered to the treaty in exchange for treaty annuities and a reserve.  The Crown breached its fiduciary obligations to the Indians by failing to comply with some of its obligation under this agreement; these matters currently form the subject of negotiations between the parties.  These breaches do not alter the fact that the aboriginal right was extinguished.

Cases Cited

                   Referred toStein v. The Ship “Kathy K”, [1976] 2 S.C.R. 802; Century Insurance Co. v. N.V. Bocimar S.A., [1987] 1 S.C.R. 1247; Beaudoin-Daigneault v. Richard, [1984] 1 S.C.R. 2; Simon v. The Queen, [1985] 2 S.C.R. 387; R. v. Sparrow, [1990] 1 S.C.R. 1075.

                   APPEAL from a judgment of the Ontario Court of Appeal (1989), 68 O.R. (2d) 394, 58 D.L.R. (4th) 117, [1989] 2 C.N.L.R. 73, 32 O.A.C. 66, 4 R.P.R. 252, dismissing an appeal from a judgment of Steele J. (1984), 15 D.L.R. (4th) 321.  Appeal dismissed.


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