First Nations on Vancouver Island celebrate B.C. Court of Appeal fisheries ruling

The B.C. Supreme Court is seen in Vancouver, B.C., in this June 2, 2015 file image. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck)

The British Columbia Court of Appeal says it expects Canada to remedy problems in commercial fishery regulations arising from a legal battle that was first launched in 2003 by a group of Vancouver Island First Nations.

Justice Harvey Groberman wrote in a decision released Monday that while there is no demonstrated need to make mandatory orders, they would “remain available if Canada does not act diligently to remedy the problems.”

A three-judge panel of the Appeal Court unanimously upheld parts of an April 2018 ruling by the B.C. Supreme Court that found Canada's regulation and management of regular commercial fisheries unjustifiably infringed on the First Nations' rights to harvest and sell fish.

In that judgment, Justice Mary Humphries gave Ottawa one year to offer the plaintiffs opportunities to exercise their rights to harvest and sell salmon, groundfish, crab and prawn in a manner that remedied those infringements.

The five First Nations, known collectively as the Nuu-chah-nulth, appealed the decision, which also found Canada did not fail in its duty to consult with them by refusing to implement their proposals to resolve the dispute and negotiate new policies outside the courts.

The Appeal Court found Humphries did not err in that part of her decision.

The First Nations hailed the decision as a major victory in upholding their commercial fishing rights.

Judith Sayers, president of the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council, said in a statement they have tried for years to get the Department of Fisheries and Oceans to implement their rights.

“Our way of life has been negatively impacted and these five Nuu-chah-nulth nations have had to invest time, money and resources to take this issue to the courts not once, but twice, and to the higher court levels,” she said.

“Now we need to work to get our fishermen out on the water for this fishing without further delay.”

The Appeal Court also found Humphries was not entitled to impose new limits on the nations' commercial fishing rights, and that she erred by limiting certain rights to vessels of a particular size and fishing capacity.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 19, 2021.

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