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Haida Nation v. British Columbia (Minister of Forests), [2004] 3 S.C.R. 511, 2004 SCC 73

 

Minister of Forests and Attorney General of British Columbia

on behalf of Her Majesty The Queen in Right of the Province

of British Columbia                                                                                         Appellants

 

v.

 

Council of the Haida Nation and Guujaaw, on their own behalf

and on behalf of all members of the Haida Nation                                     Respondents

 

and between

 

Weyerhaeuser Company Limited                                                                    Appellant

 

v.

 

Council of the Haida Nation and Guujaaw, on their own behalf

and on behalf of all members of the Haida Nation                                     Respondents

 

and

 

Attorney General of Canada, Attorney General of Ontario,

Attorney General of Quebec, Attorney General of Nova Scotia,

Attorney General for Saskatchewan, Attorney General of Alberta,

Squamish Indian Band and Lax-kw’alaams Indian Band,

Haisla Nation, First Nations Summit, Dene Tha’ First Nation,

Tenimgyet, aka Art Matthews, Gitxsan Hereditary Chief, Business

Council of British Columbia, Aggregate Producers Association

of British Columbia, British Columbia and Yukon Chamber of Mines,

British Columbia Chamber of Commerce, Council of Forest

Industries, Mining Association of British Columbia,

British Columbia Cattlemen’s Association and

Village of Port Clements                                                                               Interveners


Indexed as:  Haida Nation v. British Columbia (Minister of Forests)

 

Neutral citation:  2004 SCC 73.

 

File No.:  29419.

 

2004:  March 24; 2004:  November 18.

 

Present:  McLachlin C.J. and Major, Bastarache, Binnie, LeBel, Deschamps and Fish JJ.

 

on appeal from the court of appeal for british columbia

 

Crown — Honour of Crown — Duty to consult and accommodate Aboriginal peoples — Whether Crown has duty to consult and accommodate Aboriginal peoples prior to making decisions that might adversely affect their as yet unproven Aboriginal rights and title claims — Whether duty extends to third party.

 


For more than 100 years, the Haida people have claimed title to all the lands of Haida Gwaii and the waters surrounding it, but that title has not yet been legally recognized.  The Province of British Columbia issued a “Tree Farm License” (T.F.L. 39) to a large forestry firm in 1961, permitting it to harvest trees in an area of Haida Gwaii designated as Block 6.  In 1981, 1995 and 2000, the Minister replaced T.F.L. 39, and in 1999, the Minister approved a transfer of T.F.L. 39 to Weyerhaeuser Co.  The Haida challenged in court these replacements and the transfer, which were made without their consent and, since at least 1994, over their objections.  They asked that the replacements and transfer be set aside.  The chambers judge dismissed the petition, but found that the government had a moral, not a legal, duty to negotiate with the Haida.  The Court of Appeal reversed the decision, declaring that both the government and Weyerhaeuser Co. have a duty to consult with and accommodate the Haida with respect to harvesting timber from Block 6.

 

Held:  The Crown’s appeal should be dismissed.  Weyerhaeuser Co.’s appeal should be allowed.

 

While it is open to the Haida to seek an interlocutory injunction, they are not confined to that remedy, which may fail to adequately take account of their interests prior to final determination thereof.  If they can prove a special obligation giving rise to a duty to consult or accommodate, they are free to pursue other available remedies.

 


The government’s duty to consult with Aboriginal peoples and accommodate their interests is grounded in the principle of the honour of the Crown, which must be understood generously.  While the asserted but unproven Aboriginal rights and title are insufficiently specific for the honour of the Crown to mandate that the Crown act as a fiduciary, the Crown, acting honourably, cannot cavalierly run roughshod over Aboriginal interests where claims affecting these interests are being seriously pursued in the process of treaty negotiation and proof.  The duty to consult and accommodate is part of a process of fair dealing and reconciliation that begins with the assertion of sovereignty and continues beyond formal claims resolution.  The foundation of the duty in the Crown’s honour and the goal of  reconciliation suggest that the duty arises when the Crown has knowledge, real or constructive, of the potential existence of the Aboriginal right or title and contemplates conduct that might adversely affect it.  Consultation and accommodation before final claims resolution preserve the Aboriginal interest and are an essential corollary to the honourable process of reconciliation that s. 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982, demands.

 

The scope of the duty is proportionate to a preliminary assessment of the strength of the case supporting the existence of the right or title, and to the seriousness of the potentially adverse effect upon the right or title claimed.  The Crown is not under a duty to reach an agreement; rather, the commitment is to a meaningful process of consultation in good faith.  The content of the duty varies with the circumstances and each case must be approached individually and flexibly.  The controlling question in all situations is what is required to maintain the honour of the Crown and to effect reconciliation between the Crown and the Aboriginal people with respect to the interests at stake.  The effect of good faith consultation may be to reveal a duty to accommodate.  Where accommodation is required in making decisions that may adversely affect as yet unproven Aboriginal rights and title claims, the Crown must balance Aboriginal concerns reasonably with the potential impact of the decision on the asserted right or title and with other societal interests.

 

Third parties cannot be held liable for failing to discharge the Crown’s duty to consult and accommodate.  The honour of the Crown cannot be delegated, and the legal responsibility for consultation and accommodation rests with the Crown.  This does not mean, however, that third parties can never be liable to Aboriginal peoples.

 


Finally, the duty to consult and accommodate applies to the provincial government.  At the time of the Union, the Provinces took their interest in land subject to any interest other than that of the Province in the same.  Since the duty to consult and accommodate here at issue is grounded in the assertion of Crown sovereignty which pre-dated the Union, the Province took the lands subject to this duty.

 

The Crown’s obligation to consult the Haida on the replacement of T.F.L. 39 was engaged in this case.  The Haida’s claims to title and Aboriginal right to harvest red cedar were supported by a good prima facie case, and the Province knew that the potential Aboriginal rights and title applied to Block 6, and could be affected by the decision to replace T.F.L. 39.  T.F.L. decisions reflect strategic planning for utilization of the resource and may have potentially serious impacts on Aboriginal rights and titles.  If consultation is to be meaningful, it must take place at the stage of granting or renewing T.F.L.’s.  Furthermore, the strength of the case for both the Haida’s title and their right to harvest red cedar, coupled with the serious impact of incremental strategic decisions on those interests, suggest that the honour of the Crown may also require significant accommodation to preserve the Haida’s interest pending resolution of their claims.

 

Cases Cited

 


Applied:  Delgamuukw v. British Columbia, [1997] 3 S.C.R. 1010; referred to:  RJR — MacDonald Inc. v. Canada (Attorney General), [1994] 1 S.C.R. 311; R. v. Van der Peet, [1996] 2 S.C.R. 507; R. v. Badger, [1996] 1 S.C.R. 771; R. v. Marshall, [1999] 3 S.C.R. 456; Wewaykum Indian Band v. Canada, [2002] 4 S.C.R. 245, 2002 SCC 79; R. v. Sparrow, [1990] 1 S.C.R. 1075; R. v. Nikal, [1996] 1 S.C.R. 1013; R. v. Gladstone, [1996] 2 S.C.R. 723; Cardinal v. Director of Kent Institution, [1985] 2 S.C.R. 643; Baker v. Canada (Minister of Citizenship and Immigration), [1999] 2 S.C.R. 817; TransCanada Pipelines Ltd. v. Beardmore (Township) (2000), 186 D.L.R. (4th) 403; Mitchell v. M.N.R., [2001] 1 S.C.R. 911, 2001 SCC 33; Halfway River First Nation v. British Columbia (Ministry of Forests), [1997] 4 C.N.L.R. 45, aff’d [1999] 4 C.N.L.R. 1; Heiltsuk Tribal Council v. British Columbia (Minister of Sustainable Resource Management) (2003), 19 B.C.L.R. (4th) 107; R. v. Marshall, [1999] 3 S.C.R. 533; R. v. Sioui, [1990] 1 S.C.R. 1025; R. v. Côté, [1996] 3 S.C.R. 139; R. v. Adams, [1996] 3 S.C.R. 101; Guerin v. The Queen, [1984] 2 S.C.R. 335; St. Catherine’s Milling and Lumber Co. v. The Queen (1888), 14 App. Cas. 46; Paul v. British Columbia (Forest Appeals Commission), [2003] 2 S.C.R. 585, 2003 SCC 55; Law Society of New Brunswick v. Ryan, [2003] 1 S.C.R. 247, 2003 SCC 20; Canada (Director of Investigation and Research) v. Southam Inc., [1997] 1 S.C.R. 748.

 

Statutes and Regulations Cited

 

Constitution Act, 1867, s. 109.

 

Constitution Act, 1982, s. 35.

 

Forest Act, R.S.B.C. 1996, c. 157.

 

Forestry Revitalization Act, S.B.C. 2003, c. 17.

 

Authors Cited

 

Concise Oxford Dictionary of Current English, 9th ed.  Oxford:  Clarendon Press, 1995, “accommodate”, “accommodation”.

 

Hunter, John J. L.  “Advancing Aboriginal Title Claims after Delgamuukw:  The Role of the Injunction”.  Continuing Legal Education Conference on Litigating Aboriginal Title, June 2000.

 

Isaac, Thomas, and Anthony Knox.  “The Crown’s Duty to Consult Aboriginal People” (2003), 41 Alta. L. Rev. 49.

 


Lawrence, Sonia, and Patrick Macklem.  “From Consultation to Reconciliation:  Aboriginal Rights and the Crown’s Duty to Consult” (2000), 79 Can. Bar Rev. 252.

 

New Zealand.  Ministry of Justice.  A Guide for Consultation with Mäori. Wellington:  The Ministry, 1997.

 

APPEALS from a judgment of the British Columbia Court of Appeal, [2002] 6 W.W.R. 243, 164 B.C.A.C. 217, 268 W.A.C. 217, 99 B.C.L.R. (3d) 209, 44 C.E.L.R. (N.S.) 1, [2002] 2 C.N.L.R. 121, [2002] B.C.J. No. 378 (QL), 2002 BCCA 147, with supplementary reasons (2002), 216 D.L.R. (4th) 1, [2002] 10 W.W.R. 587, 172 B.C.A.C. 75, 282 W.A.C. 75, 5 B.C.L.R. (4th) 33, [2002] 4 C.N.L.R. 117, [2002] B.C.J. No. 1882 (QL), 2002 BCCA 462, reversing a decision of the British Columbia Supreme Court (2000), 36 C.E.L.R. (N.S.) 155, [2001] 2 C.N.L.R. 83, [2000] B.C.J. No. 2427 (QL), 2000 BCSC 1280.  Appeal by the Crown dismissed. Appeal by Weyerhaeuser Co. allowed.

 

Paul J. Pearlman, Q.C., and Kathryn L. Kickbush, for the appellants the Minister of Forests and the Attorney General of British Columbia on behalf of Her Majesty the Queen in Right of the Province of British Columbia.

 

John J. L. Hunter, Q.C., and K. Michael Stephens, for the appellant Weyerhaeuser Company Limited.

 

Louise Mandell, Q.C., Michael Jackson, Q.C., Terri‑Lynn Williams‑Davidson, Gidfahl Gudsllaay and Cheryl Y. Sharvit, for the respondents.

 


Mitchell R. Taylor and Brian McLaughlin, for the intervener the Attorney General of Canada.

 

E. Ria Tzimas and Mark Crow, for the intervener the Attorney General of Ontario.

 

Pierre‑Christian Labeau, for the intervener the Attorney General of Quebec.

 

Written submissions only by Alexander MacBain Cameron, for the intervener the Attorney General of Nova Scotia.

 

Graeme G. Mitchell, Q.C., and P. Mitch McAdam, for the intervener the Attorney General for Saskatchewan.

 

Stanley H. Rutwind and Kurt Sandstrom, for the intervener the Attorney General of Alberta.

 

Gregory J. McDade, Q.C., and John R. Rich, for the interveners the Squamish Indian Band and the Lax-kw’alaams Indian Band.

 

Allan Donovan, for the intervener the Haisla Nation.

 

Hugh M. G. Braker, Q.C., Anja Brown, Arthur C. Pape and Jean Teillet, for the intervener the First Nations Summit.

 


Robert C. Freedman, for the intervener the Dene Tha’ First Nation.

 

Robert J. M. Janes and Dominique Nouvet, for the intervener Tenimgyet, aka Art Matthews, Gitxsan Hereditary Chief.

 

Charles F. Willms and Kevin O’Callaghan, for the interveners the Business Council of British Columbia, the Aggregate Producers Association of British Columbia, the British Columbia and Yukon Chamber of Mines, the British Columbia Chamber of Commerce, the Council of Forest Industries and the Mining Association of British Columbia.

 

Thomas F. Isaac, for the intervener the British Columbia Cattlemen’s Association.

 

Stuart A. Rush, Q.C., for the intervener the Village of Port Clements.

 

The judgment of the Court was delivered by

 

The Chief Justice —

 

I.  Introduction

 


1                                   To the west of the mainland of British Columbia lie the Queen Charlotte Islands, the traditional homeland of the Haida people.  Haida Gwaii, as the inhabitants call it, consists of two large islands and a number of smaller islands.  For more than 100 years, the Haida people have claimed title to all the lands of the Haida Gwaii and the waters surrounding it.  That title is still in the claims process and has not yet been legally recognized.

 

2                                   The islands of Haida Gwaii are heavily forested.  Spruce, hemlock and cedar abound.  The most important of these is the cedar which, since time immemorial, has played a central role in the economy and culture of the Haida people.  It is from cedar that they made their ocean-going canoes, their clothing, their utensils and the totem poles that guarded their lodges.  The cedar forest remains central to their life and their conception of themselves.

 

3                                   The forests of Haida Gwaii have been logged since before the First World War.  Portions of the island have been logged off.  Other portions bear second-growth forest.  In some areas, old-growth forests can still be found.  

 

4                                   The Province of British Columbia continues to issue licences to cut trees on Haida Gwaii to forestry companies.  The modern name for these licenses are Tree Farm Licences, or T.F.L.’s.  Such a licence is at the heart of this litigation.  A large forestry firm, MacMillan Bloedel Limited acquired T.F.L. 39 in 1961, permitting it to harvest trees in an area designated as Block 6.  In 1981, 1995 and 2000, the Minister replaced T.F.L. 39 pursuant to procedures set out in the Forest Act, R.S.B.C. 1996, c. 157.  In 1999, the Minister approved a transfer of T.F.L. 39 to Weyerhaeuser Company Limited (“Weyerhaeuser”). The Haida people challenged these replacements and the transfer, which were made without their consent and, since at least 1994, over their objections. Nevertheless, T.F.L. 39 continued.

 


5                                   In January of 2000, the Haida people launched a lawsuit objecting to the three replacement decisions and the transfer of T.F.L. 39 to Weyerhaeuser and asking that they be set aside.   They argued legal encumbrance, equitable encumbrance and breach of fiduciary duty, all grounded in their assertion of Aboriginal title.

 

6                                   This brings us to the issue before this Court.  The government holds legal title to the land.  Exercising that legal title, it has granted Weyerhaeuser the right to harvest the forests in Block 6 of the land.  But the Haida people also claim title to the land — title which they are in the process of trying to prove — and object to the harvesting of the forests on Block 6 as proposed in T.F.L. 39.  In this situation, what duty if any does the government owe the Haida people?  More concretely, is the government required to consult with them about decisions to harvest the forests and to accommodate their concerns about what if any forest in Block 6 should be harvested before they have proven their title to land and their Aboriginal rights?

 

7                                   The stakes are huge.  The Haida argue that absent consultation and accommodation, they will win their title but find themselves deprived of forests that are vital to their economy and their culture.  Forests take generations to mature, they point out, and old-growth forests can never be replaced.  The Haida’s claim to title to Haida Gwaii is strong, as found by the chambers judge.  But it is also complex and will take many years to prove.  In the meantime, the Haida argue, their heritage will be irretrievably despoiled.

 


8                                   The government, in turn, argues that it has the right and responsibility to manage the forest resource for the good of all British Columbians, and that until the Haida people formally prove their claim, they have no legal right to be consulted or have their needs and interests accommodated.  

 

9                                   The chambers judge found that the government has a moral, but not a legal, duty to negotiate with the Haida people:  [2001] 2 C.N.L.R. 83, 2000 BCSC 1280.  The British Columbia Court of Appeal reversed this decision, holding that both the government and Weyerhaeuser have a duty to consult with and accommodate the Haida people with respect to harvesting timber from Block 6: (2002), 99 B.C.L.R. (3d) 209, 2002 BCCA 147, with supplementary reasons (2002), 5 B.C.L.R. (4th) 33, 2002 BCCA 462.

 

10                               I conclude that the government has a legal duty to consult with the Haida people about the harvest of timber from Block 6, including decisions to transfer or replace Tree Farm Licences.  Good faith consultation may in turn lead to an obligation to accommodate Haida concerns in the harvesting of timber, although what accommodation if any may be required cannot at this time be ascertained. Consultation must be meaningful.  There is no duty to reach agreement. The duty to consult and, if appropriate, accommodate cannot be discharged by delegation to Weyerhaeuser.  Nor does Weyerhaeuser owe any independent duty to consult with or accommodate the Haida people’s concerns, although the possibility remains that it could become liable for assumed obligations.  It follows that I would dismiss the Crown’s appeal and allow the appeal of Weyerhaeuser.

 


11                               This case is the first of its kind to reach this Court.  Our task is the modest one of establishing a general framework for the duty to consult and accommodate, where indicated, before Aboriginal title or rights claims have been decided.  As this framework is applied, courts, in the age-old tradition of the common law, will be called on to fill in the details of the duty to consult and accommodate.      

 

II.  Analysis

 

A.  Does the Law of Injunctions Govern This Situation?

 

12                               It is argued that the Haida’s proper remedy is to apply for an interlocutory injunction against the government and Weyerhaeuser, and that therefore it is unnecessary to consider a duty to consult or accommodate.  In RJR — MacDonald Inc. v. Canada (Attorney General), [1994] 1 S.C.R. 311, the requirements for obtaining an interlocutory injunction were reviewed.  The plaintiff must establish: (1) a serious issue to be tried; (2) that irreparable harm will be suffered if the injunction is not granted; and (3) that the balance of convenience favours the injunction.

 

13                               It is open to plaintiffs like the Haida to seek an interlocutory injunction.  However, it does not follow that they are confined to that remedy.  If plaintiffs can prove a special obligation giving rise to a duty to consult or accommodate, they are free to pursue these remedies.  Here the Haida rely on the obligation flowing from the honour of the Crown toward Aboriginal peoples.

 


14                               Interlocutory injunctions may offer only partial imperfect relief.  First, as mentioned, they may not capture the full obligation on the government alleged by the Haida.  Second, they typically represent an all-or-nothing solution.  Either the project goes ahead or it halts.  By contrast, the alleged duty to consult and accommodate by its very nature entails balancing of Aboriginal and other interests and thus lies closer to the aim of reconciliation at the heart of Crown-Aboriginal relations, as set out in R. v. Van der Peet, [1996] 2 S.C.R. 507, at para. 31, and Delgamuukw v. British Columbia, [1997] 3 S.C.R. 1010, at para. 186.  Third, the balance of convenience test tips the scales in favour of protecting jobs and government revenues, with the result that Aboriginal interests tend to “lose” outright pending a final determination of the issue, instead of being balanced appropriately against conflicting concerns: J. J. L. Hunter, “Advancing Aboriginal Title Claims after Delgamuukw:  The Role of the Injunction” (June 2000).  Fourth, interlocutory injunctions are designed as a stop-gap remedy pending litigation of the underlying issue.  Aboriginal claims litigation can be very complex and require years and even decades to resolve in the courts.  An interlocutory injunction over such a long period of time might work unnecessary prejudice and may diminish incentives on the part of the successful party to compromise.  While Aboriginal claims can be and are pursued through litigation, negotiation is a preferable way of reconciling state and Aboriginal interests.  For all these reasons, interlocutory injunctions may fail to adequately take account of Aboriginal interests prior to their final determination.

 

15                               I conclude that the remedy of interlocutory injunction does not preclude the Haida’s claim.  We must go further and see whether the special relationship with the Crown upon which the Haida rely gives rise to a duty to consult and, if appropriate, accommodate.  In what follows, I discuss the source of the duty, when the duty arises, the scope and content of the duty, whether the duty extends to third parties, and whether it applies to the provincial government and not exclusively the federal government.  I then apply the conclusions flowing from this discussion to the facts of this case.

 


B.  The Source of a Duty to Consult and Accommodate

 

16                               The government’s duty to consult with Aboriginal peoples and accommodate their interests is grounded in the honour of the Crown. The honour of the Crown is always at stake in its dealings with Aboriginal peoples: see for example R. v. Badger, [1996] 1 S.C.R. 771, at para. 41; R. v. Marshall, [1999] 3 S.C.R. 456.  It is not a mere incantation, but rather a core precept that finds its application in concrete practices.

 

17                               The historical roots of the principle of the honour of the Crown suggest that it must be understood generously in order to reflect the underlying realities from which it stems.  In all its dealings with Aboriginal peoples, from the assertion of sovereignty to the resolution of claims and the implementation of treaties, the Crown must act honourably.  Nothing less is required if we are to achieve “the reconciliation of the pre-existence of aboriginal societies with the sovereignty of the Crown”:  Delgamuukw, supra, at para. 186, quoting Van der Peet, supra, at para. 31.

 


18                               The honour of the Crown gives rise to different duties in different circumstances.  Where the Crown has assumed discretionary control over specific Aboriginal interests, the honour of the Crown gives rise to a fiduciary duty:  Wewaykum Indian Band v. Canada, [2002] 4 S.C.R. 245, 2002 SCC 79, at para. 79.  The content of the fiduciary duty may vary to take into account the Crown’s other, broader obligations.  However, the duty’s fulfilment requires that the Crown act with reference to the Aboriginal group’s best interest in exercising discretionary control over the specific Aboriginal interest at stake.  As explained in Wewaykum, at para. 81, the term “fiduciary duty” does not connote a universal trust relationship encompassing all aspects of the relationship between the Crown and Aboriginal peoples:

 

 . . . “fiduciary duty” as a source of plenary Crown liability covering all aspects of the Crown-Indian band relationship . . . overshoots the mark.  The fiduciary duty imposed on the Crown does not exist at large but in relation to specific Indian interests.

 

Here, Aboriginal rights and title have been asserted but have not been defined or proven.  The Aboriginal interest in question is insufficiently specific for the honour of the Crown to mandate that the Crown act in the Aboriginal group’s best interest, as a fiduciary, in exercising discretionary control over the subject of the right or title.

 

19                               The honour of the Crown also infuses the processes of treaty making and treaty interpretation.  In making and applying treaties, the Crown must act with honour and integrity, avoiding even the appearance of “sharp dealing” (Badger, at para. 41).  Thus in Marshall, supra, at para. 4, the majority of this Court supported its interpretation of a treaty by stating that “nothing less would uphold the honour and integrity of the Crown in its dealings with the Mi’kmaq people to secure their peace and friendship . . .”.

 


20                               Where treaties remain to be concluded, the honour of the Crown requires negotiations leading to a just settlement of Aboriginal claims:  R. v. Sparrow, [1990] 1 S.C.R. 1075, at pp. 1105-6.  Treaties serve to reconcile pre-existing Aboriginal sovereignty with assumed Crown sovereignty, and to define Aboriginal rights guaranteed by s. 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982.  Section 35 represents a promise of rights recognition, and “[i]t is always assumed that the Crown intends to fulfil its promises” (Badger, supra, at para. 41).  This promise is realized and sovereignty claims reconciled through the process of honourable negotiation.  It is a corollary of s. 35 that the Crown act honourably in defining the rights it guarantees and in reconciling them with other rights and interests.  This, in turn, implies a duty to consult and, if appropriate, accommodate.

 

21                               This duty to consult is recognized and discussed in the jurisprudence. In Sparrow, supra, at p. 1119, this Court affirmed a duty to consult with west-coast Salish asserting an unresolved right to fish.  Dickson C.J. and La Forest J. wrote that one of the factors in determining whether limits on the right were justified is “whether the aboriginal group in question has been consulted with respect to the conservation measures being implemented”.

 

22                               The Court affirmed the duty to consult regarding resources to which Aboriginal peoples make claim a few years later in R. v. Nikal, [1996] 1 S.C.R. 1013, where Cory J. wrote:  “So long as every reasonable effort is made to inform and to consult, such efforts would suffice to meet the justification requirement” (para. 110).

 

23                               In the companion case of R. v. Gladstone, [1996] 2 S.C.R. 723, Lamer C.J. referred to the need for “consultation and compensation”, and to consider “how the government has accommodated different aboriginal rights in a particular fishery . . .,  how important the fishery is to the economic and material well-being of the band in question, and the criteria taken into account by the government in, for example, allocating commercial licences amongst different users” (para. 64).

 


24                               The Court’s seminal decision in Delgamuukw, supra, at para. 168, in the context of a claim for title to land and resources, confirmed and expanded on the duty to consult, suggesting the content of the duty varied with the circumstances: from a minimum “duty to discuss important decisions” where the “breach is less serious or relatively minor”; through the “significantly deeper than mere consultation” that is required in “most cases”; to “full consent of [the] aboriginal nation” on very serious issues.  These words apply as much to unresolved claims as to intrusions on settled claims.

 

25                               Put simply, Canada’s Aboriginal peoples were here when Europeans came, and were never conquered.  Many bands reconciled their claims with the sovereignty of the Crown through negotiated treaties.  Others, notably in British Columbia, have yet to do so. The potential rights embedded in these claims are protected by s. 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982.  The honour of the Crown requires that these rights be determined, recognized and respected.  This, in turn, requires the Crown, acting honourably, to participate in processes of negotiation.  While this process continues, the honour of the Crown may require it to consult and, where indicated, accommodate Aboriginal interests.

 

C.  When the Duty to Consult and Accommodate Arises

 


26                               Honourable negotiation implies a duty to consult with Aboriginal claimants and conclude an honourable agreement reflecting the claimants’ inherent rights.  But proving rights may take time, sometimes a very long time.  In the meantime, how are the interests under discussion to be treated?  Underlying this question is the need to reconcile prior Aboriginal occupation of the land with the reality of Crown sovereignty.  Is the Crown, under the aegis of its asserted sovereignty, entitled to use the resources at issue as it chooses, pending proof and resolution of the Aboriginal claim?  Or must it adjust its conduct to reflect the as yet unresolved rights claimed by the Aboriginal claimants?

 

27                               The answer, once again, lies in the honour of the Crown.  The Crown, acting honourably, cannot cavalierly run roughshod over Aboriginal interests where claims affecting these interests are being seriously pursued in the process of treaty negotiation and proof.  It must respect these potential, but yet unproven, interests.  The Crown is not rendered impotent.  It may continue to manage the resource in question pending claims resolution.  But, depending on the circumstances, discussed more fully below, the honour of the Crown may require it to consult with and reasonably accommodate Aboriginal interests pending resolution of the claim.  To unilaterally exploit a claimed resource during the process of proving and resolving the Aboriginal claim to that resource, may be to deprive the Aboriginal claimants of some or all of the benefit of the resource.  That is not honourable.

 


28                               The government argues that it is under no duty to consult and accommodate prior to final determination of the scope and content of the right.  Prior to proof of the right, it is argued, there exists only a broad, common law “duty of fairness”, based on the general rule that an administrative decision that affects the “rights, privileges or interests of an individual” triggers application of the duty of fairness: Cardinal v. Director of Kent Institution, [1985] 2 S.C.R. 643, at p. 653; Baker v. Canada (Minister of Citizenship and Immigration), [1999] 2 S.C.R. 817, at para. 20.  The government asserts that, beyond general administrative law obligations, a duty to consult and accommodate arises only where the government has taken on the obligation of protecting a specific Aboriginal interest or is seeking to limit an established Aboriginal interest.  In the result, the government submits that there is no legal duty to consult and accommodate Haida interests at this stage, although it concedes there may be “sound practical and policy reasons” to do so.

 

29                               The government cites both authority and policy in support of its position.  It relies on Sparrow, supra, at pp. 1110-13 and 1119, where the scope and content of the right were determined and infringement established, prior to consideration of whether infringement was justified.  The government argues that its position also finds support in the perspective of the Ontario Court of Appeal in TransCanada Pipelines Ltd. v. Beardmore (Township) (2000), 186 D.L.R. (4th) 403, which held that “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)” (para. 120).

 

30                               As for policy, the government points to practical difficulties in the enforcement of a duty to consult or accommodate unproven claims.  If the duty to consult varies with the circumstances from a “mere” duty to notify and listen at one end of the spectrum to a requirement of Aboriginal consent at the other end, how, the government asks, are the parties to agree which level is appropriate in the face of contested claims and rights?  And if they cannot agree, how are courts or tribunals to determine this?  The government also suggests that it is impractical and unfair to require consultation before final claims determination because this amounts to giving a remedy before issues of infringement and justification are decided. 

 


31                               The government’s arguments do not withstand scrutiny.  Neither the authorities nor practical considerations support the view that a duty to consult and, if appropriate, accommodate arises only upon final determination of the scope and content of the right.

 

32                               The jurisprudence of this Court supports the view that the duty to consult and accommodate is part of a process of fair dealing and reconciliation that begins with the assertion of sovereignty and continues beyond formal claims resolution.  Reconciliation is not a final legal remedy in the usual sense.  Rather, it is a process flowing from rights guaranteed by s. 35(1) of the Constitution Act, 1982.  This process of reconciliation flows from the Crown’s duty of honourable dealing toward Aboriginal peoples, which arises in turn from the Crown’s assertion of sovereignty over an Aboriginal people and de facto control of land and resources that were formerly in the control of that people.  As stated in Mitchell v. M.N.R., [2001] 1 S.C.R. 911, 2001 SCC 33, at para. 9, “[w]ith this assertion [sovereignty] arose an obligation to treat aboriginal peoples fairly and honourably, and to protect them from exploitation” (emphasis added).

 

33                               To limit reconciliation to the post-proof sphere risks treating reconciliation as a distant legalistic goal, devoid of the “meaningful content” mandated by the “solemn commitment” made by the Crown in recognizing and affirming Aboriginal rights and title: Sparrow, supra, at p. 1108.  It also risks unfortunate consequences.  When the distant goal of proof is finally reached, the Aboriginal peoples may find their land and resources changed and denuded.  This is not reconciliation.   Nor is it honourable.

 


34                               The existence of a legal duty to consult prior to proof of claims is necessary to understand the language of cases like Sparrow, Nikal, and Gladstone, supra, where confirmation of the right and justification of an alleged infringement were litigated at the same time.  For example, the reference in Sparrow to Crown behaviour in determining if any infringements were justified, is to behaviour before determination of the right.  This negates the contention that a proven right is the trigger for a legal duty to consult and if appropriate accommodate even in the context of justification.

 

35                               But, when precisely does a duty to consult arise?  The foundation of the duty in the Crown’s honour and the goal of  reconciliation suggest that the duty arises when the Crown has knowledge, real or constructive, of the potential existence of the Aboriginal right or title and contemplates conduct that might adversely affect it: see Halfway River First Nation v. British Columbia (Ministry of Forests), [1997] 4 C.N.L.R. 45 (B.C.S.C.), at p. 71, per Dorgan J.

 

36                               This leaves the practical argument.  It is said that before claims are resolved, the Crown cannot know that the rights exist, and hence can have no duty to consult or accommodate.  This difficulty should not be denied or minimized.  As I stated (dissenting) in Marshall, supra, at para. 112, one cannot “meaningfully discuss accommodation or justification of a right unless one has some idea of the core of that right and its modern scope”.  However, it will frequently be possible to reach an idea of the asserted rights and of their strength sufficient to trigger an obligation to consult and accommodate, short of final judicial determination or settlement.  To facilitate this determination, claimants should outline their claims with clarity, focussing on the scope and nature of the Aboriginal rights they assert and on the alleged infringements.  This is what happened here, where the chambers judge made a preliminary evidence-based assessment of the strength of the Haida claims to the lands and resources of Haida Gwaii, particularly Block 6.


 

37                               There is a distinction between knowledge sufficient to trigger a duty to consult and, if appropriate, accommodate, and the content or scope of the duty in a particular case.  Knowledge of a credible but unproven claim suffices to trigger a duty to consult and accommodate.  The content of the duty, however, varies with the circumstances, as discussed more fully below.  A dubious or peripheral claim may attract a mere duty of notice, while a stronger claim may attract more stringent duties.  The law is capable of differentiating between tenuous claims, claims possessing a strong prima facie case, and established claims.  Parties can assess these matters, and if they cannot agree, tribunals and courts can assist.  Difficulties associated with the absence of proof and definition of claims are addressed by assigning appropriate content to the duty, not by denying the existence of a duty.

 

38                               I conclude that consultation and accommodation before final claims resolution, while challenging, is not impossible, and indeed is an essential corollary to the honourable process of reconciliation that s. 35 demands.  It preserves the Aboriginal interest pending claims resolution and fosters a relationship between the parties that makes possible negotiations, the preferred process for achieving ultimate reconciliation: see S. Lawrence and P. Macklem, “From Consultation to Reconciliation: Aboriginal Rights and the Crown’s Duty to Consult” (2000), 79 Can. Bar Rev. 252, at p. 262.  Precisely what is required of the government may vary with the strength of the claim and the circumstances.  But at a minimum, it must be consistent with the honour of the Crown.

 

D.  The Scope and Content of the Duty to Consult and Accommodate

 


39                               The content of the duty to consult and accommodate varies with the circumstances.  Precisely what duties arise in different situations will be defined as the case law in this emerging area develops.  In general terms, however, it may be asserted that the scope of the duty is proportionate to a preliminary assessment of the strength of the case supporting the existence of the right or title, and to the seriousness of the potentially adverse effect upon the right or title claimed.

 

40                               In Delgamuukw, supra, at para. 168, the Court considered the duty to consult and accommodate in the context of established claims.  Lamer C.J. wrote:

 

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 lands.

 

41                               Transposing this passage to pre-proof claims, one may venture the following.  While it is not useful to classify situations into watertight compartments, different situations requiring different responses can be identified.  In all cases, the honour of the Crown requires that the Crown act with good faith to provide meaningful consultation appropriate to the circumstances.  In discharging this duty, regard may be had to the procedural safeguards of natural justice mandated by administrative law.   

 


42                               At all stages, good faith on both sides is required.  The common thread on the Crown’s part must be “the intention of substantially addressing [Aboriginal] concerns” as they are raised (Delgamuukw, supra, at para. 168), through a meaningful process of consultation.  Sharp dealing is not permitted.  However, there is no duty to agree; rather, the commitment is to a meaningful process of consultation.  As for Aboriginal claimants, they must not frustrate the Crown’s reasonable good faith attempts, nor should they take unreasonable positions to thwart government from making decisions or acting in cases where, despite meaningful consultation, agreement is not reached: see Halfway River First Nation v. British Columbia (Ministry of Forests), [1999] 4 C.N.L.R. 1 (B.C.C.A.), at p. 44; Heiltsuk Tribal Council v. British Columbia (Minister of Sustainable Resource Management) (2003), 19 B.C.L.R. (4th) 107 (B.C.S.C.).  Mere hard bargaining, however, will not offend an Aboriginal people’s right to be consulted.

 

43                               Against this background, I turn to the kind of duties that may arise in different situations.  In this respect, the concept of a spectrum may be helpful, not to suggest watertight legal compartments but rather to indicate what the honour of the Crown may require in particular circumstances.  At one end of the spectrum lie cases where the claim to title is weak, the Aboriginal right limited, or the potential for infringement minor.  In such cases, the only duty on the Crown may be to give notice, disclose information, and discuss any issues raised in response to the notice.  “‘[C]onsultation’ in its least technical definition is talking together for mutual understanding”: T. Isaac and A. Knox, “The Crown’s Duty to Consult Aboriginal People” (2003), 41 Alta. L. Rev. 49, at p. 61.

 


44                               At the other end of the spectrum lie cases where a strong prima facie case for the claim is established, the right and potential infringement is of high significance to the Aboriginal peoples, and the risk of non-compensable damage is high.  In such cases deep consultation, aimed at finding a satisfactory interim solution, may be required.  While precise requirements will vary with the circumstances, the consultation required at this stage may entail the opportunity to make submissions for consideration, formal participation in the decision-making process, and provision of written reasons to show that Aboriginal concerns were considered and to reveal the impact they had on the decision.  This list is neither exhaustive, nor mandatory for every case. The government may wish to adopt dispute resolution procedures like mediation or administrative regimes with impartial decision-makers in complex or difficult cases.

 

45                               Between these two extremes of the spectrum just described, will lie other situations.  Every case must be approached individually.  Each must also be approached flexibly, since the level of consultation required may change as the process goes on and new information comes to light.  The controlling question in all situations is what is required to maintain the honour of the Crown and to effect reconciliation between the Crown and the Aboriginal peoples with respect to the interests at stake.  Pending settlement, the Crown is bound by its honour to balance societal and Aboriginal interests in making decisions that may affect Aboriginal claims.  The Crown may be required to make decisions in the face of disagreement as to the adequacy of its response to Aboriginal concerns.  Balance and compromise will then be necessary. 

 


46                               Meaningful consultation may oblige the Crown to make changes to its proposed action based on information obtained through consultations.  The New Zealand Ministry of Justice’s Guide for Consultation with Mäori (1997) provides insight (at pp. 21 and 31):

 

Consultation is not just a process of exchanging information.  It also entails testing and being prepared to amend policy proposals in the light of information received, and providing feedback.  Consultation therefore becomes a process which should ensure both parties are better informed . . . . 

 

. . .

 

. . .  genuine consultation means a process that involves . . .:

 

·       gathering information to test policy proposals

·       putting forward proposals that are not yet finalised

·       seeking Mäori opinion on those proposals

·       informing Mäori of all relevant information upon which those proposals are based

·       not promoting but listening with an open mind to what Mäori have to say

·       being prepared to alter the original proposal

·       providing feedback both during the consultation process and after the decision-process.

 

47                               When the consultation process suggests amendment of Crown policy, we arrive at the stage of accommodation.  Thus the effect of good faith consultation may be to reveal a duty to accommodate.  Where a strong prima facie case exists for the claim, and the consequences of the government’s proposed decision may adversely affect it in a significant way, addressing the Aboriginal concerns may require taking steps to avoid irreparable harm or to minimize the effects of infringement, pending final resolution of the underlying claim.  Accommodation is achieved through  consultation, as this Court recognized in R. v. Marshall, [1999] 3 S.C.R. 533, at para. 22:  “. . . the process of accommodation of the treaty right may best be resolved by consultation and negotiation”. 


 

48                               This process does not give Aboriginal groups a veto over what can be done with land pending final proof of the claim.  The Aboriginal “consent” spoken of in Delgamuukw is appropriate only in cases of established rights, and then by no means in every case.  Rather, what is required is a process of balancing interests, of give and take.

 

49                               This flows from the meaning of “accommodate”.  The terms “accommodate” and “accommodation” have been defined as to “adapt, harmonize, reconcile” . . . “an adjustment or adaptation to suit a special or different purpose . . . a convenient arrangement; a settlement or compromise”:  Concise Oxford Dictionary of Current English (9th ed. 1995), at p. 9.  The accommodation that may result from pre-proof consultation is just this — seeking compromise in an attempt to harmonize conflicting interests and move further down the path of reconciliation.  A commitment to the process does not require a duty to agree.  But it does require good faith efforts to understand each other’s concerns and move to address them.

 


50                               The Court’s decisions confirm this vision of accommodation.  The Court in Sparrow raised the concept of accommodation, stressing the need to balance competing societal interests with Aboriginal and treaty rights.  In R. v. Sioui, [1990] 1 S.C.R. 1025, at p. 1072, the Court stated that the Crown bears the burden of proving that its occupancy of lands “cannot be accommodated to reasonable exercise of the Hurons’ rights”.  And in R. v. Côté, [1996] 3 S.C.R. 139, at para. 81, the Court spoke of whether restrictions on Aboriginal rights “can be accommodated with the Crown’s special fiduciary relationship with First Nations”.  Balance and compromise are inherent in the notion of reconciliation.  Where accommodation is required in making decisions that may adversely affect as yet unproven Aboriginal rights and title claims, the Crown must balance Aboriginal concerns reasonably with the potential impact of the decision on the asserted right or title and with other societal interests.

 

51                               It is open to governments to set up regulatory schemes to address the procedural requirements appropriate to different problems at different stages, thereby strengthening the reconciliation process and reducing recourse to the courts.  As noted in R. v. Adams, [1996] 3 S.C.R. 101, at para. 54, the government “may not simply adopt an unstructured discretionary administrative regime which risks infringing aboriginal rights in a substantial number of applications in the absence of some explicit guidance”.  It should be observed that, since October 2002, British Columbia has had a Provincial Policy for Consultation with First Nations to direct the terms of provincial ministries’ and agencies’ operational guidelines.  Such a policy, while falling short of a regulatory scheme, may guard against unstructured discretion and provide a guide for decision-makers.

 

E.  Do Third Parties Owe a Duty to Consult and Accommodate?

 

52                               The Court of Appeal found that Weyerhaeuser, the forestry contractor holding T.F.L. 39, owed the Haida people a duty to consult and accommodate.  With respect, I cannot agree.

 


53                               It is suggested (per Lambert J.A.) that a third party’s obligation to consult Aboriginal peoples may arise from the ability of the third party to rely on justification as a defence against infringement.  However, the duty to consult and accommodate, as discussed above, flows from the Crown’s assumption of sovereignty over lands and resources formerly held by the Aboriginal group.  This theory provides no support for an obligation on third parties to consult or accommodate.  The Crown alone remains legally responsible for the consequences of its actions and interactions with third parties, that affect Aboriginal interests.  The Crown may delegate procedural aspects of consultation to industry proponents seeking a particular development; this is not infrequently done in environmental assessments.  Similarly, the terms of T.F.L. 39 mandated Weyerhaeuser to specify measures that it would take to identify and consult with “aboriginal people claiming an aboriginal interest in or to the area” (Tree Farm Licence No. 39, Haida Tree Farm Licence, para. 2.09(g)(ii)).  However, the ultimate legal responsibility for consultation and accommodation rests with the Crown.  The honour of the Crown cannot be delegated.

 


54                               It is also suggested (per Lambert J.A.) that third parties might have a duty to consult and accommodate on the basis of the trust law doctrine of “knowing receipt”.  However, as discussed above, while the Crown’s fiduciary obligations and its duty to consult and accommodate share roots in the principle that the Crown’s honour is engaged in its relationship with Aboriginal peoples, the duty to consult is distinct from the fiduciary duty that is owed in relation to particular cognizable Aboriginal interests.  As noted earlier, the Court cautioned in Wewaykum against assuming that a general trust or fiduciary obligation governs all aspects of relations between the Crown and Aboriginal peoples.  Furthermore, this Court in Guerin v. The Queen, [1984] 2 S.C.R. 335, made it clear that the “trust-like” relationship between the Crown and Aboriginal peoples is not a true “trust”, noting that “[t]he law of trusts is a highly developed, specialized branch of the law” (p. 386).  There is no reason to graft the doctrine of knowing receipt onto the special relationship between the Crown and Aboriginal peoples.  It is also questionable whether businesses acting on licence from the Crown can be analogized to persons who knowingly turn trust funds to their own ends.

 

55                               Finally, it is suggested (per Finch C.J.B.C.) that third parties should be held to the duty in order to provide an effective remedy.  The first difficulty with this suggestion is that remedies do not dictate liability.  Once liability is found, the question of remedy arises.  But the remedy tail cannot wag the liability dog.  We cannot sue a rich person, simply because the person has deep pockets or can provide a desired result.   The second problem is that it is not clear that the government lacks sufficient remedies to achieve meaningful consultation and accommodation.  In this case, Part 10 of T.F.L. 39 provided that the Ministry of Forests could vary any permit granted to Weyerhaeuser to be consistent with a court’s determination of Aboriginal rights or title. The government may also require Weyerhaeuser to amend its management plan if the Chief Forester considers that interference with an Aboriginal right has rendered the management plan inadequate (para. 2.38(d)).  Finally, the government can control by legislation, as it did when it introduced the Forestry Revitalization Act, S.B.C. 2003, c. 17, which claws back 20 percent of all licensees’ harvesting rights, in part to make land available for Aboriginal peoples.  The government’s legislative authority over provincial natural resources gives it a powerful tool with which to respond to its legal obligations. This, with respect, renders questionable the statement by Finch C.J.B.C. that the government “has no capacity to allocate any part of that timber to the Haida without Weyerhaeuser’s consent or co-operation” ((2002), 5 B.C.L.R. (4th) 33, at para. 119).  Failure to hold Weyerhaeuser to a duty to consult and accommodate does not make the remedy “hollow or illusory”.

 


56                               The fact that third parties are under no duty to consult or accommodate Aboriginal concerns does not mean that they can never be liable to Aboriginal peoples.  If they act negligently in circumstances where they owe Aboriginal peoples a duty of care, or if they breach contracts with Aboriginal peoples or deal with them dishonestly, they may be held legally liable.  But they cannot be held liable for failing to discharge the Crown’s duty to consult and accommodate.

 

F.  The Province’s Duty

 

57                               The Province of British Columbia argues that any duty to consult or accommodate rests solely with the federal government.  I cannot accept this argument. 

58                               The Province’s argument rests on s. 109 of the Constitution Act, 1867, which provides that “[a]ll Lands, Mines, Minerals, and Royalties belonging to the several Provinces of Canada . . . at the Union . . . shall belong to the several Provinces.”  The Province argues that this gives it exclusive right to the land at issue.  This right, it argues, cannot be limited by the protection for Aboriginal rights found in s. 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982.  To do so, it argues, would “undermine the balance of federalism” (Crown’s factum, at para. 96).

 


59                               The answer to this argument is that the Provinces took their interest in land subject to “any Interest other than that of the Province in the same” (s. 109).  The duty to consult and accommodate here at issue is grounded in the assertion of Crown sovereignty which pre-dated the Union.  It follows that the Province took the lands subject to this duty.  It cannot therefore claim that s. 35 deprives it of powers it would otherwise have enjoyed.  As stated in St. Catherine’s Milling and Lumber Co. v. The Queen (1888), 14 App. Cas. 46 (P.C.), lands in the Province are “available to [the Province] as a source of revenue whenever the estate of the Crown is disencumbered of the Indian title” (p. 59).  The Crown’s argument on this point has been canvassed by this Court in Delgamuukw, supra, at para. 175, where Lamer C.J. reiterated the conclusions in St. Catherine’s Milling, supra.  There is therefore no foundation to the Province’s argument on this point.

 

G.  Administrative Review

 

60                               Where the government’s conduct is challenged on the basis of allegations that it failed to discharge its duty to consult and accommodate pending claims resolution, the matter may go to the courts for review.  To date, the Province has established no process for this purpose.  The question of what standard of review the court should apply in judging the adequacy of the government’s efforts cannot be answered in the absence of such a process.  General principles of administrative law, however, suggest the following.

 


61                               On questions of law, a decision-maker must generally be correct: for example, Paul v. British Columbia (Forest Appeals Commission), [2003] 2 S.C.R. 585, 2003 SCC 55.  On questions of fact or mixed fact and law, on the other hand, a reviewing body may owe a degree of deference to the decision-maker.  The existence or extent of the duty to consult or accommodate is a legal question in the sense that it defines a legal duty.  However, it is typically premised on an assessment of the facts.  It follows that a degree of deference to the findings of fact of the initial adjudicator may be appropriate.  The need for deference and its degree will depend on the nature of the question the tribunal was addressing and the extent to which the facts were within the expertise of the tribunal: Law Society of New Brunswick v. Ryan, [2003] 1 S.C.R. 247, 2003 SCC 20; Paul, supra.  Absent error on legal issues, the tribunal may be in a better position to evaluate the issue than the reviewing court, and some degree of deference may be required.  In such a case, the standard of review is likely to be reasonableness. To the extent that the issue is one of pure law, and can be isolated from the issues of fact, the standard is correctness.  However, where the two are inextricably entwined, the standard will likely be reasonableness: Canada (Director of Investigation and Research) v. Southam Inc., [1997] 1 S.C.R. 748.

 

62                               The process itself would likely fall to be examined on a standard of reasonableness.  Perfect satisfaction is not required; the question is whether the regulatory scheme or government action “viewed as a whole, accommodates the collective aboriginal right in question”:  Gladstone, supra, at para. 170.  What is required is not perfection, but reasonableness.  As stated in Nikal, supra, at para. 110, “in . . . information and consultation the concept of reasonableness must come into play. . . . So long as every reasonable effort is made to inform and to consult, such efforts would suffice.”  The government is required to make reasonable efforts to inform and consult.  This suffices to discharge the duty.

 

63                               Should the government misconceive the seriousness of the claim or impact of the infringement, this question of law would likely be judged by correctness.  Where the government is correct on these matters and acts on the appropriate standard, the decision will be set aside only if the government’s process is unreasonable.  The focus, as discussed above, is not on the outcome, but on the process of consultation and accommodation.

 


H.  Application to the Facts

 

(1)  Existence of the Duty

 

64                               The question is whether the Province had knowledge, real or constructive, of the potential existence of Aboriginal right or title and contemplated conduct that might adversely affect them.  On the evidence before the Court in this matter, the answer must unequivocally be “yes”.

 

65                               The Haida have claimed title to all of Haida Gwaii for at least 100 years.  The chambers judge found that they had expressed objections to the Province for a number of years regarding the rate of logging of old-growth forests, methods of logging, and the environmental effects of logging.  Further, the Province was aware since at least 1994 that the Haida objected to replacement of T.F.L. 39 without their consent and without accommodation with respect to their title claims.  As found by the chambers judge, the Province has had available evidence of the Haida’s exclusive use and occupation of some areas of Block 6 “[s]ince 1994, and probably much earlier”.  The Province has had available to it evidence of the importance of red cedar to the Haida culture since before 1846 (the assertion of British sovereignty).

 


66                               The Province raises concerns over the breadth of the Haida’s claims, observing that “[i]n a separate action the Haida claim aboriginal title to all of the Queen Charlotte Islands, the surrounding waters, and the air space. . . .  The Haida claim includes the right to the exclusive use, occupation and benefit of the land, inland waters, seabed, archipelagic waters and air space” (Crown’s factum, at para. 35). However, consideration of the duty to consult and accommodate prior to proof of a right does not amount to a prior determination of the case on its merits.  Indeed, it should be noted that, prior to the chambers judge’s decision in this case, the Province had successfully moved to sever the question of the existence and infringement of Haida title and rights from issues involving the duty to consult and accommodate.  The issues were clearly separate in the proceedings, at the Province’s instigation.

 

67                               The chambers judge ascertained that the Province knew that the potential Aboriginal right and title applied to Block 6, and could be affected by the decision to replace T.F.L. 39.  On this basis, the honour of the Crown mandated consultation prior to making a decision that might adversely affect the claimed Aboriginal title and rights.

 

(2)  Scope of the Duty

 

68                               As discussed above, the scope of the consultation required will be proportionate to a preliminary assessment of the strength of the case supporting the existence of the right or title, and to the seriousness of the potentially adverse effect upon the right or title claimed.

 

(i)    Strength of the Case

 


69                               On the basis of evidence described as “voluminous”, the chambers judge found, at para. 25, a number of conclusions to be “inescapable” regarding the Haida’s claims.  He found that the Haida had inhabited Haida Gwaii continuously since at least 1774, that they had never been conquered, never surrendered their rights by treaty, and that their rights had not been extinguished by federal legislation.  Their culture has utilized red cedar from old-growth forests on both coastal and inland areas of what is now Block 6 of T.F.L. 39 since at least 1846.

 

70                               The chambers judge’s thorough assessment of the evidence distinguishes between the various Haida claims relevant to Block 6.  On the basis of a thorough survey of the evidence, he found, at para. 47:

 

(1) a “reasonable probability” that the Haida may establish title to “at least some parts” of the coastal and inland areas of Haida Gwaii, including coastal areas of Block 6.  There appears to be a “reasonable possibility” that these areas will include inland areas of Block 6;

 

(2) a “substantial probability” that the Haida will be able to establish an aboriginal right to harvest old-growth red cedar trees from both coastal and inland areas of Block 6.

 

The chambers judge acknowledged that a final resolution would require a great deal of further evidence, but said he thought it “fair to say that the Haida claim goes far beyond the mere ‘assertion’ of Aboriginal title” (para. 50).

 

71                               The chambers judge’s findings grounded the Court of Appeal’s conclusion that the Haida claims to title and Aboriginal rights were “supported by a good prima facie case” (para. 49).  The strength of the case goes to the extent of the duty that the Province was required to fulfill.  In this case the evidence clearly supports a conclusion that, pending a final resolution, there was a prima facie case in support of Aboriginal title, and a strong prima facie case for the Aboriginal right to harvest red cedar. 


 

(ii)   Seriousness of the Potential Impact

 

72                               The evidence before the chambers judge indicated that red cedar has long been integral to Haida culture.  The chambers judge considered that there was a “reasonable probability” that the Haida would be able to establish infringement of an Aboriginal right to harvest red cedar “by proof that old-growth cedar has been and will continue to be logged on Block 6, and that it is of limited supply” (para. 48).  The prospect of continued logging of a resource in limited supply points to the potential impact on an Aboriginal right of the decision to replace T.F.L. 39.

 

73                               Tree Farm Licences are exclusive, long-term licences.  T.F.L. 39 grants exclusive rights to Weyerhaeuser to harvest timber within an area constituting almost one quarter of the total land of Haida Gwaii.  The chambers judge observed that “it [is] apparent that large areas of Block 6 have been logged off” (para. 59).  This points to the potential impact on Aboriginal rights of the decision to replace T.F.L. 39.

 

74                               To the Province’s credit, the terms of T.F.L. 39 impose requirements on Weyerhaeuser with respect to Aboriginal peoples.  However, more was required.  Where the government has knowledge of an asserted Aboriginal right or title, it must consult the Aboriginal peoples on how exploitation of the land should proceed.

 


75                               The next question is when does the duty to consult arise?  Does it arise at the stage of granting a Tree Farm Licence, or only at the stage of granting cutting permits?  The T.F.L. replacement does not itself authorize timber harvesting, which occurs only pursuant to cutting permits.  T.F.L. replacements occur periodically, and a particular T.F.L. replacement decision may not result in the substance of the asserted right being destroyed.  The Province argues that, although it did not consult the Haida prior to replacing the T.F.L., it “has consulted, and continues to consult with the Haida prior to authorizing any cutting permits or other operational plans” (Crown’s factum, at para. 64).

 

76                               I conclude that the Province has a duty to consult and perhaps accommodate on T.F.L. decisions.  The T.F.L. decision reflects the strategic planning for utilization of the resource.  Decisions made during strategic planning may have potentially serious impacts on Aboriginal right and title.  The holder of T.F.L. 39 must submit a management plan to the Chief Forester every five years, to include inventories of the licence area’s resources, a timber supply analysis, and a “20-Year Plan” setting out a hypothetical sequence of cutblocks.  The inventories and the timber supply analysis form the basis of the determination of the allowable annual cut (“A.A.C.”) for the licence.  The licensee thus develops the technical information based upon which the A.A.C. is calculated.  Consultation at the operational level thus has little effect on the quantity of the annual allowable cut, which in turn determines cutting permit terms.  If consultation is to be meaningful, it must take place at the stage of granting or renewing Tree Farm Licences.

 


77                               The last issue is whether the Crown’s duty went beyond consultation on T.F.L. decisions, to accommodation.  We cannot know, on the facts here, whether consultation would have led to a need for accommodation.  However, the strength of the case for both the Haida title and the Haida right to harvest red cedar, coupled with the serious impact of incremental strategic decisions on those interests, suggest that the honour of the Crown may well require significant accommodation to preserve the Haida interest pending resolution of their claims.

 

(3)  Did the Crown Fulfill its Duty?

 

78                               The Province did not consult with the Haida on the replacement of T.F.L. 39.  The chambers judge found, at para. 42:

 

[O]n the evidence presented, it is apparent that the Minister refused to consult with the Haida about replacing T.F.L. 39 in 1995 and 2000, on the grounds that he was not required by law to consult, and that such consultation could not affect his statutory duty to replace T.F.L. 39.

 

In both this Court and the courts below, the Province points to various measures and policies taken to address Aboriginal interests.  At this Court, the Province argued that “[t]he Haida were and are consulted with respect to forest development plans and cutting permits. . . . Through past consultations with the Haida, the Province has taken various steps to mitigate the effects of harvesting . . .” (Crown’s factum, at para. 75).  However, these measures and policies do not amount to and cannot substitute for consultation with respect to the decision to replace T.F.L. 39 and the setting of the licence’s terms and conditions.

 

79                               It follows, therefore, that the Province failed to meet its duty to engage in something significantly deeper than mere consultation.  It failed to engage in any meaningful consultation at all.

 

III.  Conclusion

 


80                               The Crown’s appeal is dismissed and Weyerhaeuser’s appeal is allowed.  The British Columbia Court of Appeal’s order is varied so that the Crown’s obligation to consult does not extend to Weyerhaeuser.  The Crown has agreed to pay the costs of the respondents regarding the application for leave to appeal and the appeal.  Weyerhaeuser shall be relieved of any obligation to pay the costs of the Haida in the courts below.  It is not necessary to answer the constitutional question stated in this appeal.


 

Appeal by the Crown dismissed. Appeal by Weyerhaeuser Co. allowed.

 

Solicitors for the appellant the Minister of Forests:  Fuller Pearlman & McNeil, Victoria.

 

Solicitor for the appellant the Attorney General of British Columbia on behalf of Her Majesty the Queen in Right of the Province of British Columbia:  Attorney General of British Columbia, Victoria.

 

Solicitors for the appellant Weyerhaeuser Company Limited:  Hunter Voith, Vancouver.

 

Solicitors for the respondents:  EAGLE, Surrey.

 

Solicitor for the intervener the Attorney General of Canada:  Department of Justice, Vancouver.

 

Solicitor for the intervener the Attorney General of Ontario:  Attorney General of Ontario, Toronto.

 

Solicitor for the intervener the Attorney General of Quebec:  Department of Justice, Sainte-Foy.

 

Solicitor for the intervener the Attorney General of Nova Scotia:  Department of Justice, Halifax.


Solicitor for the intervener the Attorney General for Saskatchewan:  Deputy Attorney General for Saskatchewan, Regina.

 

Solicitor for the intervener the Attorney General of Alberta:  Department of Justice, Edmonton.

 

Solicitors for the interveners the Squamish Indian Band and the Lax‑kw’alaams Indian Band:  Ratcliff & Company, North Vancouver.

 

Solicitors for the intervener the Haisla Nation:  Donovan & Company, Vancouver.

 

Solicitors for the intervener the First Nations Summit:  Braker & Company, West Vancouver.

 

Solicitors for the intervener the Dene Tha’ First Nation:  Cook Roberts, Victoria.

 

Solicitors for the intervener Tenimgyet, aka Art Matthews, Gitxsan Hereditary Chief:  Cook Roberts, Victoria.

 

Solicitors for the interveners the Business Council of British Columbia, the Aggregate Producers Association of British Columbia, the British Columbia and Yukon Chamber of Mines, the British Columbia Chamber of Commerce, the Council of Forest Industries and the Mining Association of British Columbia:  Fasken Martineau DuMoulin, Vancouver.


Solicitors for the intervener the British Columbia Cattlemen’s Association:  McCarthy Tétrault, Vancouver.

 

Solicitors for the intervener the Village of Port Clements:  Rush Crane Guenther & Adams, Vancouver.

 

 

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