Richard Desautel at the Nelson courthouse in 2017. Photo: Bill Metcalfe

Richard Desautel at the Nelson courthouse in 2017. Photo: Bill Metcalfe

UPDATED: Supreme Court of Canada agrees to hear B.C.’s appeal in Kootenay aboriginal rights case

Decision could reverse the Sinixt people’s status as extinct in Canada

The Supreme Court of Canada has given the B.C. government the go-ahead to appeal an aboriginal hunting case that started in a Nelson court almost three years ago.

Richard Desautel, a Sinixt man who lives in Washington State, was charged in B.C. with hunting without a licence and hunting without being a resident. He was acquitted in B.C. Provincial Court in Nelson in 2017.

The judge found that Desautel had an aboriginal right to hunt in the Sinixt traditional territory, which straddles the U.S.-Canada border, and that the B.C. hunting laws he was charged with are an infringement of that right.

The Sinixt were declared extinct in Canada in 1956. The 2017 decision potentially opened the door to Sinixt rights and status in Canada.

The provincial government appealed the case to the B.C. Supreme Court and lost.

The court decision stated that the Sinixt are legitimately aboriginal people under the Constitution of Canada.

The province appealed that decision to the B.C. Court of Appeal and lost again.

The province then applied to the Supreme Court of Canada for leave to appeal.

Mark Underhill, lawyer for the Sinixt, told the Star the province’s main argument is that because the Sinixt are American citizens they can’t hold rights in Canada.

If the court agrees, that will be the end of the matter, Underhill said.

But if the court sides with the Sinixt, their extinct status could be overturned. In fact, Underhill says it has already been overturned.

“The evidence is that this was their territory, that is a proven fact now,” he said, referring to the B.C. Court of Appeal decision currently under appeal. “The extinction declaration is done, it is history, from our point of view. So it disappointing to have the provincial government continue to fight this.”

Asked by the Star for the reason the province is pursuing the case, the provincial Attorney General’s office said it would not comment because the matter is before the courts.

MLAs Katrine Conroy and Michelle Mungall, in whose ridings much of the Sinixt traditional territory sits, were not available for comment.

On Thursday the B.C. legislature formally recognized the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People.

Underhill said there is considerable interest in this appeal from other First Nations groups whose territory crosses the international border in eastern Canada and in the Yukon. He said he expects some of them to intervene in the case.

The date of the Supreme Court of Canada hearing has not been announced.

Related:

• Sinixt hunter acquitted in Nelson court

• U.S. hunter defends Sinixt rights in Nelson court

• Province loses Sinixt hunting appeal

• B.C. appeals Sinixt hunting case again

• B.C.’s top court upholds Sinixt rights in elk-hunting case

• Canada’s top court asked to hear appeal of Sinixt man’s hunting rights

• B.C. to be first to implement UN Indigenous rights declaration

This story was updated on Oct. 25 to include all of the material following the first mention of lawyer Mark Underhill.



bill.metcalfe@nelsonstar.com

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