Three Sto:lo First Nations fighting in court for the return of lands that once formed part of CFB Chilliwack say a B.C. Supreme Court Justice ruled in their favour last Friday.
“This victory clears the way for us to proceed with the litigation to get our lands back,” said Joe Hall, Sto:lo Nation president and spokesman for the Tzeachten, Skowkale and Yakweakwioose First Nations.
“It’s certainly a positive step that will hopefully get us the litigation we’ve been trying to get,” he told The Progress on Tuesday.
The contested lands are east of Vedder Road, and do not include the Garrison Crossing housing development and other developed lands on the west side of Vedder Road.
Hall said a Canada Lands Company application to dismiss the First Nations’ action was thrown out last Friday by the B.C. Supreme Court Justice, who stated that the case “raises serious questions of law and general importance.”
But CLC spokesman Randy Fasan questioned the provincial court’s jurisdiction in a matter that has already been decided by a federal court.
He said the Sto:lo lost an appeal of the federal court’s decision in the Supreme Court of Canada.
Now the Sto:lo have turned to the provincial court, which on Friday quashed the CLC’s application to dismiss the action sought by the three First Nations.
Hall said although an earlier judicial review suggested the First Nations could seek monetary compensation for the lands, “it’s not the money, but the land that’s important.”
The lands in question were once part of existing reserves that were drastically redrawn and reduced in size by the BC government in 1868 without the consent of the First Nations.
In June, 2000, the federal treasury board rejected four native land claims on the military base, and moved to turn the entire 260-hectare property over to the Canada Lands Company for redevelopment.
The military base had closed in August, 1997 and thus became surplus federal property open to native land claims.
In his reasons for judgment, Justice Bruce Butler said the case “raises novel and complex issues regarding aboriginal title and the remedies that might be available to First Nations claimants in circumstances where land has been transferred to third parties with full knowledge of the claimants’ alleged interest in the land.”
“The novelty of the claim is not, however, a reason to strike (dismiss) the claim,” he added. “A claim should only be struck where it is plain and obvious that the pleadings disclose no reasonable cause of action.”
Butler said he would recommend the Chief Justice arrange for the “early assignment of a trial judge” to decide if additional parties or amendments to the pleadings are required in further court proceedings.
He said the federal court’s earlier dismissal of the Tzeachten appeal “does not dispose of any claim the Tzeachten may assert” for compensation or for Aboriginal title.
“The matter of compensation remains open to negotiation or litigation in relation to either of those claims,” he ruled.