Amnesty International is represented in this case by Perri Ravon, Ryan Beaton, Audrey Mayrand, and Francis Larocque.
WHAT IS THIS CASE ABOUT?
A group of Innu claimed Aboriginal land rights to the Nitassinan territory, which overlaps both Quebec and Labrador. In an application to the Superior Court of Quebec, the Innu claimed that the activities of two corporations, the Iron Ore Company of Canada and the Quebec North Shore and Labrador Railway Company were causing social, cultural, spiritual, and economic damage to their communities, preventing them from practicing their traditional way of life, for which the companies were civilly liable.
The Attorney General of Newfoundland and Labrador (NL) then filed an application to remove Labrador from this proceeding, taking the position that the Superior Court of Quebec lacked jurisdiction over the aspects of the claim that concerned Labrador. The Court held that, per the Civil Code of Quebec, Quebec courts do have jurisdiction, since the companies had head offices in Quebec and since part of the injury was suffered in Quebec. The Attorney General of NL appealed the Court’s decision at the Quebec Court of Appeal, who dismissed the appeal on the grounds that the Superior Court of Quebec was in fact the court of competent jurisdiction given the substantial connection with Quebec and in light of the particular nature of Indigenous rights. The Court of Appeal also noted that it would be against the interests of access to justice and proportionality to sever Labrador from the claim of the Innu. That is, it would be too onerous to expect the Innu to bring forward the same claims in two different provinces, and so they should be able to bring their claim in full to the Superior Court of Quebec. The Court of Appeal also held that the doctrine of interprovincial jurisdictional immunity does not bar Quebec courts from having jurisdiction.
Leave to appeal the Quebec Court of Appeal decision was granted to the Attorney General of NL by the Supreme Court of Canada in November 2018.
AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL’S LEGAL CHALLENGE
Amnesty International’s submissions at the Supreme Court emphasized the importance of Canada’s international human rights obligations, particularly those surrounding Indigenous peoples and their land rights. We argued that the right to an effective remedy is guaranteed to Indigenous peoples under international law for violations of their rights to lands, territories and resources. The right to an effective remedy is codified in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and other international human rights instruments to which Canada is bound.
The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) also protects Indigenous peoples’ right to redress, right to just and fair procedures for the resolution of conflicts, and right to effective remedies for the infringement of their land rights. We thus argued that Canada’s international legal obligation to guarantee an effective remedy to Indigenous peoples should inform the Court’s interpretations in this case.
Ultimately, Canada’s international obligations require Canada to guarantee the Innu respondents the right to an effective remedy, taking into account the vulnerabilities of Indigenous claimants and their rights to just and fair procedures under UNDRIP. The Innu should be allowed to present a coherent body of evidence that is not restricted by provincial boundaries, as Indigenous peoples’ right to lands and territory derive from their prior ownership under their own systems of land and are therefore not subject to provincial borders. Disallowing allegations relating to Labrador territory would undermine their ability to obtain redress against the corporations in either Quebec or NL, thus inhibiting their ability to access an effective remedy, which would constitute a violation of international law.
STATUS OF THE CASE
The Supreme Court of Canada heard the appeal on 24 April 2019. The Supreme Court upheld the decision of the lower courts, holding that Quebec courts do in fact have the jurisdiction to make a declaration about aboriginal rights and title over the Innu’s traditional territory even though part of that territory falls into Labrador. The Court focused their analysis of the issues, including the right to accessing an effective remedy, through the lens of reconciliation and the obligation of the Crown to act honourably within its relationship with Indigenous peoples.
Newfoundland and Labrador (Attorney General) v. Uashaunnuat (Innu of Uashat and of Mani‑Utenam) (Supreme Court of Canada, February 21, 2020)
Factum of the Intervener, by Amnesty International Canada (10 April 2019)
Leave to Appeal at the Supreme Court of Canada (15 November 2018)
Procureur général de Terre-Neuve-et-Labrador c. Uashaunnuat (Innus de Uashat et de Mani-Utenam) (Quebec Court of Appeal, 20 October 2017)
Uashaunnuat (Innus de Uashat et de Mani-Utenam) c. Compagnie minière IOC inc. (Iron Ore Company of Canada) (Superior Court of Quebec, 19 October 2016)
“Supreme Court to hear latest challenge in dispute between Innu and Rio Tinto” (15 November 2018)