The BC Supreme Court today dismissed the Crown’s appeal of the landmark decision of the Provincial Court of British Columbia in March of 2017, which found that Richard Desautel, a Sinixt descendant and member of the Colville Confederated Tribes in Washington State, had an aboriginal right to hunt in his traditional territory in Canada.
In 2010, Mr. Desautel was charged with hunting elk as a non-resident, and without a license, near Castlegar, B.C., which falls within Sinixt traditional territory that stretches north from the Colville Reservation to the area in and around the Arrow Lakes in British Columbia. Following a lengthy trial held in the fall of 2016, Justice Lisa Mrozinski of the BC Provincial Court held that Sinixt hunting rights endured to the present day, notwithstanding a variety of historical forces which contributed to many Sinixt moving south of what is now the international border, and the introduction of legislation to make it illegal for the Sinixt to hunt in Canada.
The Crown’s appeal was heard by Justice Robert Sewell in September of 2017. In upholding the decision below, Justice Sewell dismissed the Crown’s arguments that recognizing the Sinixt as an Aboriginal Peoples of Canada would undermine the purposes of section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982, and that recognizing Mr. Desautel’s right to hunt would be incompatible with Canadian sovereignty.
Mark Underhill and Kate Phipps of Arvay Finlay LLP represented Mr. Desautel in the B.C. Supreme Court.