May 9/98: Haida challenge BC's logging rights


Vancouver Sun
May 9, 1998, p. B8
Ian Bailey - Canadian Press

[S.I.S.I.S. note: The following mainstream news article may contain biased or distorted information and may be missing pertinent facts and/or context. It is provided for reference only.]

Vancouver - British Columbia's practice of licensing forestry companies to log trees could soon be on trial, says a First Nations lawyer. Bolstered by a Supreme Court ruling, the Haida are considering legal methods to end MacMillan Bloedel's licence to log on about 190,000 hectares of the Queen Charlotte Islands - home to about half of BC's 4,000 Haida. The Haida will decide whether to proceed with legal action after meetings next week, said lawyer Terry-Lynn Williams-Davidson. The BC government has assumed sole ownership of Crown lands and parcelled out large forest tracts to companies for logging.

Canada's top court recently bolstered the Haida's grip on some provincial forests by rejecting an appeal from the BC government and MacBlo. A BC Court of Appeal ruling last November found the Haida's aboriginal rights prevent the province from giving logging companies exclusive rights to cut on Crown land. Next week, Haida leaders will study their legal options, which range from injunctions to asking a judge to review the legality of the licences. But Ron Brown, president of the Haida Nation, spoke Friday as if a decision had already been made. "It would be a definite that we will go to court and finish off [Macmillan Bloedel's] licence."

As well, Brown said the Haida will sue for past damages caused by logging. "What's at stake ultimately is the Haida culture," said Williams-Davidson, "the continuing right of Haida people to access our forests to keep our culture alive." She said the exclusive nature of the licensing system is at odds with aboriginal title, creating the prospect for "fundamental change." A spokeswoman for MacMillan Bloedel said Friday the company will take no position on the issue, noting the Haida are entitled to act as they see fit.

"It's an issue between the Haida and the BC government," said Virginia Aulin. The BC government maintains the Haida Nation must prove its claim to the land before the government's authority to issue licences is constrained.

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