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BC Supreme Court upholds Sinixt hunting rights

A BC Supreme Court judge has upheld a provincial court ruling that members of the Sinixt First Nation who live in the US have a constitutionally protected right to hunt in their traditional territory in Canada.

Washington state resident and Sinixt descendant Rick Desautel was charged in 2010 with hunting without a license in BC.

But he was acquitted in Provincial Court because Judge Lisa Mrozinski said despite the fact the Sinixt were declared extinct in Canada in 1956, they have an aboriginal right to hunt in BC, and provisions in the Wildlife Act unreasonably infringe upon that right.

The Crown appealed the ruling, arguing that aboriginal rights can only be extended to people who live in Canada.

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However, Justice Robert Sewell disagreed and dismissed the appeal.

He wrote: “I find that recognizing that the Sinixt are aboriginal people of Canada … is entirely consistent with the objective of reconciliation established in the jurisprudence. In my view, it would be inconsistent with that objective to deny a right to a group that occupied the land in question in pre-contact times and continued to actively use the territory for some years after the imposition of the international boundary on them.”

In a news release, Desautel said he is “extremely pleased to see the spiritually important decision of the Provincial Court upheld, again confirming our indigenous traditions and natural laws. We intend to continue our work of strengthening ties to both our Canadian territory and the citizens of British Columbia.”

The entire judgement can be viewed here: Judge Sewell, re R. v. Desautel, 12-28

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