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Court challenge to Skeena Cellulose forest license transfer decision by province
23 September 2002

Court challenge to Skeena Cellulose forest license transfer decision by province


The Gitxsan will attempt to quash the provincial government’s decision to transfer the rights to harvest a vast area of timber in northwestern B.C. from one major forest company to another in the BC Supreme Court beginning Sept. 23 in Smithers.

Seven Gitxsan hereditary chiefs, on behalf of all Gitxsan, are petitioning the court to review the decision by the provincial government to transfer control of forest tenure from Skeena Cellulose Inc. to NWBC Timber and Pulp Ltd.

“We are challenging the Minister of Forests’ consent in transferring control,” said Gitxsan lawyer Anuthlem buhn (Gordon Sebastian). “He utterly failed to consult before the transfer took place and by doing so he is in breech of the law according to the Supreme Court of Canada’s Delgamuukw decision.”

The landmark 1997 SCC’s ruling in the Gitxsan court action on aboriginal title, known as the Delgamuukw decision, clearly stated a significant degree of consultation must take place in cases where government decisions impact aboriginal rights.

“We just want fair play in the government dealing with the Gitxsan,” said Anuthlem buhn. “They failed in their legal obligations and we are asking the judge to deal with it by quashing, or staying, the transfer until consultation takes place.”

The decision by the provincial government to approve transfer of the licenses occurred more than three months ago. At the time, the Gitanyow First Nation applied for an injunction to prevent the transfer. The court did not grant an injunction but the quality of consultation was not considered in making that decision.

“We want to challenge this judge to take leadership in implementing the law as described in Delgamuukw and in regards to consultation,” said Anuthlem buhn. “If the unfairness continues in our access to justice then we will have to implement our own laws of no trespass and that won’t be good for anybody.”

The delay of more than three months in having their case heard is also of concern to the hereditary chiefs. While NWBC Timber has negotiated deals with unions and made assumptions about who gets access to the forests of northwest BC, the Gitxsan have been stalled in their attempts to bring their arguments to court.

“Access to justice for aboriginal people is very poor in the province of BC,” said Anuthlem buhn. “The Gitxsan strongly believe the Attorney General, Geoff Plant, has a finger in the delay on this occasion. He was a lawyer acting for the province in the original Delgamuukw case. This makes us wonder about fairness when it took so long to get our day in court.”

The trial is set to run from 10-noon and from 2:00-4:00 p.m. from Sept. 23-27. A delegation of Gitxsan hereditary chiefs and House members will attend the trial. They will sing a Limx ooii in a ceremony to mark the start of the trial at 9:00 a.m., Sept. 23, in front of the court building in Smithers.


For more information:

Wii Eelast (Jim Angus), hereditary chief & petitioner, (250) 842-6780
Tenimgyet (Art Matthews), hereditary chief & petitioner, (250) 842-6780
Yoobx (Elmer Derrick), chief negotiator, Gitxsan Treaty Office, (250) 842-6780
Anuthlem buhn (Gordon Sebastian), lawyer, (250) 842-0078

More information:
Hereditary Chiefs of the Gitxsan
(250) 842-6780