A map showing the Wolastoqey Nation’s title claim in New Brunswick. Brunswick News

New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs says his Progressive Conservative government has filed a court action to protect the property rights of hundreds of thousands of ordinary citizens who he says are threatened by a big Indigenous title claim.

But a lawyer for the six First Nations that dot the St. John River dismissed the premier’s assertion, arguing the lawsuit wouldn’t affect the homes and businesses of ordinary people.

On Thursday, the provincial government filed a motion asking the Court of King’s Bench in Fredericton to amend a giant title claim made by the Wolastoqey Nation in New Brunswick. If granted, it would exclude more than 250,000 properties owned by individuals who are not parties to the claim and unrepresented in the proceedings.

Since filing the claim in late 2021 that covers mostly the western portion of New Brunswick, several Wolastoqey chiefs, including Patricia Bernard of Matawaskiye (Madawaska Maliseet First Nation), have said they are not interested in taking over people’s private homes or businesses, but want a bigger say on public, or Crown lands, and land controlled by big forestry companies and NB Power.

Higgs and Attorney General Ted Flemming have rejected these arguments, promising a court battle.

“It is the responsibility of any premier and any government to protect the people of the province,” said Higgs in a news release issued Thursday. “Across more than half of our province, hundreds of thousands of New Brunswickers are at risk of having their property impacted by this unprecedented claim in which they have been denied any standing or representation. The plaintiffs have dismissed the fears of these New Brunswickers, which is why our government is taking this action to ensure the plaintiff’s legal claim reflects their statements.”

The premier added that any public statements by the Wolastoqey that their claim will not affect private landowners “is not adequately reflected in the legal documents they filed with the court. If successful, the Wolastoqey would have the right to exclusive use and occupation of all lands in their claim.”

But the lawyer representing the Indigenous leaders said the premier’s statement was patently false.

“The Wolastoqey chiefs have consistently said that they are not seeking to displace New Brunswickers or otherwise impact their property rights,” said Renée Pelletier, an Indigenous lawyer with OKT in Toronto. “That is consistent with what is actually written in our statement of claim.” 

In the second paragraph of their statement of claim, the chiefs said they did not want compensation from ordinary property owners. Instead, they said they wanted damages and fair compensation from the province and Canada for allowing their land to go to those ordinary citizens without respecting Aboriginal title.

The Wolastoqey Nation filed its lawsuit against the provincial government, the federal government, NB Power and 25 private property owners, including J.D. Irving, Limited, Acadian Timber and Twin Rivers. The government news release claimed that the motion filed by the province would not affect the status of any of the defendants named in the title claim.

The forest industry alone in New Brunswick is worth $1.5 billion a year, according to a State of the Forest report released by the province on Thursday.

“The government’s motion is only focused on protecting the unnamed owners and in no way limits any claims to damages against the provincial or federal governments that may be Crown responsibility, if proven,” the release stated. “The province is currently preparing a defence against the overall Wolastoqey claim, which has yet to be tested in court.”

By John Chilibeck, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Aug 25, 2023 at 07:33

This item reprinted with permission from   The Daily Gleaner   Fredericton, New Brunswick

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