The Supreme Court of Canada agreed this year to hear the provincial government’s appeal of a Sinixt hunting case that has been in the news for several years. The result will have major implications for the Sinixt and for aboriginal rights across the country.
Successive judges in the B.C. Provincial Court, B.C. Supreme Court and B.C. Court of Appeal have all ruled that Richard Desautel, a Sinixt man living in Washington state, had an aboriginal right to hunt an elk he shot near Castlegar in 2017, and that the B.C. hunting laws he was charged with are an infringement of that right.
Sinixt traditional territory straddles the U.S.-Canada border. The federal government declared the Sinixt extinct in Canada in 1956. As a result, the Sinixt, most of whom live in Washington state, have no rights, status, or citizenship north of the border.
But the court decisions in the Desautel case state the Sinixt are legitimately aboriginal people under the Constitution of Canada.
In response to each court defeat, the provincial government, which originally charged Desautel with hunting as a non-resident and without a licence, appealed to a higher court only to lose each time.
If the Supreme Court of Canada court sides with the Sinixt, their extinct status could be overturned, according to their lawyer, Mark Underhill. In fact, he says it has already been overturned.
“The evidence is that this was their territory, that is a proven fact now,” he told the Star in October, referring to the B.C. Court of Appeal decision currently under appeal. “The extinction declaration is done, it is history, from our point of view. So it disappointing to have the provincial government continue to fight this.”
The date of the hearing at the Supreme Court of Canada has not been announced.