For immediate release
June 27, 2006
Court overturns Métis hunting rights in Okanagan Nation Territory
VERNON, B.C.: The BC Supreme Court yesterday handed down a decision in the Métis hunting rights case R. v. Willison, ruling that Métis peoples do not have an aboriginal right to hunt in the Okanagan region. The Okanagan Nation Alliance (ONA) had intervened.
“We are extremely pleased with this result” said Chief Stewart Phillip. “We intervened in this case because our histories show clearly that the Métis never established a community in Okanagan territory. Métis people have moved to the Okanagan recently from elsewhere, and the Court agreed that they do not have an independent constitutional right to use the land and resources in Okanagan Territory.”
On November 26, 2000 Gregory Willison was charged with shooting a deer out of season and hunting without a licence near Falkland. At his Provincial Court trial he successfully argued that as a Métis person he had a constitutional right to hunt in the Okanagan region. The Provincial Court decision (R. v. Willison 2005 BCPC 131) set a precedent as the first decision finding a Métis hunting right in B.C.
During the hotly contested appeal, the ONA and the Province’s lawyers argued that the Provincial Court judge made a fundamental error in finding that there was an historic rights bearing Métis community in the Okanagan Valley in the period when the Hudson’s Bay Company flourished. Proof of an historic Métis community is an essential part of the test stated by the Supreme Court of Canada in the decision of R. v. Powley, 2003 SCC 43 for proof of a Métis right. The evidence established that it was the ancestors of the ONA who lived in and controlled the lands and resources throughout the Okanagan region prior to the 1860’s, and that the Métis presence was limited to a few temporary employees attached to Hudson Bay Company fur trading posts.
Mr. Justice Williamson of the BC Supreme Court noted that “the evidence demonstrates … that there were a small number of Métis present in the area for a relatively short period of time”, he overturned the Provincial Court judge and ruled that there was no persuasive evidence of an historic Métis community in the Okanagan region. He went on to also rule that there was insufficient evidence of a contemporary Métis community in the Okanagan.
Chief Stewart Phillip said, “The Okanagan First Nations were denied an opportunity to present our evidence before the Provincial Court, and were forced to intervene in the BC Supreme Court to make our voice heard. If a Métis person wants to hunt in Okanagan territory, the ONA has a protocol in place. This is a matter of respect.”
For more information contact:
Chief Stewart Phillip, Okanagan Nation Alliance (250) 490-5314