OTTAWA—A Quebec First Nation has filed a lawsuit seeking aboriginal title over much of downtown Ottawa, including Parliament Hill.
“The Algonquin Anishinabe Nation has never surrendered its title to the Kichi Sibi lands,” says the band’s statement of claim filed Wednesday in Ontario’s Superior Court.
The claim includes islands in the Ottawa River, as well as a long portion of its south bank that includes Parliament, the Supreme Court, the National Library and the Canadian War Museum. It stretches southwest along the river to include LeBreton Flats, federally owned land that is the proposed site for major new developments that could include a new hockey arena for the NHL’s Ottawa Senators.
That proposed development is a key reason why the lawsuit has been filed now, said Eamon Murphy, lawyer for the Anishinabe.
“These LeBreton lands, for the very first time in well over a hundred years, are vacant. (The band is) looking at them and saying these lands have been occupied for a very long time — it’s now time that our title’s dealt with before the next project happens and the lands are sold off again.”
The band argues that the Anishinabe once used the land for fishing, hunting, farming and camping. It maintains the band not only used those lands, but controlled who had access to them.
“The Algonquin Anishinabe Nation controlled occupation and use of their lands … through a variety of means which included arrangements for temporary possession, but also, in the absence of an arrangement, sanctions of increasing severity up to and including death to any invader.”
The statement of claim says that, although the band signed agreements with various other First Nations and European countries, all those agreements were made on the basis of the band retaining its land. Since then, the band says, Canada has wrongly used and sold off that land.
“Canada and/or its agent (the National Capital Commission) have never compensated the Algonquin Anishinabe Nation for any of the federal interferences, either fairly or at all.”
The lawsuit seeks to have the aboriginal title recognized. It also seeks negotiations with both the federal government and the province of Ontario, which is also named in the suit.
“Canada has a fiduciary duty to negotiate in good faith with the Algonquin Anishinabe Nation … for reconciliation of aboriginal title to the federal Kichi Sibi lands or any portion of them,” the lawsuit says.
None of the claims has been proven in court. A statement of defence has yet to be filed.
Murphy said it’s too early to suggest what kind of settlement the band might seek.
“The first thing they want is for the court to say, ‘You’ve got title to these lands.’ What happens after that … we’ll see.
Ottawa isn’t the first Canadian city to face a claim that the land it sits on belongs to First Nations.
In Winnipeg, First Nations won a legal victory in 2015 when the Federal Court of Appeal ruled they hadn’t been consulted enough over federal plans to sell off former military barracks. The site was claimed by four First Nations that said they didn’t receive the full amount of land they were promised under Treaty 1.
Vancouver’s Tsawwassen First Nation signed British Columbia’s first urban treaty in 2007, which gave the band 724 hectares of land, harvest rights to fish and other resources and a one-time cash payment of $33.6 million, along with another $2.9 million annually for five years.