Chippewas of Sarnia Band v. Canada (Attorney General)

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Chippewas of Sarnia Band v. Canada (Attorney General), 195 D.L.R. (4th) 135, was a decision of the Court of Appeal for Ontario rendered on December 21, 2000. The plaintiff, an aboriginal nation, claimed aboriginal title to a four-square-mile parcel of land in and around the city of Sarnia, Ontario. The Court of Appeal dismissed the claim, upholding the lower court's judgment although with different reasoning. The Chippewas of Sarnia sought leave from the Supreme Court of Canada to appeal the decision, but leave was denied.

The Chippewas of Sarnia Band, legally an Indian Band pursuant to Canada's Indian Act, is now known as Aamjiwnaang First Nation.

The case is notable for two reasons.

First, the aboriginal group was claiming ownership of privately held land. Previous aboriginal title claims, such as in Delgamuukw v. British Columbia, had asserted title to crown land only, but here, the disputed Sarnia lands had been taken from the aboriginal group and then transferred (mostly) to private individuals and corporations. The Chippewas of Sarnia sought an order that the corporations vacate the land and return it to the Chippewas of Sarnia. With respect to land currently occupied by individuals (i.e. houses), the Chippewas did not ask that it be vacated, but instead sought financial compensation from the government.

Second, the case was certified under the Class Proceedings Act of Ontario for a defendant class. Typically in a class action, it is a plaintiff class that is certified: for example, a large group of individuals who have been wronged by a single corporation, and each individual's claim against the corporation is similar enough that all the claims can be tried together. Here, there was one single plaintiff but many defendants (the putative owners of different sections of the four-square-mile parcel, along with others who had a putative interest to land in the parcel such as mortgagors or others registered pursuant to Ontario's land title system). This demonstrates the flexibility of the Class Proceedings Act.

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