Quebec Cree say top court's decision a victory for Indigenous communities

·3 min read

The Quebec Cree Nation government says the Supreme Court of Canada's refusal to consider an appeal in connection with a $200 million lawsuit against the government of Quebec gives more power to Indigenous communities across Canada to stop resource projects in their tracks. It said it also strengthens the legal notion that social acceptability is an essential requirement for developers.

In a decision released Oct. 15, the Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal by Strateco Resources, which sued over Quebec's 2013 decision to stop a uranium project near the Cree community of Mistissini that didn't have local or Cree Nation government support.

Both the Quebec Superior Court and the Quebec Court of Appeal upheld the notion that the province was allowed to consider social acceptability in refusing to issue a permit to Strateco's Matoush Project.

Social acceptability is now the law of the land. - Bill Namagoose, ex. dir. Cree Nation government

"According to our interpretation ... the [lower court] interpretations that the project should not be built because it lacked social acceptability is now the law of the land," said Bill Namagoose, executive director of the Cree Nation Government.

With its lawsuit, the company was trying to recover what it said it invested in the project over seven years plus damages, according to Strateco Resources president and CEO, Guy Hébert.

He added that up to the final no from the then Parti Québécois government in 2013, Strateco received 26 different permits and licenses allowing it to move ahead.

The court rulings at all levels send a very bad message to those thinking of investing in Quebec, according to Hébert.

"You can lose your money overnight because of a change in government. You have zero protection. A lot of foreign investors will think twice before investing in Quebec," said Hébert, adding he is disappointed by the Supreme Court's decision not to hear the appeal.

"I thought it was in the national interest."

Strateco Resources
Strateco Resources

For Namagoose, the court decisions set an important precedent in Quebec and Canadian law.

"It strengthens... average communities against developers who had free rein for such a long time. Now they have something to constrain them," said Namagoose.

It is also a significant affirmation of the Cree Nation's treaty rights under the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement, according to Grand Chief Abel Bosum.

"For the Cree Nation, this case has always been about more than just the Matoush Project," he said in a press release.

Strateco Resources is currently under bankruptcy protection. Hébert said the company still owns the claims to the Matoush Project and is hoping to sell them if another firm wanted to take another try at getting approval.

It's something Bill Namagoose said will never happen.

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"His assets are...totally worthless," said Namagoose. "This project was declared dead by the three levels of a court system and the Cree Nation Government and the Cree Nation people will not change their mind.

"He's dreaming in technicolor," said Namagoose.