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10.04.10

CANADA. New Brunswick natives launch $13 billion lawsuit against feds for genocide

Categories: Genocidio, Canada

Three New Brunswick men are among four parties planning to take legal action against the federal government, seeking $13 billion in damages on behalf of New Brunswick's aboriginals for the "tort of genocide" and loss of native land.

Jackie Vautour and his son Roy, who have long fought to receive Metis constitutional rights, are among the plaintiffs listed on a notice of action made public at a news conference in Ottawa on Friday.

The notice also lists as plaintiffs hereditary chief Stephen J. Augustine, an Elsipogtog band member who lives in the Ottawa area, and the New Brunswick-based East Coast First People Alliance.

The notice, which by late Friday still hadn't been filed with the New Brunswick Court of Queen's Bench in Moncton, was announced at a news conference in Ottawa earlier in the day.

Margot Geduld, spokeswoman for the federal Department of Indian and Northern Affairs, told the Telegraph-Journal on Friday that "the government of Canada has not received the alleged notice of action" and declined to "comment at this time."

The notice of action states that the plaintiffs are "entitled to damages in the amount of $13 billion for the tort of genocide committed since 1610 and continuing and ongoing to this day."

In law, a tort is defined as a breach of duty.

The plaintiffs' lawyer, Michael Swinwood, said the claim includes the weighty term because the plaintiffs contend that the United Nations' definition of genocide — as defined by committing any one of five acts, including causing of serious "mental harm" — applies to the injustices endured by the indigenous peoples of New Brunswick.

"Over the course of over 400 years, indigenous people were displaced from their way of life, from their economic base, from all things that they had been accustomed to and placed them into a third-world conditions and this continues today," he said in an interview.

"The relationship is informed by a consciousness of genocide and it's evident everywhere — in the hunting and fishing, in the forestry, in the sharing of the resources."

Swinwood, who is based in Ottawa and works for a non-profit organization called Elders Without Borders, said the $13 billion is an attempt to quantify the damages dating back several centuries, to the arrival of Europeans during the early 17th century.

He said the plaintiffs believe $13 billion would enable the indigenous peoples of New Brunswick to "establish a leg-up" economically. "This is something we would quantify when we went to trial, but the vision here is that it would make for an even playing field in an economic sense."

The notice of action also declares that the existence of Metis people in New Brunswick should be recognized, and that the plaintiffs are entitled to a stay of proceedings for all prosecutions for contraventions of hunting, fishing and forestry regulations until the civil suit is settled.

Augustine said that if the legal action is successful, he hopes the money would be used to improve the quality of life for aboriginals in New Brunswick.

"I think it would end up being a fund that would contribute to developing education, schools, improving social conditions in native and Metis communities, building cultural centres where people can enjoy and exercise their traditions," he told reporters at a news conference in Ottawa.

Jackie Vautour has for decades espoused his Metis heritage. Vautour and his family refused to leave Kouchibouguac National Park in 1960s when it was first created. They've been living there ever since, despite confrontations with authorities over their right to live off the land.

Chief Jesse Simon of Elsipogtog First Nation, New Brunswick's largest aboriginal community, said Friday that, even though the notice of action includes all aboriginal people of New Brunswick and explicitly names the Mi'kmaq people, he hadn't had been consulted or made aware of the intended legal action.

He was surprised to hear about it.

"They obviously didn't consult the chiefs on it because I don't know about it and I'm (chief of) the biggest First Nation in New Brunswick," he said.

Daniel Theriault, a Fredericton-based lawyer who specializes in aboriginal law and treaty rights, said the notice of action is unusual both in its large amount for damages sought and in its reference to the "tort of genocide.

"I've never seen a cause of action framed by the tort of genocide," he said. "I would say it's a first in New Brunswick, if not in Atlantic Canada — as far as I'm aware, it's a first."

By Jennifer Pritchett, Telegraph-JournalApril 9, 2010

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