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Vancouver Island First Nation awarded $13.9-million over logging rights

The remains of freshly cut old growth cedar forests are seen on Vancouver Island, B.C., on Sept. 29, 2011.

JONATHAN HAYWARD/THE CANADIAN PRESS

A Vancouver Island First Nation has been awarded $13.9 million after a tribunal ruled Canada "failed completely" in its duty to consult over a logging licence.

The Huu-ay-aht First Nation was awarded the compensation by the specific claims tribunal, a panel that decides First Nations' claims. The tribunal ruled in 2014 that Canada breached its fiduciary duty to the community.

The ruling says in 1938, the Huu-ay-aht, located on the west coast of Vancouver Island, surrendered all its marketable timber on its largest reserve to Canada. The federal government agreed to sell the timber on terms "most conducive" to the First Nation's welfare.

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The federal government issued a logging licence to a company called BSW Ltd. in 1942 with a special condition that allowed it a 21-year term that could be renewed, the ruling says.

When the Huu-ay-aht learned of the licence in 1948, the nation petitioned the government to cancel the agreement. The First Nation argued it would not fully benefit from the lumber sales and under the Indian Act licences can only be granted for one year.

Canada allowed BSW to continue logging until 1969, and Judge Larry Whalen ruled in 2014 the government had committed multiple breaches of fiduciary duty.

Whalen wrote the government's breaches included agreeing to the special condition in the first place and the ongoing failure to consult. Once alerted to the illegality of the renewable 21-year term, Canada should have cancelled the sale or revoked the underlying licence, he wrote.

Chief Councillor Robert Dennis said the ruling marked a great day for the Huu-ay-aht.

"Justice has been served almost 68 years after Canada refused to protect our timber interests," he said in a statement.

"We are hopeful that the Minister of Indigenous Affairs Caroline Bennett and the Minister of Justice Jody Wilson-Raybould will choose the path of reconciliation over the path of court appeals. Together we have an opportunity to advance the important work of long-term reconciliation."

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