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Court rules Ontario has right to ‘take up’ treaty land for mining, forestry

A clear cut section of forest is seen on Grassy Narrows first nation territory near Dryden, Ont., in this 2006 handout image. Two first nations communities devastated by mercury poisoning nearly 50 years ago are still feeling the impacts from the metal toxins in one of their key water supplies, a world-renowned expert suggested.

HO/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Ontario's highest court has ruled that the province has the right to "take up" treaty land for mining and forestry.

The Grassy Narrows first nation challenged Ontario's right to permit industrial logging on its traditional lands, saying it infringed on their hunting and trapping rights under a treaty they signed in 1873.

The Court of Appeal for Ontario ruled Monday that the province doesn't need the federal government's approval to "take up" the lands – a decision that overturns a lower-court ruling.

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The first nation has spent 13 years in court fighting the province's decision to issue a licence to Resolute Forest Products Canada Inc. – then known as Abitibi-Consolidated Inc. – for clear-cut operations in parts of the Keewatin portion of Treaty 3 territory.

The company pulled out of the Whiskey Jack Forest north of Kenora in 2008, saying it couldn't wait four more years for the province and the first nation to agree on logging practices.

Observers said the lower-court ruling put the validity of forestry and mining licences in jeopardy, and at least one mining company hailed the Appeal Court decision Monday as a positive one for them.

"While Rubicon was not a party to the Keewatin case, the decision of the Ontario Court of Appeal in upholding the jurisdiction of the province of Ontario to issue mining permits is very important for mining companies in Ontario," Rubicon Minerals Corp. said in a statement.

"[The company] firmly believes the application filed by the Wabauskang first nation ... for judicial review of Rubicon's production closure plan for its fully permitted Phoenix Gold Project located in Red Lake, Ont., is without merit."

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