MP McLeod calls on Ottawa to defend private property rights in wake of title declaration by bands

McLeod said ranchers and farmers are rightfully concerned about the impact on their lands and livelihood

By Kamloops This Week

The Conservative MP for Kamloops-Thompson-Cariboo is urging the federal Liberal government to defend the rights of private property owners in B.C. in the wake of the recent decision by two First Nation bands to declare title on private property in Kamloops.

The civil suit by the Tk’emlúps and Skeetchestn Indian bands (collectively known as Stk’emlupsemc te Secwepemc Nation, or SSN) seeks to declare aboriginal title over private property owned by mining company KGHM Ajax, including Jacko Lake, which the SSN claims is important to the First Nations culture. The claim also affects other private property in Kamloops.

“We recognize that there is work to do towards resolving longstanding land claims,” McLeod said.

“However, every federal government in the past has been unequivocal that private-property rights are not on the table. That is why it is deeply concerning to hear the justice minister [Jody Wilson-Raybould] say that when it comes to the federal government’s litigation strategy, they will be ‘potentially changing [their] approach’.”

The B.C. government will “vigorously oppose” an aboriginal title claim on land owned by  KGHM Ajax, the company that wants to build a copper and gold mine south of Aberdeen.

In a release, the Ministry of Justice said it had filed a response to a title claim made by the  Stk’emlupsemc of the Secwepemc Nation (SSN) last fall, which included Jacko Lake and other land where KGHM Ajax hopes to build its open-pit mine.

The Stk’emlupsemc of the Secwepemc Nation is comprised of the Tk’emlups and Skeetchestn Indian bands.

At the time of its claim last fall, Skeetchestn Chief Ron Ignace told KTW his band and the Tk’emlups Indian Band want the right to dictate how the land is used and have concerns about the environmental implications of the Ajax mine.

The lake, which SSN calls Pipsell, is also the site of epic Secwepemc story, The Trout Children, according to a Simon Fraser University researcher.

In January, the B.C. government announced it will “vigorously oppose a declaration that has the potential to create uncertainty over the land base and for private property owners across this territory.”

While a landmark Supreme Court of Canada decision in 2014 granted the Tsilhqot’in First Nation title to more than 1,750 square kilometres of land west of Williams Lake, that title claim did not deal with private property.

Kamloops-North Thompson MLA and Health Minister Terry Lake has because of the private property it includes, the Jacko Lake claim is “unlike any rights and title claim in the past,” noting while the claim centres on the Ajax site, it also includes much of the Kamloops area.

McLeod said ranchers and farmers are rightfully concerned about the impact on their lands and their livelihood as a result of this lawsuit.

“While the premier of British Columbia [Christy Clark] has said she will fight for private-property rights, it is disappointing that the government in Ottawa has left private land owners in limbo,” McLeod said.

“We call on the government to stop hiding behind the courts and defend the rights of private-property owners in British Columbia.”