The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the Organization of American States (OAS) will hear a complaint brought by six First Nations that charges Canada with the uncompensated taking of their ancestral territory to benefit private forestry and development corporations on Vancouver Island.
The Hul’qumi’num Treaty Group (HTG), comprised of the Cowichan Tribes, Lake Cowichan First Nation, Halalt First Nation, Penelakut Tribe, Lyackson First Nation and the Stz’uminus First Nation, has accused Canada of violating the human rights of its 6,400 members by failing to recognize and protect their rights to property, culture and religion, as recognized under the OAS’ principal human rights instrument, the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man. Canada has been a member of the OAS since 1989.
According to Robert Morales, Chief Negotiator for the HTG, Canada, despite repeated protests, continues to permit widespread clear-cutting, deforestation and environmentally destructive development activities throughout their ancestral territory by three major forestry development companies, TimberWest Forest Corporation, Hancock Timber Resource Group and Island Timberlands. The three corporations are the major successors in interest to Canada’s 1884 grant of over 237,000 hectares of Hul’qumi’num lands containing valuable timber, coal and other resources to the E&N railroad corporation. Today, those companies control nearly 190,000 hectares, roughly 2/3 of the HTG members’ ancestral territory. The HTG has submitted extensive evidence to the human rights body documenting the companies’ clear-cutting operations, which it claims go unregulated by the government, while causing the relentless destruction of the traditional way of life, culture, and religious practices of the HTG communities.
HTG’s human rights complaint charges that Canada refuses to negotiate over the return or replacement of these lands, and, under its land claims policy, will not discuss compensation at the treaty table. HTG also charges that Canada refuses to consult with HTG, as required under well-established principles of international human rights law, before allowing the forestry companies to permanently destroy their lands and resources, with no benefits provided to the HTG First Nations.