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Indigenous title claim ‘an attack on industry,’ court hears

April 4, 2024  By John Chilibeck, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

The Wolastoqey Nation's title claim has produced thousands of pages of legal filings. Photo: John Chilibeck, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter / The Daily Gleaner.

The Wolastoqey Nation’s attempt to recover millions of acres of privately held woodlands in New Brunswick is “an attack on an industry,” says the lawyer for a big timber firm.

Hugh Cameron appeared on behalf of Acadian Timber on Wednesday, April 3, in the Court of King’s Bench in Fredericton, where 18 lawyers are battling over the Wolastoqey Nation’s title claim for over half of New Brunswick’s territory.

He argued before Justice Kathyrn Gregory that she should remove Acadian Timber and other socalled industrial defendants – all of them big, private landowners – from the claim.

“The pleadings of the plaintiffs are easy to dismiss,” Cameron said to the judge. “They are vanilla in every sense.”


The Wolastoqiyik leaders from six communities along the Wolastoq or St. John River want the return of nearly five million acres of Crown or government land, but also 3.2 million acres of privately held timberland. They’ve promised to leave all other private property owners alone, saying they have no interest in everyday people’s homes and businesses.

Cameron, a veteran lawyer at the Stewart McKelvey law firm in Fredericton, accused the Indigenous leaders of singling out the most successful timber companies, leaving behind mines, farms and scores of other enterprises, as a tactic in their fight with the provincial government.

He warned that thousands of jobs in the industry were at stake. Forestry is worth $1.5 billion to New Brunswick’s economy every year.

“It’s an attack on an industry,” the lawyer said. “Their case is not balanced, not reasonable. It’s frivolous, but not in a fun way, it’s vexatious and abusive.”

Three Wolastoqiyik chiefs – Patricia Bernard of Madawaska, Gabriel Atwin of Kingsclear and Allan Polchies of St. Mary’s – watched the proceedings from the public gallery but showed no emotion.

Lawyers for the Wolastoqey Nation have a chance to reply Thursday and Friday to the submissions all week from the so-called industrial defendants to strike their properties from the claim.

Cameron spent several hours explaining why he thought the Wolastoqey Nation had failed to file a proper lawsuit.

Similar to the arguments presented the day before by J.D. Irving, Limited and H.J. Crabbe and Sons, the lawyer for Acadian said the plaintiffs had provided no details for why the companies should be sued, other than to say the Crown or provincial government should never have awarded land grants to the original settlers in the first place.

He also said the plaintiffs hadn’t provided any material facts and had refused to provide the particulars – or extra details – needed to back their case. Meanwhile, Acadian “has already spent a fortune” preparing its defence.

Cameron said he had no doubt the Wolastoqiyik would be successful in their claim against the Crown – a lawyer for the provincial government has already admitted as much, telling the court that damages will have to be worked out between the two sides – but that doesn’t mean they can arbitrarily pick a fight with a handful of landowners.

“It may stir up debate on the street, but it has no room in your court,” the lawyer said to the judge. “When it comes to their claim, my friends in Newfoundland would say, ‘They built a shoddy cart and then put a horse behind it’.”

John Chilibeck is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter for The Daily Gleaner.

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