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Aboriginal Rights and Industry Liability: Important Case Update

On January 7, 2022, the British Columbia Supreme Court released its decision in Thomas and Saik’uz First Nation v Rio Tinto Alcan Inc, 2022 BCSC 15. Saik’uz has broad implications for Indigenous peoples and private actors in the natural resource industry. For the first time, the Court recognized that the violation of Aboriginal rights can be used to sue a private actor in nuisance – in this case, Rio Tinto Alcan (“RTA”). However, the Court also found that RTA could rely on its government-issued licences as a full defence to this claim because the nuisance at issue was the “inevitable result” of activities that the Province had expressly permitted.

As a result, this case represents two important developments in natural resource and Aboriginal law:

  1. On the one hand, the Court’s recognition of private nuisance based on Aboriginal rights provides Indigenous peoples with a broad foundation to make claims against private actors. Such claims do not need to be based on interests in reserve or title lands.

  2. On the other hand, so long as private actors act in strict compliance with their provincial authorizations, they may use statutory authority as a robust defence – in which case the government may be found liable for impairment of Aboriginal rights, if such an impairment has occurred.

If you would like more details on how the Court reached these conclusions, please click on "Detailed Case Discussion" below.

Detailed Case Discussion

Questions? Contact Us.

If you have any questions about the foregoing, please do not hesitate to reach out to us.


If you would like a .pdf of this post, it can be downloaded using the following link.

2022-01-17 Case Update - Saik'uz v Rio Tinto Alcan
Download PDF • 200KB


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