‘Namgis First Nation v Mowi Canada West Ltd and Canada (Fisheries, Oceans and Coast Guard), 2020 FCA 122

Application allowed. There were concerns from a First Nation involving a salmon farming licence after learning of new scientific evidence regarding potential spread of disease. A novel adverse impact that arises since an original consultation, creates a fresh duty to consult.

Indigenous Law Centre
Indigenous CaseWatch Blog

‘Namgis First Nation’s traditional territory is at the north end of Vancouver Island and includes a number of the adjacent islands, including Swanson Island, which lie between Vancouver Island and the mainland. A number of distinct wild salmon populations are found in this area. These populations are critically important to ‘Namgis for food, social and ceremonial purposes. Mowi operates an open net salmon facility adjacent to Swanson Island. That facility has been there since the early 1990’s and has been stocked with salmon during that period except for fallow periods between harvesting and restocking.

Restocking open-net facilities is at the heart of this litigation because there is an uncircumscribed risk of introducing disease agents into the waters used by wild salmon. That risk arises from the transfer of immature salmon, or smolts, from inland fish stations to the open-net aquaculture facilities. If disease-bearing fish are introduced into these waters and if those diseases spread to the wild salmon stocks, the results could be calamitous and perhaps irreversible.

‘Namgis First Nation appeals from the decision of the Federal Court dismissing its application for judicial review of the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans’ [“Minister”] decision to issue a Salmonid Introductions and Transfer Licence [“Licence”] to Mowi Canada West Ltd. [“Mowi”]. The Federal Court had before it three separate but closely related applications for judicial review which it dealt with in one set of reasons (Morton v Canada (Fisheries and Oceans), 2019 FC 143).

All three applications revolved around two risk factors for wild Pacific salmon in ‘Namgis’ asserted territory. The first is Piscine Orthoreovirus [“PRV”], a highly infectious virus that is known to be present in Canada. PRV is found in both farmed and wild salmon in British Columbia. The second is Heart and Skeletal Muscle Inflammation [“HSMI”] which is an infectious disease found in farmed Atlantic Salmon and has appeared in one aquaculture facility in British Columbia. ‘Namgis is convinced that PRV and HSMI pose a threat to the wild salmon stocks which it relies on for food, social and ceremonial purposes. The Minister views the threat level as very low. The science as to the relationship between these two threats, their prevalence, and the risk they pose to wild (as opposed to farmed) salmon is evolving.

Given the history of consultation between these parties, the issue is not whether there is a duty to consult in the abstract but rather whether a fresh duty to consult arose. The Federal Court’s reasoning does not address the question of whether a novel adverse impact had arisen since the original consultation, which would create a fresh duty to consult.

The third element required in the test for a duty to consult calls for a generous, purposive approach recognizing that Crown action has the potential to irreversibly affect Aboriginal rights (Haida Nation v British Columbia (Minister of Forests), 2004 SCC 73; Rio Tinto Alcan Inc v Carrier Sekani Tribal Council, 2010 SCC 43 [“Rio Tinto”]). The adverse affect cannot be merely speculative, and it must be relevant to the future exercise of the Aboriginal right. The assessment of the duty to consult is forward looking. Prior and continuing breaches, including prior failures to consult, will only trigger a duty to consult if the present decision has the potential of causing a novel adverse impact on a present claim or existing right (Rio Tinto).

The science around PRV and HSMI is rapidly evolving so that it was not specifically covered in the original consultations concerning fish health. The risk of harm to the native salmon stocks may be greater than the Minister previously contemplated, thus the finding of a novel adverse impact.

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