Aboriginal Land Claim Against Sarnia Landowners Fails

The Ontario Court of Appeal released its decision in the case of The Chippewas of Sarnia Band v. A.G. of Canada et al., on December 21, 2000, in which the defendants in the action included a large group of representative landowners (the Sarnia Landowners). The five-judge panel concluded that entitlement to the land in question rests with the Sarnia Landowners.

The dispute arose from an aboriginal land claim over a four square mile parcel of land near the City of Sarnia, which is presently occupied by over 2,000 businesses, organizations and individuals. In April, 1999, Ontario Superior Court Justice Archie Campbell ruled that an 1853 Crown patent purporting to transfer the lands from the Chippewas of Sarnia to a non-aboriginal party was invalid. He dismissed the Chippewas’ claim against the Sarnia Landowners, however, based on equitable grounds.

The Court of Appeal upheld Justice Campbell’s decision, noting that although the Chippewa lands were never properly surrendered to the Crown, by virtue of their subsequent actions, the Chippewas effectively accepted the sale of their lands. In other words, the good faith purchaser for value defence should be applied in favour of the Sarnia Landowners. The Chippewas are left with their claim in damages against the Crown.

The appellant Chippewas were represented by Earl A. Cherniak, Q.C. of Lerner & Associates LLP, assisted by Elizabeth K.P. Grace and H. Sandra Bang. The Attorney General of Canada was represented by Charlotte Bell, Q.C., Gary Penner and Scott Warwick. Acting for Her Majesty the Queen in the Right of Ontario were J.T.S. McCabe, Q.C. and E. Ria Tzimas.

Acting for the group of representative landowners were the following: for Canadian National Railway Company, Kenneth R. Peel of Fraser Milner Casgrain; for Down Chemical Canada Inc. and Union Gas Limited, Philip M. Tunley and Jane A. Langford of McCarthy Tétrault; for The City of Sarnia, Bank of Montreal, The TD Bank and Canada Trustco Mortgage Company, Gerard T. Tillmann and Norman W. Feaver of Harrison, Pensa LLP; for Amoco Canada Resources Ltd. and Amoco Canada Petroleum Company Ltd., Jeff G. Cowan of Weir & Foulds; for Ontario Hydro Networks Company Inc., in-house counsel Joseph Agostino; and for Interprovincial Pipe Line Inc., Brian A. Crane, Q.C. of Gowling Lafleur Henderson LLP.