Seemingly, the Indians of each province have had to wage the same court battle to win acknowledgement of rights established by treaty. In Quebec, where no major treaties dealing with the extinguishment of Aboriginal title existed, the problem was exacerbated. In May 1990, four Huron men were charged with cutting trees, camping, and making fires in a Quebec provincial park, actions in violation of provincial regulations. The defendants argued that they were participating in a religious ceremony and were entitled to do so under the Articles of Capitulation, the 1760 agreement by which France had surrendered the territory to England. Under this agreement, England had promised to guarantee the Indian peoples of New France the free exercise of their customs and beliefs.

This defence hinged on two points: were the Articles of Capitulation valid as a treaty document and, if so, did the agreement supersede the Quebec Parks Act? The Supreme Court of Canada agreed with the defendants. In a ruling that constituted an important contribution to the growing legal support of Aboriginal rights, the Articles of Capitulation were recognized as a treaty document. As such, the rights guaranteed in the articles were confirmed until and unless the descendants of those Huron signatories should themselves relinquish them. In addition, the justices declared that treaties and statutes relating to Indians should be liberally construed and, where uncertainties in law existed, should be resolved in a manner that favoured the Indians involved. The decision also implied that Aboriginal rights could not simply be ignored: for such rights to be extinguished, there had to be an explicit statement of that fact. It was not enough, therefore, just to pass the Parks Act and make the implicit assumption that it overrode Aboriginal rights.

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Chinook Multimedia

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