A frequent feature of Aboriginal cases decided in the Supreme Court has been their humble origins. In 1990, a Musqueam man named Sparrow was charged under the federal Fisheries Act with using a drift net larger than that allowed by the fishing license under which his band operated. In 1996, the Supreme Court ruled in Sparrow's favour, asserting that Aboriginal rights to fish could not simply be eliminated by provincal regulations; such rights had to be extinguished explicitly and only for good reason. The court also reiterated the Crown's fiduciary responsibility toward Native peoples, noting that the relationship was supposed to be one of trust. These elements were to govern how Natives were dealt with under the law. The court observed that just because federal legislation had been applied to the Musqueam did not mean that existing Aboriginal rights, such as fishing in particular waters from "time immemorial," had been extinguished. The Sparrow case was the first wherein section 35 of the Constitution affirming "existing aboriginal rights" was applied to the federal and provincial legislative and regulatory powers set out in the British North America Act (1867).

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