K’ómoks First Nation wins precedent-setting case regarding land management

The K’ómoks First Nation (KFN) is the first Indigenous community to win a provincial court case this September, which confirmed their rights to manage their own lands and resources and have their laws enforced and upheld.

After a lengthy 10 months in court, KFN successfully prosecuted private criminal charges against a couple that had been trespassing on KFN Lands under the KFN’s land code. The couple had their lease terminated in December of 2017. Despite being asked to leave, and being served a letter of trespass issued by the Chief, they remained in the home from that time until Oct. 2. They made no payments to the owner of the home, and in those 11 months and have done extensive damage to the home as well as the property, which is owned by the Nation.

“It was extremely frustrating,” said K’omoks Chief Nicole Rempel. “They flat out refused to leave. We contacted the RCMP numerous times. We had meetings at a Chief and Council level with the RCMP, and they refused to uphold the law, because the land code wasn’t a law they were familiar with.”

Even though they were now trespassers under the KFN land code, local RCMP and Crown prosecutors didn’t know how to get involved.

Following a guilty verdict issued on Sept. 25, they were given until the sentencing date of Oct. 2 to remove their belongings and evacuate the home. At sentencing they were given a $1,000 fine each, as well as six months’ probation.

“I’m extremely happy that the provincial court decided that this was something we could uphold,” Rempel said. “Hopefully, we don’t have to go through the court again. Hopefully, the relevant authorities recognize the law and uphold it the way they’re supposed to. This verdict is a great advancement in recognition of first nations laws and a win in our advancement in self-government.”

The KFN Land Code is the result of the First Nations Land Management Act enacted in 1999, which gave First Nations the authority to write their own laws for managing land and resources. However, the ability to create their own laws did not necessarily mean the RCMP would uphold those laws, which led the Nation to apply to the courts to conduct a private criminal prosecution of current tenants, without the usual assistance from police and the Crown.

 

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