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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Aboriginal fishing rights, Sparrow, the law and social transformation : a case study of the Supreme Court of Canada decision in R. v. Sparrow Sharma, Parnesh


Aboriginal rights, and aboriginal fishing rights in particular, are topics which elicit a variety of responses ranging from the positive to hostile. In British Columbia, fish is big business and it is the fourth largest industry in the province. The stakes are high and the positions of the various user groups and stakeholders are clearly demarcated. The fight over fish has pitted aboriginal groups against other aboriginal groups as well as against the federal government and its department of fisheries and oceans - however, the fight becomes vicious, underhanded, and mean spirited when the aboriginal groups are matched against the commercial industry. In an attempt to even the odds the aboriginal peoples have turned to the courts for recognition and protection of what they view as inherent rights - that is a right to fish arising out of the very nature of being an aboriginal person. Up until the Supreme Court of Canada decision in R. v. Sparrow aboriginal rights had been virtually ignored by both the courts and the state. However Sparrow changed all that and significantly altered the fight over fish. And that fight has become a virtual no-holds barred battle. The Sparrow decision remains to this day one of the most important Supreme Court decisions pertaining to aboriginal rights. This thesis is a case study of Sparrow - it will examine the decision from a perspective of whether subordinate or disadvantaged groups are able to use the law to advance their causes of social progress and equality. The thesis examines the status and nature of aboriginal fishing rights before and after the Sparrow decision. The thesis will examine whether the principles of the decision have been upheld or followed by the courts and the government of Canada. Data will consist of interviews with representatives of the key players in the fishing industry, namely, the Musqueam Indian Band, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, and the commercial industry. In brief, the findings of my research do not bode well for the aboriginal peoples - the principles of the Sparrow decision have not been followed by the government of Canada and aboriginal fishing rights remain subject to arbitrary control. The thesis will examine why and how this happened.

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