Canada: Court authorizes 900 M$ lawsuit by the Innu against IOC / Rio Tinto


tatement of Director of the Office for the Protection of Rights and the Territory, ITUM

Date of publication: 
22 September 2014

UASHAT MAK MANI-UTENAM, QC – The Innu First Nations of Uashat Mak Mani-Utenam and Matimekush-Lac John, whose traditional territory (Nitassinan) covers a large part of North-easternQuebec and Labrador, celebrated on September 19, 2014 an important legal victory in their 900 million dollar lawsuit targeting the Iron Ore Company of Canada (IOC), whose majority shareholder is Rio Tinto (see press release ofMarch 20, 2013 for more information on the suit). IOC had tried to have the case dismissed by attempting to convince the Court that the Innu did not have the right to sue IOC and had to rather sue the government. OnSeptember 19, 2014, the Honourable Justice Marc-André Blanchard of the Superior Court of Montreal rejected IOC’s motion to dismiss.

Without a doubt, governments played a role in authorizing IOC’s projects despite the lack of consent of the Innu of Uashat Mak Mani-Utenam and Matimekush-Lac John, but IOC’s projects are not some form of public undertaking. It was IOC, and now Rio Tinto, therefore private investors, who made the decision, without any consideration for the two Innu peoples living on the land since time immemorial, to build and operate a mining megaproject totalling thirty or so gigantic mining pits, a railway 578 km in length and what ended up being toxic port facilities which still contaminate today an area greater than 30 football fields.

“It was not the government that carried out racial discrimination against Innu employees. It was not the government that expelled our women, children and elders from their homeland to make way for IOC’s mines. And it was not the government that amassed billions and billions of dollars in profits by ripping apart and contaminating our lands in the course of extracting our mineral wealth. It was IOC / Rio Tinto. It is therefore up to IOC / Rio Tinto to make amends for its acts,” declared the Chief of Uashat Mak Mani-Utenam, Mike McKenzie.

The judgment issued on September 19, 2014 was not only a great legal victory for the two Innu peoples of Uashat Mak Mani-Utenam and Matimekush-Lac John but the judgment will also serve as a precedent for other First Nations seeking to force companies to respect their rights. The judgment confirms that proponents like IOC / Rio Tinto cannot ignore the rights of First Nations and then simply hide behind government.

The victory in Court will ensure the continuation of the Innu lawsuit against IOC / Rio Tinto and will only add to the campaign which the Innu are embarking on to put an end to the colonial attitude with which IOC / Rio Tinto treats, still today, the two peoples. The Innu will also seek to contest in Court the new mine, called “Wabush 3”, which IOC seeks to build at Labrador City should IOC / Rio Tinto persist in violating the constitutional rights of the Innu.

“We are not opposed to development and we are not seeking to block regional economic development. But the era when companies could come and develop our lands without also treating us as owners of the land is over. It is entirely legitimate for us to use the means at our disposal to make IOC / Rio Tinto respect our rights, particularly in the case of this company which was the first to dispossess the Innu of their lands. After more than 60 years of having our rights violated, it is about time that IOC / Rio Tinto pays its rent,” added the Chief of Matimekush-Lac John, Réal McKenzie.

For further information:

Jean-Claude Therrien Pinette
Director of the Office for the Protection of Rights and the Territory, ITUM
Tel.: 418-962-0327 #5245 / Cell.: 418-409-5681


Canadian court rules aboriginal lawsuit against Rio Tinto can go ahead

Cecilia Jamasmie –

23 September 2014

A Quebec judge has ruled that a $815 million (Cdn$900 million) lawsuit by two Canadian aboriginal communities against Rio Tinto’s Iron Ore Company of Canada (IOC), can move forward.

The Innu communities of Uashat Mak Mani-Utenam and Matimekush-Lac John asked the court last March for an injunction against IOC’s unit in Quebec and Labrador to stop all mining. The groups claim the miner has violated their rights for nearly 60 years by operating without their permission.

Quebec Superior Court Justice Marc-Andre Blanchard rejected Rio’s subsidiary’s claim that the Innu had to sue the government instead of the mining company, which is Canada’s biggest producer of the steel-making ingredient.

The Innu claim that IOC’s mines and other facilities have ruined the environment, displaced members from their territory and prevented them from practising their traditional way of life. They also said the 578-kilometre railway between Schefferville and Sept-Iles has opened up their territory to “numerous other destructive development projects.”

The allegations have not been proven in court.

The Innu said in a news release Monday that they will also contest in court a new mine called “Wabush 3,” which IOC wants to build in the Labrador City area.

The Innu communities have already reached agreements with ArcelorMittal, Cliffs Natural Resources, Tata Steel, New Millennium Iron and Labrador Iron Mines, which provide financial compensation for the mining activities.