Two Quebec Innu communities say they have won a crucial legal victory in their battle for $900-million in compensation from Iron Ore Co. of Canada.
The Quebec Court of Appeal, the province's highest court, has refused to hear an appeal of a September 2014 Quebec Superior Court judgment that rejected a motion to dismiss the $900-million lawsuit brought by Iron Ore's parent Rio Tinto Group.
The Innu First Nations of Uashat Mak Mani-Utenam and Matimekush-Lac John said on Wednesday the decision is a "great legal victory."
Anglo-Australian mining giant Rio Tinto was seeking to have the suit dismissed by arguing that the provincial government is the one that should be targeted and not the company.
The suit alleges that Iron Ore (IOC) violated the Innus' rights and aboriginal titles for nearly 60 years by extracting minerals and building a railway on their traditional territory in northeastern Quebec and Labrador.
The mining operations and related activities are situated in the communities of Schefferville, Que., Labrador City and Sept-Iles, Que.
The Innu claim that the operations have despoiled the environment, displaced members from their territory and hampered the practice of traditional ways of life.
"Rio Tinto and its subsidiary IOC continue to try to ignore us, just as they always have," Chief of Uashat Mak Mani-Utenam, Mike McKenzie, said.
"IOC's president even refuses to meet with us personally. But after this judgement, Rio Tinto (IOC) will no longer be able to hide. The highest court in Quebec has made clear that Rio Tinto's subsidiary IOC will have to answer in Court for its violations of our constitutionally protected rights, which violations date back to the 1950s."
Rio Tinto and IOC officials were not immediately available to comment.
The Innu say they have already reached agreements for financial compensation with 4 other mining companies in the region but that Rio Tinto refuses to even sit down and talk.