The Supreme Court of Canada has refused to end a class-action lawsuit filed by two Innu communities against the Iron Ore Co. of Canada and the Quebec North Shore and Labrador Railway Co.
The country's highest court dismissed with costs their appeal of a Quebec Court of Appeal ruling. No reasons were provided Thursday, as is customary when the court makes such a decision.
The Innu First Nations of Uashat Mak Mani-Utenam (Uashaunnuat) and Matimekush-Lac John claim the IOC, which is majority owned by Rio Tinto, has violated their rights for nearly 60 years and are seeking $900-million in compensation.
The Innu claim the 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 say a 578-kilometre railway between Schefferville, Que., and Sept-Îles, Que., has opened up their territory to "numerous other destructive development projects."
The allegations have not been proven in court.
"Today's decision by the Supreme Court is, in fact, a great victory for all First Nations in Canada that are seeking to force companies to respect their rights," the chiefs of the communities said in a news release.
Uashaunnuat Chief Mike McKenzie said the Supreme Court ruling means Rio Tinto and its subsidiaries will no longer be able to evade its lawsuit, which now reverts to the Quebec Superior Court for trial.
"We are more determined than ever to see it through to the end and, sooner or later, the company will have to answer for what it has done, including its systematic violation of our rights since the 1950s," he said.