R v. Martin

In Aboriginal Rights/Defences, Fish Cases, Miscellaneous, Offences on (Updated )

The summary as included in the judgement is as follows:

Beginning in 1994 and in each ensuing year the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans entered into Agreements with the Waycobah First Nation concerning, among other things, a food, social and ceremonial fishing allocation to members of that aboriginal community. These Agreements emanated from an Aboriginal Fishing Strategy created in 1993 by DFO in response to the Supreme Court of Canada decision in R. v. Sparrow.

Pursuant to the terms of the 2007-08 Agreement members of the Waycobah Band were permitted a certain number of salmon. Certain rivers were open to the FSC fishery. Certain fishing methods were permitted. An Aboriginal Communal Fishing Licence was issued, according to the terms of the Agreement.

Salmon stocks in Middle River were below spawning requirements and conservation measures were needed. A limited recreational fishery was in place there for “hook and release” only.

On October 10, 2007 the Defendants, members of Waycobah First Nation, jigged salmon from Middle River, in apparent contravention of the terms of the Licence and Agreement. They were charged with offences under the Fisheries Act.

At trial the Crown acknowledged that the Licence, by restricting aboriginal fishing in Middle River, constituted a prime facie infringement of the Defendants’ aboriginal right to fish for food in that river.


Were the individual Defendants bound, and were the actions of the Defendants encompassed by the terms of the subject Agreement and Licence?

What principles of interpretation ought to apply to modern-day agreements between governmental and aboriginal agencies, such as the subject AFS Agreement?

Where such an Agreement has been reached, does the Agreement itself constitute “justification” for the infringement, according to the Sparrow paradigm? Is the Crown never the less required to justify any infringement posed by the Licence in accordance with the criteria set out in R. v. Sparrow?

If the Crown is so required, has it justified the infringement by producing evidence of sufficient consultation and honourable conduct throughout the negotiations? In particular, did DFO give undue consideration to the interests of recreational fishers, and did DFO mislead Waycobah by employing certain terminology in the written record of negotiations?

What is the nature of the infringement of the aboriginal fishing right posed by the subject Licence? How does this inform the nature of consultations and the degree of formality?

Having regard to a 1993 DFO policy statement concerning the Aboriginal Fishing Strategy, did the Crown fulfill a particular duty to consult with Waycobah about any “enforcement action” which might be taken during the currency of the Agreement? How does this policy statement affect the charging discretion of the Fisheries Officers who apprehended the Defendants? How does the “honour of the Crown” doctrine apply to the mutual performance of the parties’ obligations under the subject Agreement.


Usual principles of construction and contract law should apply to a modern-day agreement between government and an aboriginal entity. Viewed through this lens, the Agreement binds the Defendants and applies to their actions on the date and place in question. It was validly executed by the Chief. There is no ambiguity in the terms of Agreement or the ensuing Licence. The Defendants possessed no residual right to fish. DFO at no time represented that it would not lay charges for breach of terms.

In any case where an agreement such as this has been achieved, whereby a limitation of an aboriginal right is effected, the Crown is not required to prove justification in accordance with the usual standards and criteria in Sparrow. The infringement of the right is presumptively justified by the agreement. There is, however, an enhanced duty of good faith upon the Crown (DFO) in its negotiation of an agreement which limits an aboriginal right. The presumption of justification may therefore be rebutted if the aboriginal Defendant proves that the Crown acted in bad faith in the negotiation of terms. Here the evidence discloses no such breach, nor dishonourable dealings.

In the alternative, if it is necessary to prove justification according to the Sparrow paradigm, the Crown has done so. It consulted sufficiently and behaved honourably in all dealings leading up to the signing of the Agreement

A 1993 DFO Policy statement, pertaining to the entire Aboriginal Fisheries Strategy program, includes an undertaking by DFO to consult with the aboriginal authority (Waycobah) prior to taking enforcement action. This representation, which concerns implementation of AFS Agreements, and supports the co-management objectives of the AFS program, applies to the subject Agreement. Crown did not prove that such consultation was undertaken. While DFO was not precluded from laying charges it was honour-bound to engage in a bona fide consultation before doing so. The apprehension of the Defendants and the seizure of their gear had to be undertake without delay. The Defendants were not charged until months later; some form of enforcement consultation should have been undertaken in the interim.

There was a flagrant breach of the terms of the Licence. The Defendants have no substantive defence. However the failure to consult about enforcement is sufficiently serious to warrant a stay of proceedings.

Editors’ Note:

This is a fairly bold decision that has created new law with respect to both the test for determining if an AFS fishing agreement constitutes justification for an infringement and with respect to the consequences of failing to consult with respect to enforcement actions. It contains some interesting discussions of the legal nature of AFS fishing agreements and offers some suggestions on what would be considered adequate consultation in certain circumstances.

It is currently under appeal.