Canadian Constitutional law and statutory approaches

Prof. Karen Busby gave students a scenario: a First Nation wants you to lead a meeting with the chief and council, providing advice for legal strategies they can use to sue the government for substandard drinking water. The types of claims that could be made are: negligence, breach of international law, treaty breach of fiduciary duty, or a constitutional breach. The strongest claim, according to Busby, is breach of fiduciary duty as the federal government has an obligation to act in the best interests of its people. First Nation people have the right to hunt and fish. The fish and animals need a clean water source to swim and drink in order for this right to be upheld. Such legal cases are often long and expensive but can have a huge payoff, drawing media attention to the situation and ultimately holding the government accountable for its actions.

Busby discussed a New Zealand river granted the same legal rights as a human being through a court case. A Maori tribe fought for recognition of the river as its ancestor. This case will change the perspective from treating a river as something to be owned and managed to treating it as a living entity. Now if someone wants to harm the river (e.g. pollute it) the law will apply as if that person harmed a member of the tribe.

Audio podcasts are also available of seminars in this series.

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