Premier Blaine Higgs and his government are doubling down on their stance that an Aboriginal title claim for roughly half of New Brunswick could impact properties owned by smaller landowners, despite insistence by the claim's proponents that that's not what they're after.
The province filed a motion in New Brunswick Court of King's Bench this week, asking the court to strike out several sections of the claim by six Wolastoqey First Nations and to "remove all claims against and/or in relation to fee simple lands and the interests of the unnamed parties therein."
The province, in a news release the same day, said the motion was filed to protect "families, homeowners, businesses and others who own property" within the title claim area covering more than 60 per cent of the province.
"Today, across more than half of our province, hundreds of thousands of New Brunswickers are at risk of having their property impacted by this unprecedented claim in which they have been denied any standing or representation," said Higgs, in the news release.
Higgs said the motion applies to 250,000 properties, which are owned by people who are not named in the title claim, and as such, should be removed from it.
"The plaintiffs have dismissed the fears of these New Brunswickers, which is why our government is taking this action to ensure the plaintiff's legal claim reflects their statements."
The plaintiffs in the claim are the Wolastoqey nations of Matawaskiye (Madawaska), Neqotkuk (Tobique), Bilijk (Kingsclear), Sitansisk (St. Mary's), Welamuktok (Oromocto) and Wotstak (Woodstock).
Launched in 2020, the claim specifically names the federal government, N.B. Power, and six predominantly forestry companies and 19 of their subsidiaries.
The six Wolastoqey First Nations in New Brunswick say their title claim is not about displacing people currently living on any land in the claim area. (Logan Perley/CBC)
Leaders for the communities have previously said the title claim is not about displacing people currently living on any lands subject to it, but rather about negotiating new deals with major industrial companies operating in the province.
Leaders have also denounced what they've described as fear-mongering in claims by Higgs that the title claim could jeopardize smaller private landowners.
Renée Pelletier, a lawyer representing the Wolastoqey nations in the title claim, shot back at the comments Higgs made in the news release Thursday.
"The Wolastoqey Chiefs have consistently said that they are not seeking to displace New Brunswickers or otherwise impact their property rights," Pelletier said in an email.
"That is consistent with what is actually written in our Statement of Claim."
The title claim covers roughly 60 per cent of New Brunswick. (Wolastoqey Nation in New Brunswick)
Pelletier also shared paragraphs from the claim that exemplify the Wolastoqey chiefs' position that property owned by no one other than the defendants listed would be affected.
"The Plaintiffs seek no relief as against fee simple holders not named as Defendants who hold fee simple in the Traditional Lands ("Strangers to the Claim"),"the Wolastoqey nations write in the second paragraph of their claim.
Bilijk Chief Gabriel Atwin also accused the Progressive Conservative premier of mischaracterizing the title claim.
"His statements can only serve to put fear in the general public and to create tensions between the Indigenous and non-Indigenous populations in New Brunswick," Atwin said in an email.
"Frankly, that is irresponsible, and we hope the PC Party is taking notice."