South Bruce Peninsula appealing $1.67M judgement in boundary dispute with First Nation

The town of South Bruce Peninsula will appeal an Ontario Superior Court Justice's ruling last month that it pay $1.67 million in legal fees to Chippewas of Saugeen First Nation in a decades-long boundary dispute, involving Sauble Beach.

The May 21 ruling by Superior Court Justice Susan Vella also ordered the province to pay $1.28 million, and the federal government to give $322,000 to the First Nation.

The town is ordered to pay 50 per cent of the federal government's $486,784 legal costs as well.

"Canada submits that it was the successful defendant in the main issue before the court, namely the location of the reserve boundary, and that the town was the unsuccessful defendant (together with Ontario)," Vella's decision reads.

The town said it will appeal the costs award against it, adding that the cost award is suspended until the appeal is determined.

"The town firmly believes that the costs should be borne by Canada, as it alone was responsible for the identification of the reserve boundary, the survey, and the Crown patents which granted the town title to its beach," reads a statement posted on the town's website after the ruling.

"Notably, Canada admitted at trial that it breached its fiduciary duties," the statement continues.

"Justice Vella also stated that this costs order is made without prejudice to the Town's right to seek indemnification from Canada for the entire costs award in addition to its damages claim, which will be addressed in Phase 2 when compensation is determined."

A spokesperson for the town declined to comment, saying the matter is before appeal. The spokesperson directed CBC News to the town's website for more information, however no further detail about the appeal was available.

Saugeen Chief Conrad Ritchie did not return a request for comment Thursday, but said in a statement last month that he was grateful the court "recognized the significant expenses that Saugeen First Nation has incurred over the years to advance our community's rights."

"We are very pleased that the court not only recognized our rights, but has now also allowed us to recover a significant portion of our legal costs that we can direct toward supporting our community in other ways."

The Saugeen First Nation is located along the Bruce Peninsula in southwestern Ontario. Its leaders say they want the site where the bones were discovered to be recognized as a burial for the ancestral remains.
The Saugeen First Nation is located along the Bruce Peninsula in southwestern Ontario. (Michelle Both/CBC)

It follows an April 2023 ruling by Vella that a roughly two-kilometre strip of Sauble Beach, located at the northern end of Saugeen Reserve No. 29 and known as "Chi-Gmiinh" by the First Nation, has always belonged to the community, and that the federal government breached its treaty rights.

In the ruling, Vella found the Crown had failed to protect and preserve Treaty 72 from 1854, in which Saugeen First Nation and neighbouring Chippewas of Nawash surrendered Saugeen Peninsula, excluding five reserve territories, of which one would become Reserve No. 29.

When it surveyed the land in 1856 to mark out the reserve, Vella ruled the Crown did so improperly, resulting in the removal of 2.2 kilometres of land promised under the treaty – land which today spans 1st Street South to 6th Street South, west of Lakeshore Boulevard.

"In the circumstances of this case, reconciliation requires that the disputed beach be returned to Saugeen as their unsurrendered reserve land," Vella wrote.

The federal government recognized the mistake in the 1970s and supported Saugeen First Nation in its claim, filed in 1995 to the opposition of the province and town. The claim named the federal and provincial governments as defendants, along with the town, and private property owners on the land.

In June 2023, Vella issued a delayed declaration that the land "was and continues to be reserved for the sole use and benefit" of the First Nation, forming part of Reserve No. 29.

The town, landowners and province are appealing the April 2023 ruling, asking that the judgment be set aside, and the action be dismissed. The matter was heard by the Ontario Court of Appeal in late May, after which the panel reserved its decision, a court official said.