HALIFAX — A controversial legal argument that implied members of a First Nation band are a conquered people has been removed from a Nova Scotia government brief submitted to the court in the Alton Gas appeal case.
The provincial Justice Department confirmed Wednesday that a letter had been filed with the Nova Scotia Supreme Court informing it of amendments to its position.
"Government has withdrawn a number of legal arguments raised in the brief related to duty to consult," the department said. "The province affirms it has a constitutional duty to consult."
The brief was presented as part of the government's case against an appeal filed by the Indian Brook band. The band asked the court during a hearing in November to overturn the province's approval of a plan by Alton Gas to store natural gas in salt caverns near the Shubenacadie River.
Indian Brook argued before Justice Suzanne Hood that the province has a duty to consult.
But the legal brief presented by government lawyer Alex Cameron, who has since been removed from the case, said the Crown's obligation to consult extended only to "unconquered people.''
It said the band's submission to the Crown in 1760 negated its claim of sovereignty and negated government's constitutional duty to consult, a position that sparked outcry from First Nations people and prompted an apology from Premier Stephen McNeil.
On Wednesday, McNeil said the move would clarify his government's position before ongoing deliberations by Hood wrap up.
"They (the court) would just focus on the part of the brief that was really our argument, which was that we've gone through the (environmental) process and the duty that we have to consult. We feel that we met that obligation and now the court will determine whether we have or we haven't."
McNeil said the step is also necessary because of the offence caused to First Nations in Nova Scotia.
"It takes away the part of the brief that was causing a great deal of concern in the community and didn't reflect our government's view on the Mi'kmaq people of our province," he said.
Last month the government replaced Cameron with another Crown lawyer: Ed Gores.
Mi'kmaq groups have been opposed to the government's use of Cameron after he penned a 2009 book that attacked the Supreme Court of Canada's landmark Marshall decision on fishing rights.
Band chiefs informed the government of their position in a letter written in 2009.
Keith Doucette, The Canadian Press