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Flawed Precedent: The St. Catherine's Case and Aboriginal Title

In 1888, the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in London ruled in St. Catherine’s Milling and Lumber Company v. The Queen, a case involving the Saulteaux people’s land rights in Ontario. This precedent-setting case would define the legal contours of Aboriginal title in Canada for almost a hundred years, despite the racist assumptions about Indigenous peoples at the heart of the case.

In Flawed Precedent, preeminent legal scholar Kent McNeil thoroughly investigates this contentious case. He begins by delving into the historical and ideological context of the 1880s. He then examines the trial in detail, demonstrating how prejudicial attitudes towards Indigenous peoples and their use of the land influenced the decision. He also discusses the effects that St. Catherine’s had on Canadian law and policy until the 1970s when its authority was finally questioned by the Supreme Court in Calder, then in Delgamuukw, Marshall/Bernard, Tsilhqot’in, and other key rulings.

McNeil has written a compelling and illuminating account of a landmark case that influenced law and policy on Indigenous land rights for almost a century. He also provides an informative analysis of the current judicial understanding of Aboriginal title in Canada, now driven by evidence of Indigenous law and land use rather than by the discarded prejudicial assumptions of a bygone era.

This book is vital reading for everyone involved in Aboriginal law or title, legal historians and scholars, and anyone interested in Indigenous rights in Canada.

Additional Information
224 pages | 5.50" x 8.50" | 10 b&w photos, 4 maps