FNT2T Life Long Learning: Musqueam Elder & Aboriginal Rights Advocate, Ronald Sparrow (R. vs. Sparrow)

FNT2T is committed to the work of Aboriginal rights and Treaty rights advocacy. A key component to understanding treaties is understanding the many First Nations legal cases that have impacted the interpretation and the expression of Aboriginal rights and Treaty rights. This includes Inherent rights and Aboriginal title. Many First Nations and Indigenous activists have demonstrated bravery and boldness in asserting their rights over time. One such person is Ronald Sparrow of the Musqueam Nation (B.C). Sadly, Mr. Sparrow passed away on September 14, 2020.

Mr. Sparrow was the defendant in the renowned Sparrow Case in the Supreme Court decision of 1990. In 1984, Sparrow was charged for fishing with a net longer than what was “allowed” by his license. He fought this charge in view that it threatened Aboriginal rights, inherent rights, and collective rights which resulted in the precedented case of R. vs. Sparrow. This was a very important case for First Nations peoples across Canada.

In R. vs. Sparrow, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that Section 35 of the Constitution Act (1982) protected Aboriginal rights. Indigenous Foundations (UBC) writes: “Mr. Sparrow had an ‘existing’ right to fish at the time of his arrest.  The Court also ruled that the words ‘recognized and affirmed,’ as they appear in Section 35, mean that the government cannot override or infringe upon these rights without justification.” What this ruling led to was the Sparrow analysis. It determines if an Aboriginal right is existing. And it sets out criteria to determine whether there will be/or has been an infringement on Aboriginal rights:

  • Is the limitation that is imposed via regulation/legislation unreasonable? (significantly interferes with Aboriginal right or treaty right)
  • Does the regulation/legislation impose undue hardship on the Aboriginal peoples affected?
  • Does the regulation/legislation deny the holders of the right their preferred means of exercising their right?

R. vs. Sparrow is significant. It is considered a landmark case when it comes to Aboriginal rights. FNT2T Life Long Learning sends deepest condolences to the Musqueam Nation and Sparrow’s family. He stood up for Aboriginal rights and he leaves behind an important legacy.

Miigwetch. Renew and revitalize.