Prisoners of democracy : the Lil'wat's right to an impartial tribunal ; an analysis of the Lillooet Lake roadblock case


University of British Columbia

Date Issued


Document Type



Master of Laws - LLM




This thesis analyzes the response of the domestic judiciary to the Lil'wat peoples' assertion of territorial sovereignty as their defense to a charge of criminal contempt of court before the British Columbia Supreme Court. A lack of impartiality within the Canadian legal system is revealed through a critical legal realist examination of a specific encounter between the dominant Canadian society and the traditional Lil'wat peoples. Both overt and subtle colonial attitudes are demonstrated as embedded within the law, its institutions and its accepted practices in the context of Indigenous/Newcomer relations. This case study seeks to make visible a reliance on a series of invalid legal assumptions regarding Indigenous peoples. These assumptions are necessary to support the entrenched institutional biases that favour the self-interest of the Newcomer society. The thesis quotes extensively from the court transcripts of the criminal contempt trial against the Lil'wats. They were criminalized for blocking public access through their reserve in their attempt to prevent the desecration of their ancient burial grounds and pictographs. Interfor, a Provincially licensed logging corporation, was building a road through their sacred territory. The Lil'wats argued that the B.C. Supreme Court is without jurisdiction over unceded territory and therefore the injunctive order was a nullity. The extreme resistance of the superior court judiciary to hear or address the law presented in defense ofthe Lil'wat peoples was in breach of the rule of law, the principles of constitutional supremacy and the honour of the Crown. Following a detailed analysis of the judiciary's lack of impartiality and breaches of the rule of law, the thesis concludes by suggesting Canada submit the issue of Indigenous territorial sovereignty to third party adjudication through the creation of an internationally overseen cross-cultural mediation process.

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