Not real property rights

Karen Selick
National Post
October 23, 2000

I agree wholeheartedly with Larry Solomon’s contention (Property Rights for White Fishermen Too, Oct. 10) that property rights for fishermen of all races would solve the lobster fishery problem and that we should badger our politicians into recognizing this.

However, I think Mr. Solomon is stretching a point when he says the R. v. Marshall decision recognized property rights for natives. I suspect the Supreme Court of Canada would agree. Nowhere in its original judgment or the sequel does the phrase “property rights” appear. Whatever it is that the court granted, native fishermen can’t sell it to non-natives or even apparently trade it among themselves. The court was quite explicit that they can’t use it to accumulate wealth. The court had earlier made clear in the Delgamuukw case regarding aboriginal land titles that it expects natives to hold property communally.

All the native fishermen really have is a race-based right to extract resources from a commons. If the natives were like the Borg of Star Trek fame — a single, collective mind in many discrete bodies — perhaps this could reasonably be called a property right. However, like other humans, the natives are individuals with separate minds and bank accounts.

If we ever hope to enact a workable system of property rights for everyone, we shouldn’t dignify the mandatory collectivism that has been thrust upon them with the label “property right.”

Karen Selick, Belleville, Ont.

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