Backgrounder - Northwest Territories Surface Rights Board Act

The Northern Jobs and Growth Act includes provisions for the establishment of a surface rights board in the Northwest Territories, thereby fulfilling federal legislative obligations stemming from certain Northwest Territories Land Claims Agreements (LCAs), including Gwich’in and Sahtu Land Claims Agreements.

Northwest Territories Surface Rights Board (NWTSRB) will serve to resolve disputes over terms and conditions and compensation, between holders of surface or subsurface rights and the owner or occupant of the surface when an agreement cannot be reached by the parties through negotiation or mediation.

The Northern Jobs and Growth Act is the result of comprehensive consultation with the Government of the Northwest Territories, Aboriginal organizations and Governments, and Industry. The Act demonstrates the government’s commitment to ensuring a strong, predictable framework is in place that provides a clear, consistent and reliable dispute resolution mechanism for surface and subsurface rights holders and landowners or occupants in the Northwest Territories.

About the NWTSRB

The Northwest Territories Surface Rights Board Act will meet Canada’s obligations arising from the Gwich’in Comprehensive Land Claims Agreement and the Sahtu Dene and Métis Comprehensive Land Claims Agreement to establish surface rights legislation in the Northwest Territories.

The purpose of the Board is to resolve disputes over the terms and conditions of access, and the compensation to be paid with respect to that access, relating to Gwich’in lands, Sahtu lands, Tlicho lands, Inuvialuit lands or other lands, such as private, Commissioner’s, or Crown land in the Northwest Territories.

The Northwest Territories Surface Rights Board will consist of five to nine members, including the Chairperson, all of whom will be appointed by the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development. Five alternates will also be appointed, and will be called upon if members are unable to fulfill their mandate for reason of absence, incapacitation or vacancy. This will ensure continued functioning of the Board in situations of conflict of interest, appointment processes, etc. All hearings will be held by panels of three members, unless there is agreement by both parties for a one-member panel.

The Northwest Territories Surface Rights Board will not be a co-management board, nor do the LCAs require it to be. Therefore, there is no nomination process laid out in the bill. Members and alternates are not representatives of particular interests; they are to be objective and publicly accountable.

However, all members and alternates must be resident of the NWT. Further, all disputes in a particular settlement area must be heard by a panel, of which at least one member must be resident of the particular settlement area.

The Northwest Territories Surface Rights Board Act will fulfill Canada’s obligation to enact legislation establishing a dispute resolution mechanism for disputes between surface and subsurface rights holders and landowners or occupants in the Northwest Territories.

Provisions of the bill:

The proposed bill prescribes the following overall process:

  • An application is made to the Board by one or both parties to a dispute
  • A panel of the Board conducts a hearing
  • Terms and conditions of access are determined and appropriate compensation is set
  • The Board makes an access order setting out the terms and conditions and the compensation payable

The Board would have the power to:

  • Render binding decisions (access orders) on settlement and non-settlement lands
  • Grant access orders setting out the terms and conditions by which the access can be exercised
  • Determine the compensation to be paid in respect to that access
  • Determine compensation for unforeseen damage resulting from access
  • Periodically review any access order (terms and conditions and compensation)
  • Terminate access orders
  • Award costs