The case of the Fisherman versus the Queen

R v Adams

Year: 1996

Court: Supreme Court of Canada

Citation: [1996] 3 S.C.R. 101

Location: QC

TAGS: Constitutional; Fishing Rights

Aboriginal rights are a broader concept than aboriginal title and are not limited to areas where a group has proven title. These rights exist throughout Canada and exist equally through areas of French and English colonization.


In R v Adams, Adams, a Mohawk man, was charged under s. 4(1) of the Quebec Fishery Regulations for fishing without a license on Lake St. Francis, Quebec. Adams did not apply for a special license that permitted Indigenous people to fish for food. He maintained that his aboriginal rights, recognized and affirmed in section 35(1) of the Constitution Act, 1982, were infringed upon by s.4(1) of the Quebec Fishery Regulations. Due to the principle of constitutional supremacy, he argued that this meant s. 4(1) was invalid, and did not apply to him.

The issue before the Court was whether aboriginal rights are tied to aboriginal title to land, or whether they could be made where title has not been proven. The Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) held that aboriginal title is an area within the broader scope of aboriginal rights, and that aboriginal rights are not tied to aboriginal title. Adams’ conviction was overturned. The SCC used the R v Van der Peet test to establish that fishing in Lake St. Francis was a practice integral to Mohawk culture, and the right to fish had not been extinguished. The SCC found that s.4(1) of the Quebec Fishery Regulations infringed upon this aboriginal right to fish for food without justification, and thus was inapplicable. The SCC also followed R v Côté, and stated that, though the French Crown did not recognize the rights for Mohawk people to fish, s.35(1) of the Constitution Act, 1982 applies equally throughout Canada, regardless of if the area was colonized by the British or French.

Why this Case Matters:

R v Adams builds upon R v Van der Peet and R v Côté, by affirming that the Aboriginal rights recognized within s.35(1) of the Constitution Act, 1982 are not limited to places where title has been proven and are not limited to the areas that were under English colonial law. This case establishes that Aboriginal practices, customs and traditions not directly tied to land claims are protected and opens the door for claims to Aboriginal rights other than fishing.  

Supreme Court Judgment:

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