17th Century Property Rights in Newfoundland and their implications for modern offshore rights, Friday February 24th, 2012

17th Century Property Rights in Newfoundland and their implications for modern offshore rights

British policy towards Newfoundland, from its discovery to the time of its first responsible government in 1833, was to retard colonization.  This policy had two goals: to establish British trade by securing monopoly control of the fishery for English west country merchants and to ensure a fertile training ground for skilled seaman to supply the needs of the growing navy.  Under this policy Newfoundland was conceived of as a “ship’s room” – a place whose purpose was to serve the fishery, not a place for occupation and colonization – permanently anchored to the Grand Banks.  This policy was consistently embodied in legislation, from the 1698 Act of King William III to 1833.

In Reference re Newfoundland Continental Shelf, [1984] 1 S.C.R. 86, the Supreme Court of Canada observed that under general common law principles neither Newfoundland nor Canada had property rights in the Grand Banks, the continental shelf off Newfoundland.  The Court went to hold that Newfoundland lacked both the right to exploit the mineral resources of the Grand Banks and the legislative competence to make laws for that exploitation.  The Imperial constitution of Newfoundland before 1833 as a ship’s room suggests that the Grand Banks always have been, and remain, part of Newfoundland.

See Rob Horwood’s presentation slides here.


Rob Horwood was born In St. John’s in 1952.  He went to Prince of Wales Collegiate and Memorial University, earning a B.Sc. (hons) in mathematics (1973), B.A. in philosophy (1974) and an M.A. in philosophy in 1977.  Rob was awarded a Rothermere Fellowship, and subsequently an SSHRC fellowship, to study Philosophy of Science at the London School of Economics, where he earned a Ph.D in 1981.  After wintering in St. John’s in 1981 and then teaching mathematics in London, England high schools, Rob returned to Canada in the summer of 1982 to study law at McGill where he earned an LL.B. in 1985.  Rob worked as a public interest advocate in regulatory law and economics for five years, before joining the federal public service in 1992 as a competition law officer.  Since 1997 Rob has been legislative counsel for the federal Department of Justice where he has drafted the English version of a wide variety of legislation and regulations.  While doing so, in 1999 he also earned an LL.M from the University of Ottawa in legislative drafting and constitutional and administrative law. He has also worked as a legal advisor for the Departments of Fisheries and Oceans, Finance and Human Resources and Skills Development as well as the National Research Council of Canada.  Rob is  happily married to Suzanne Legault.  They have three children, Geneviève, Frédérique and Julien.  They reside in Gatineau (Hull) Quebec virtually within sight of Parliament and in downtown St. John’s, whenever possible, within sight of Cabot Tower and the narrows.

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