Tuesday, September 16, 2014
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Future of First Nations burial ground on tiny B.C. islet remains uncertain

By Sarah Petrescu, Victoria Times Colonist

SALT SPRING ISLAND, B.C. - The Victoria-area's Capital Regional District announced that it will not pursue the expropriation of a tiny islet off Salt Spring Island to protect a First Nations burial ground.

 

Board chairman Alastair Bryson said the CRD does not have the authority to expropriate property for heritage preservation and that pursuing it for parkland would have been too difficult.

"It's a significant undertaking, and we don't have the research," Bryson said Thursday, noting Grace Islet, about 50 kilometres due north of Victoria, would have to be shown to have natural attributes that make it unique in the region.

The islet, a small island in Ganges Harbour off Salt Spring Island, is home to a documented First Nations burial ground.

It was bought in 1990 by Alberta businessman Barry Slawsky, who has been required to abide by heritage protection provisions since ancient remains and burial cairns were discovered on the island in 2006.

Recent concerns over construction on the islet have escalated into protests. Various levels of government have been lobbied to intervene.

The CRD board of directors voted unanimously in July to send a letter to the province asking it to suspend permits on Grace Islet and to attend a summit with First Nations to discuss the issue.

While the B.C. Archaeology Branch staff did meet with CRD directors to explain their process, they did not suspend any permits. The province has not responded to the request for a summit.

"Some of the expectations raised in the public's mind about what we can do are not possible," Bryson said.

CRD director Ben Isitt, who introduced the motions to lobby the province and pursue expropriation, said he was disappointed with the decision.

"The CRD has chosen the path of caution rather than leadership," said Isitt, a Victoria councillor.

Convincing members of the CRD board, which he called conservative, to go beyond the letter and expropriate the property was likely a long shot, Isitt said. He said he thinks the scales were tipped by the legal risks, which were laid out in part by the landowner's lawyer, John Alexander, at an in-camera meeting.

"It's unfortunate the owner's lawyer could address the meeting but neither the 1/8First Nations 3/8 chiefs nor a nature botanist were awarded that."

Isitt said he plans to continue to work with First Nations and activists to stop construction and predicts more direct action will be taken now that the bureaucratic channels are dry.

"Civil disobedience is one of the oldest methods of protest, but there are also legal measures available to First Nations," he said.

Alexander said his client was relieved to hear the CRD would not enter the expropriation process and that he is "committed to continuing to build in accordance with the permit guidelines."  

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