Metro Vancouver launches challenge to Musqueam deal

by Lloyd Dolha

Metro Vancouver is going to court challenge over the B.C. government’s decision to use a portion of the Pacific Spirit Park to settle outstanding litigation with the Musqueam Indian Band.

More specifically, Metro Vancouver (formerly the GVRD) board members are launching a constitutional challenge to recent provincial legislation that has resulted in the transfer of 22.3 hectares of land of the park to the Musqueam without compensation to the regional government.

The board will ask the courts to rule on whether the province has the constitutional authority to expropriate land for the settlement of the First Nations’ title and rights claims to the land, in that First Nations’ title and rights are an area of exclusive federal jurisdiction.

“Metro Vancouver fully supports provincial efforts to achieve reconciliation with the Musqueam people and other First Nations communities,” said board chair Lois Jackson. “This legislation, however, sets a precedent for the expropriation of municipal and regional assets and is contrary to previous commitments made by the province that municipal and regional parklands would not be used to resolve aboriginal claims.”

Bill 12 – 2008, the Musqueam Reconciliation, Settlement and Benefits Agreement Act, transfers two parcels of land of the regional park to the Musqueam and precludes legal proceedings for damages or compensation against the province, the band, or a designated company in regards to the transfer.

“The provincial decision to expropriate these lands to settle aboriginal claims has potential ramifications far beyond Pacific Spirit Regional Park and it is imperative that we are clear on the constitutional authority under which the expropriation has proceeded,” said Jackson.

Musqueam band members voted overwhelmingly in favour of the deal in early March that would transfer ownership of the UBC golf course, the two parcels of the park, as well as seven hectares of the River Rock Casino’s Bridgeport lands in a compensation package worth almost $250 million.

In their legal case against the province, the Musqueam First Nation sought to block the transfer of the UBC golf course from the province to the university because the province had not fulfilled its legal obligation to consult and accommodate the First Nation.

The appeal case resulted in a unanimous BC Court of Appeal decision to allow the Musqueam to appeal a lower court ruling as the consultation and accommodation process played out between the two parties was defective in allowing the transfer of the golf course lands in the first place.

The First Nations Summit, an intervener in that case, is appalled by Metro Vancouver’s decision to seek the court ruling insofar as they see the deal as the province returning part of the Musqueam’s traditional territory to the First Nation.

“The lands negotiated within the Musqueam Reconciliation, Settlement and Benefits agreement are within the ancient traditional territory of the Musqueam people.,” said Chief Judith Sayers, a member of the Summit`s political executive. “There is no valid reason why these lands should not be returned to the Musqueam people under this agreement especially considering the lands in question are part of a settlement arising out of a court case in which the court found in favour of the Musqueam.”

Chief Sayers went on to note that the agreement only reflects a fraction of the compensation due to the Musqueam for lands within their traditional territory which cannot or will not be returned by the provincial Crown.

“Municipalities clearly should not be able to intervene in these settlements,”she said.

Chief Ernie Campbell could not be reached for comment.