DRIPA trumps private property rights on Gulf Island

Provincial decision could set precedent for island real estate due to BC Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act

Skunk anglers on the British Columbia coast often joke that they need “James Island cuisine,” referring to the sticks of dynamite that have been made for decades on the second largest private island in the Gulf.

But a BC government decision that referenced Indigenous rights in canceling a luxury real estate development on James Island could prove explosive no joke for coastal property owners.

This month, the provincial government rejected an application by JI Properties, a company owned by Seattle telecommunications billionaire Craig McCaw, to develop high-end vacation homes on the island, which sits next door. of the Saanich Peninsula.

The application was denied, in part, because of the “exceptional negative impacts” the development would have on Tsawout First Nation, whose long history on the island includes village sites, food harvesting and numerous cemeteries. , according to Ryan Evanoff, provincial approval officer for the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure.

Evanoff also cited potential contamination from sewer and drinking water issues, but such issues could likely be overcome on a billionaire’s budget.

McCaw bought James Island in 1994 for $26 million. The island currently houses a 5,000 square foot residence, six lodges, private docks, an airstrip, a pool house and an 18-hole golf course. In 2021, the property, including the buildings, was assessed at $54.7 million by the BC Assessment Authority.

John Gailus, legal counsel for the Tsawout First Nation, said the veto decision is notable for its application of provincial commitments under the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), adopted by the United Nations in 2007.

British Columbia was the first jurisdiction in Canada to accept UNDRIPA into provincial law, in November 2019.

“It is the first time, to my knowledge, that there is a concrete application of DRIPA [Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People Act] operates under a provincial approval process,” said Gailus. “I think it’s important.”

Last March, the provincial government released a Declaration Act Action Plan, outlining 89 actions for government departments under DRIPA.

In 2014, JI Properties. put the 770-acre island up for sale through Sotheby’s International Realty for $75 million, but there were no takers. He then reissued a development request from 2009 that had received preliminary layout approval. A revised development plan for 76 residential lots and three commercial lots was released in July 2020.

In subsequent years, conditions were added, including consultation with First Nations. Consultations with Tsawout First Nation took place between late 2019 and March 2022.

But last year the 900-member Tsawout First Nation sued the federal and provincial governments for the island, arguing it should have been awarded to them under the Douglas Treaties of 1852. The Tsawouts say ‘She was evicted from the land by the government in 1870 when the province sold James Island for $1 an acre, with no compensation to the Tsawout people.

They want the government to pay McCaw for the island and hand it over to the Tsawouts.

Article 26 of UNDRIP states that “Indigenous peoples have the right to own, use, develop and control the lands, territories and resources which they possess by reason of traditional ownership or other occupations. or traditional uses, as well as those they have otherwise acquired. .”

British Columbia’s decision to deny development, and the ensuing lawsuit, could have repercussions in the Gulf Islands, most of which are subject to First Nations land claims.

The province is in talks with the North Pender Island Local Trust Area, which includes the local governments of more than 39 associated islands within the Islands Trust, including James Island, Sidney Island, North Pender and Mayne Island, according to Evanoff. In 2008, the group approved the rezoning of James Island, but has since “passed important resolutions” regarding reconciliation with Indigenous communities.

  • With files from Times Colonist

Lynn A. Saleh