May, 2012

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The Province is the Problem at the Marpole Midden

Thursday, May 10th, 2012
Demonstrators at Marpole Midden

I dropped by to visit the demonstrators outside the HQ Living worksite beside the Arthur Lang Bridge on Southwest Marine Drive today. Boy were my eyes opened.

Off and on, they have been outside this worksite for a couple of months. A small rabble, huddled under the Arthur Lang Bridge against the driving rain.

“Save our Ancestors!” say their signs, “Musqueam History is BC History!”

Yeah, whatever, one might conclude. Whatever the problem, there is no workable solution. Enough of this appeasing of ancient history when progress calls for development!

Call me naive, but I was shocked to hear what I was told.

Before I go on, let me ask you if you value ‘due process‘?

Due process is important in our society and in our government because it is a check on arbitrary decisions and a way to mitigate adverse consequences when tough decisions need to be made.

Imagine how you would feel and what you might do if you were to learn that your house was to be torn down because your city’s planning department didn’t like the color you painted it.

Moreover, imagine your state of mind if this decision was made and a letter was sent to you informing that this decision was pending while they knew you were on holidays and out of town.

Then, imagine how you would feel and what you might do if the house was torn down before you even had a chance to repaint it… and that any avenue of appeal fell on deaf ears?

It is due process that ensures that these sorts of egregious decisions are never made or carried out.

But in effect this is exactly what has happened to the Musqueam and their documented long-standing efforts to protect their former town-site. And when I say long-standing, I mean 80+ years.

I’m not going to bore you with a detailed timeline- at least not here and now. Suffice it to say, although the land in question is not actually privately held Musqueam property, it is one of 127 parcels of land that the Musqueam consider to be culturally relevant.

Since the 1930s this parcel of land has been considered to be an historic site and an archeological “No Digging” covenant was placed on the property at that time. Much of the land was paved over behind a building built on shallow footings at the time so it has not been much of an issue.

Until now.

Despite the covenant that was written into the deed of the property, the current owner maintains that he was not aware of the covenant when he bought the property expressly to build a condominium development with underground parking.

He says that the original owner of the property did not tell him about the no-digging clause. As an aside, it makes you wonder whether developers actually care about these “details” or whether they neglect to conduct due diligence when making multi-million dollar investments in land. In either case, the ultimate responsibility for ‘not knowing’ is the person who buys the land- not the person who sells it.

Why do I say this? I say this because if it was the responsibility of the guy who sold the land, there would be a law suit between the seller and the buyer, where the buyer would be trying to reverse the sale.

But let’s put these doubts aside and presume only good will and the best of intentions on the part of the developer, Century Group Ltd.

So what about the due process that presumably exists to ensure that nobody is run roughshod by faceless bureaucrats?

When the property changed hands, the archeological branch in Victoria served notice that the developer intended to dig into the parcel of land with the intention to develop during the weeks in December they knew the Musqueam office would be closed. How could they not?

By the time they opened and read the letter, the dig was already underway.

Fast forward just a few months later to the present day, and several developments in the story have taken place.

The Musqueam Nation and the developers have arranged a land swap. The developers will be able to receive land at the foot of Kerr Street in exchange for this parcel adjacent to Montcalm Street. The Musqueam are even prepared to sweeten the pot with financial incentives. With this parcel of land, they intend to create a memorial park to preserve the sanctity of the village site.

The sad thing is that the swap cannot happen until the Archeological Branch approves it.

What is worse, the Provincial Government- both at the leadership level as well as at the Archeological Branch is dragging its heels as it has remained completely silent.

The government maintains, as it did in the Legislature today to an audience that included dignitaries from various First Nations, that it is “fully engaged”, working with all parties, through a special facilitator to resolve the issue.

All of this is complete platitude because nobody even knows who the facilitator is. No member of the Archeological Branch has spoken to the issue-  let alone acted.

The developer is getting frustrated. He is losing money with every passing day he cannot get his development built. The Musqueam know this too and are sympathetic with his plight.

But the longer the provincial government sits on its hands, the more volatile the situation is going to get. According to a source at the protest site, the developer is trying to provoke a confrontation with the protesters to put pressure on the provincial government to act. Even the Vancouver police see it this way.

And all of this is so unnecessary.

The City of Vancouver is onside. The developer, with the best of intentions moving forward, is onside. The Musqueam Nation is onside. The Marpole community is onside. So where is the provincial government?

Since December, the Musqueam have been shut out of any due process. Yet they are doing what they can to work with the developer to find a reasonable solution.

But the provincial government, responsible for the breach of due process has yet to step forward. The provincial government, whose responsibility it apparently is to ‘protect’ the site but isn’t, is not doing what it can to help undo the mess it has created. Indeed, it has nothing at all to alleviate the situation at all.

To me, this is just a continuation of the past how governments that presume to speak for me, mistreat our aboriginal brothers and sisters.

It is quite unfair to assert my judgement on those who came before me for their racist attitudes and their transparent mistreatment of the “Indians”. There is nothing I can do to unring the bell in these instances.

But it is quite another for me to stand by today and watch silently the same institutional mistreatment, the same ‘convenient’ ignorance of previous agreements and treaties, the same short-circuiting of due process in the Law, the same marginalization of an oft-ignored community within our ranks- actions that we all find so repugnant in our past.

This cannot continue. It is time to do something different.

It is time for the provincial government came to the table to solve this issue before it becomes a crisis. The time for dithering is over.