Proposed project in B.C. pits Indigenous religious rights against public interest in Crown land
A landmark 7-2 decision released Thursday by Canada’s top court paves the way for development of the Jumbo Glacier resort in the Kootenays region of British Columbia, despite strong objections from the Ktunaxa Nation. (Jumbo Glacier Resort)
Building a massive ski resort on B.C. land considered sacred to a First Nation does not breach religious rights, the Supreme Court of Canada says in a decision released Thursday.
The landmark 7-2 decision paves the way for development of the Jumbo Glacier resort in the Kootenays region of British Columbia, despite strong objections from the Ktunaxa Nation.
The Ktunaxa believe the project will drive Grizzly Bear Spirit from Qat’mak, the traditional name for the spiritual territory, and permanently impair their religious beliefs and spiritual practices.
Interpreting scope of religious protections
Interpreting the scope of religious protections under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the Supreme Court said those protections include freedom to hold such beliefs and manifest those beliefs, but do not extend to the protection of sacred sites.
“We arrive at these conclusions cognizant of the importance of protecting Indigenous religious beliefs and practices, and the place of such protection in achieving reconciliation between Indigenous peoples and non-Indigenous communities,” reads the judgment written by Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin and Justice Malcolm Rowe.
Two other justices, Michael Moldaver and Suzanne Côté, took a broader view of the Charter religious protections, but still agreed with the majority in rejecting the Ktunaxa appeal on grounds of public interest.
The ruling said the B.C. government had engaged in “deep consultation” throughout the process, and had met its duty to consult and accommodate under Sec. 35 of the Constitution Act. The section does not give Indigenous groups a veto power over development projects; it guarantees a process, but not a particular result, the ruling said.
“Where adequate consultation has occurred, a development may proceed without consent,” it reads.
Despite the court ruling, the project still has to clear environmental and other regulatory hurdles in order to proceed.
Year-round ski resort
The project, which would be a year-round resort by Glacier Resort, has been tied up in legal wrangling since the plan’s inception in 1991.
According to its website, the project would be a “unique sightseeing destination” and a big economic generator for construction jobs and resort employment. It would provide lifts to four glaciers at an elevation of up to 3,419 metres.
The three-phase project would include 5,500 bed-units plus 750 beds for staff accommodations, and is expected to draw 2,000 to 3,000 visitors a day in high season.
The resort’s location was chosen for its optimal snow conditions, high elevations, large glaciers and the fact the Jumbo Creek valley has seen “significant prior use,” the website reads.
By Kathleen Harris, CBC News