Officials from the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) and the Squamish and Lil'wat First Nations will have to wait until January for the conclusion of B.C. Supreme Court hearings over the approval of Whistler's controversial Official Community Plan (OCP).
Approved by the province and municipal council in the spring, Whistler's OCP garnered criticism from local First Nations who took issue over its inclusion of a hard cap on future development, claiming the bed unit limit prevents them from pursuing economic development on Crown land within municipal boundaries.
The hearings were scheduled to conclude Friday, Nov. 22, however, three more days are required to hear all of the remaining arguments, now scheduled for Jan. 27 to 29.
"These are things we'd like to clear up sooner rather than later," said Whistler's acting mayor John Grills, who did not attend the hearings last week and would not comment further on the case as it remains before the courts. "We'll put the time in then and hopefully that will be enough for the judge to make his decision."
Lil'wat and Squamish officials filed a joint petition in B.C. court following the OCP's adoption by council in May, stating that the municipal guiding document infringed upon their aboriginal rights. A provincial response in September claimed the Nations failed to identify any specific activities or aboriginal rights affected by the OCP. An aboriginal right must be an activity that is an element of a practice, custom or tradition integral to the culture of the group claiming the right.
The petitioners also claimed the level of consultation with B.C.'s Ministry of Community, Sport and Cultural Development ahead of the OCP's adoption was inadequate. The province responded, saying the extent of the legal duty to consult was at "the low end of the scale" and that the record showed the consultation that did occur was adequate.
The RMOW filed its own response requesting an outright dismissal of the petition, citing a 2007 Land Legacies Agreement signed between the Nations as having bound the Lil'wat and Squamish to the tenets in the resort's updated OCP. Under the agreement, the province granted 300 acres and 452 bed units to the Nations for agreeing to allow the RMOW to expand its boundaries. The provision of the deal meant that any land held by the Nations within municipal boundaries "would be subject to all valid RMOW bylaws and orders despite any rule of law, court decision or enactment to the contrary that would exempt the Petitioners because of their aboriginal status," according to the agreement.
Furthermore, the OCP does not regulate land use, but rather is a statement of the municipality's objectives and policies meant to guide land use and planning decision-making, and cannot prevent the exercise of any property rights, including aboriginal title or rights, according to Whistler's response.
An administrator with the Lil'wat Nation would not comment on the ongoing court proceedings. The Squamish Nation did not respond to a request for comment.