Whistler abandons First Nations' legal challenge to OCP 

Provincial decision not to appeal main factor in dropping case

click to enlarge FILE PHOTO - Appeal dropped The RMOW has decided to abandon its appeal of the BC Supreme Court ruling that struck down the resort's Official Community Plan.
  • File photo
  • Appeal dropped The RMOW has decided to abandon its appeal of the BC Supreme Court ruling that struck down the resort's Official Community Plan.

Whistler has abandoned its appeal of the First Nations legal challenge, which quashed the municipality's Official Community Plan.

The move to abandon the case, which at the latest tally has cost Whistler roughly $100,000, comes on the heels of the provincial government's decision to not appeal the B.C. Supreme Court decision, which upheld the Squamish and Lil'wat Nations' claims that the B.C. Government did not fulfill its duty to consult on concerns the nations had about the resort's new community plan.

Left alone to fight the decision, Whistler was forced to take a hard look at its chances of success.

"Without the province coming along with us in the appeal, it would just be difficult for us," said Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden, who said the decision to abandon was made in council's in-camera meeting Tuesday.

"After all, it was the decision of the minister (of Community, Sport and Cultural Development at the time, Bill Bennett) to approve the OCP... that was quashed. So without the minister... appealing that finding, it makes it very difficult."

Both Whistler and the province, which approved the OCP, were co-defendants in the initial lawsuit launched by the Squamish and Lil'wat Nations last year. The Nations won their case in May and both defendants had 30 days to appeal.

In those 30 days, however, the legal landscape with regards to First Nations claims shifted significantly.

At the end of June the Supreme Court of Canada recognized aboriginal title to more than 1,700 square kilometres of land in B.C. to the Tsilhqot'in First Nations.

It's a decision that has far-reaching ramifications, most of which are not currently clear.

What is clear is Whistler's 2013 OCP, with its 2,500 hours of citizen input, is in limbo effectively stuck in no-man's land at third reading, on the verge of becoming law and yet completely ineffective. Whistler has reverted back to its two-decades old OCP.

The mayor said there are no significant changes in the documents, with many of the policies embedded in the new OCP already approved by Whistler.

When asked how she feels about the turn of events, the mayor reflected over the two-year process.

"I was disappointed that the law suit was initiated in the first place," she said. "The litigation was expensive and time consuming. The fact that we lost the litigation... the judge gave his reasons... but I personally disagree with some of his findings. And it is disappointing that all of the work by the staff, and by the community members that went into the formulation of the 2013 OCP, which I thought was an excellent document, (and) had many references to our relationship with First Nations and their interests, is now sitting at third reading. So we need to just take the time, sit back a little bit and just figure things out.

"I think everybody is trying to figure out where to go from here."

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