A B.C. Supreme Court judge dismissed the local Ktunaxa First Nation’s legal petition against Glacier Resorts Ltd. late last week, a move that was welcomed by Jumbo Glacier Resort proponents, but left the First Nation disappointed.
The application for judicial review — filed in mid-2012 — argued that Jumbo Glacier Resort (and its attendant permanent human population) infringes on an area the Ktunaxa consider sacred territory, known as Qat’muk, and impacts traditional religious activities and beliefs involving grizzly bear spirits. It also argued the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations did not adequately consult the Ktunaxa before giving Jumbo Glacier Resort its approval in March 2012.
But Justice John Savage ruled the ministry had done its duty and that the resort does not impinge on constitutional religious rights.
“The process of consultation and the accommodation offered, in my opinion, passes the reasonableness standard,” wrote Mr. Savage in the ruling, adding that in his view the Province’s decision to approve the Jumbo Master Development Agreement with various conditions and accommodations represents a reasonable balancing of Charter (of rights and freedoms) values and statutory objectives.
“It is difficult to describe how disappointed and frustrated we are with the Supreme Court’s decision. We knew from the start that the Canadian courts would find it difficult to understand our distinct cultural and spiritual beliefs and values, particularly our relationship with Qat’muk,” said Ktunaxa Nation Chair Kathryn Teneese in a press release.
“The court’s dismissal of our challenge, while conceding that this proposed development will have a significant impact on our Ktunaxa spiritual practices, speaks volumes to the challenges First Nations face when trying to assert their rights,” said Ms. Teneese. “Ktunaxa people existed and exercised our spiritual rights in our territory long before the establishment of the Canadian legal system.”
Ms. Teneese later told The Valley Echo that although the Ktunaxa people were hopeful the judge would rule in favour of the First Nation, they were not completely surprised by the result since they knew it would be a complex case.
“We were always aware of the limitations of a court action,” she said.
Resort proponents hailed the ruling as a victory.
“The Supreme Court’s decision is welcome,” said Glacier Resorts Ltd. vice-president Grant Costello in a press release. “This project has undergone 23 years of comprehensive public consultations — more than all the other new B.C. ski resort proposals combined. To quash more than two decades of work on a project that has been declared to be in the public interest would further the injustice done to project proponents and supporters.”
The Ktunaxa, however, say the fight is not over.
“Despite this setback, we will continue to explore every avenue to stop development in the heart of Qat’muk. We will be engaging with our citizens, leadership and legal team to explore our next steps,” said Ms. Teneese in the Ktunaxa press release.
“Our resolve is stronger than ever and we will continue to stand our ground,” she said in the release, later telling The Valley Echo this may include launching an appeal of the judge’s ruling.
Glacier Resorts Ltd. is, however, set to move ahead with construction plans this summer, according to the company’s press release.