The City of Vancouver’s Failure to Consult Indigenous Peoples

This Indigenous-themed park is still closed — nearly a year after the city built it. Could land rights be the problem?

Gerald V. Martin

Two things can happen when it comes to land use and Indigenous Peoples’ rights: they get screwed or they don’t get screwed. The latter is the more common scenario, but there are times when land rights get violated as the result of the former’s incompetence or negligence.

That may explain why, in December, the city of Vancouver, which owns the Vancouver Aquarium (and two other marine-life centres in the city), has closed the Aboriginal Aquatic Centre — a $25-million, 20-hectare park with a 60-hectare lagoon that includes a series of nature trails, art installations and a wetland designed to mimic a freshwater rainforest. It is located on the edge of the city’s West End neighbourhood.

The Indigenous Aquatic Centre’s closure was delayed for a very long time. But that delay was also very long. It seems pretty clear that the city’s failure to consult communities was part of the delay. The city’s announcement that plans to close the Aboriginal Aquatic Centre were scrapped — with no explanation — happened in early 2017, after Indigenous communities had sued the city over a decision to rezone some of the land as a major residential project in the city’s West End.

The lawsuit, filed in 2015, alleged the city didn’t consult with First Nations and local residents before it rezoned the park, which lies within the city’s West End neighbourhood.

As the court case unfolded, the city and Aboriginal groups, through its lawyers, had their own version of events, and their versions clashed. The city said Indigenous groups did not offer input about the rezonings. They didn’t. The city said they did, in fact, offer input, and that there were too many of them. In fact, there were few people from the Indigenous groups at the June 2016 planning and rezoning meeting.

The city’s lawyers insisted the Indigenous groups’ objections were vague and that there was a lack of communication and cooperation between them. According to the city, Indigenous groups didn’t object to the rezonings because the city offered other proposals.

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