Council puts off docks decision amidst threats of legal action

Threats of legal action had North Cowichan councillors deciding to have further discussions with Cowichan Tribes about allowing docks to be built on the foreshore of the Maple Bay peninsula by Sansum Narrows.

A public hearing held Wednesday, March 5 as required before third reading of a bylaw on the subject, drew a fusillade from Tribes representative Tracy Fleming.

She said that Cowichan Tribes was unequivocal in not supporting the idea of docks in an area that First Nations people have used "since time immemorial" for harvesting of fish and shellfish.

Fleming read a letter from Chief William Seymour that threatened legal action if the bylaw passed, and called it "infringement" of Tribes’ constitutional rights.

"This council will be judged by what it does. And that could be by trial in B.C. Supreme Court," she read, adding that such action was not the band’s preference.

"We request a further meeting with North Cowichan," she said, adding "Tribes has already opposed a public road there but the main concern is the impact on the foreshore. The residents will eventually get their road but what will Cowichan Tribes get?" Fleming was followed by Tribes’ biologist Tim Kulchyski and later by elder Luschiim (Arvid Charlie) who reiterated that the Sansum Point area and the foreshore especially near Octopus Point are hugely important to and regularly used by First Nations people.

After listening carefully and asking quite a few questions of North Cowichan staff, council voted by a narrow margin to postpone passing the bylaw until after another meeting can be held with Chief Seymour and his council.

"I would strongly recommend that council not pass third reading," Mayor Jon Lefebure said. "There’s a strong desire from Cowichan Tribes to continue this. I don’t believe in avoiding the tough decisions but out of respect for First Nations it’s incredibly important to have more discussion with them."

Council was stuck between a rock and a hard place, with, on one hand, the band’s real concerns and on the other, the need to deal with property owners fairly, he said.

Coun. Ruth Hartmann was not in favour of allowing the docks but said she hoped to see council "finally step up to the plate and make a decision."

Coun. Al Siebring said he was "not too concerned" about the threat of legal action.

"This is within the boundaries of North Cowichan. The question of title is up to the courts, not up to us. I want to see us find a way that will satisfy all parties," he said, suggesting that a few community docks might be that solution.