Crematorium case about precedent, says Cowichan Valley Regional District

The Cowichan Valley Regional District is worried about the precedent set by the recent BC Court of Appeal ruling that allows operation of a commercial crematorium at Sahtlam despite its being against local zoning, and that’s why they’re appealing to the Supreme Court of Canada, officials said.

CVRD CAO Brian Carruthers said that the Union of BC Municipalities may assist in financing any possible court action.

"The UBCM does have a program whereby they will pay up to a third, to a maximum of $10,000, to assist local government which is essentially dealing with a matter that has broad implications for local governments," Carruthers said.

The Paldi Khalsa Diwan Society and their tenant, Cowichan Valley Crematorium Ltd., filed a BC Supreme Court action against the regional district in 2013, following refusal by the CVRD to issue a document to Cowichan Valley Crematorium Ltd. confirming that the crematorium in question was permitted by CVRD bylaws.

The BC Supreme Court judge ruled in favour of the CVRD, and the society and its tenant then subsequently filed an appeal and on Aug. 26, 2014 the Court of Appeal ruled in favour of the appellants.

Carruthers said the CVRD is concerned that the ruling could affect all levels of government. "It is troublesome. No local government wants to get embroiled in drawn out litigation over these types of issues.

"This one had such broad implications that the [CVRD] board felt it was imperative that at very least we make an application to the Supreme Court to try and have this matter heard," he said.

Governments everywhere will be watching, too.

"What happens in case law is other jurisdictions will be looking at that case law in dealing with other matters right across the country," Carruthers said.

"We want to ensure we get certainty in that decision particularly since the decisions of the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal are so distinctly different," he said.

Carruthers said it comes down to a local community determining its fate. A zoning bylaw is a local council or board defining what they feel are appropriate uses in a particular zone after public consultation. "At root of the issue is the idea that the court should take a broader view of the intent of the bylaw and the Court of Appeal chose to take a very narrowly focused view and determine that this operation, albeit commercial, was within the institutional zone. We’re really concerned about the implications with other zoning matters that may come up," he said.

An application has to be submitted by the third week of October to the Supreme Court of Canada and the CVRD was off the mark Oct. 1. "We’re hoping it won’t be too long following that that we get a decision one way or another if the matter will be heard," Carruthers said.