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Musqueam deal rankles Metro

Metro Vancouver officials are still weighing their legal options in the wake of the province’s decision to carve off part of Pacific Spirit Regional Park and turn it over to the Musqueam Indian Band.

The transfer of 22.3 hectares of the Metro-owned park will settle a lengthy legal dispute between the band and Victoria, but it’s contested by regional officials who fear a precedent that could see more parks or public land turned over to settle aboriginal claims.

“It is being reviewed by legal staff to provide advice to us on what the next steps might be,” said Metro spokesman Bill Morrell.

The deal was announced late last year but advanced with a vote of the Musqueam and introduction of legislation March 11.

Bill 12 says the land will “cease to be a regional park,” that all claims by the regional district are extinguished without compensation and no legal proceedings for damages can be launched against the government or the Musqueam.

Metro parks committee chair Gayle Martin, a Langley City councillor, isn’t optimistic Metro Vancouver has much recourse.

“It appears the province can do whatever they want to do and we have no say in the matter,” she said.

The agreement compensates the Musqueam for what the courts decided was the improper sale of the University Golf Course to UBC by Victoria.

Martin says the fact the deal is a settlement of a legal challenge by the band, rather than a final land claims treaty means there may be more such claims to settle – with the Musqueam or other area bands – in addition to eventual treaties.

The use of public park land in Point Grey to settle such a claim raises the possibility it could happen elsewhere in the region, she said.

“If it can happen to the regional district, it can happen to any municipality,” Martin said.

Metro board members also fear the region could lose control of other public lands, like its watersheds and sewage treatment plants that occupy large areas.

Under the agreement, the Musqueam also get eventual control of the 59-hectare golf course for development, plus $20.3 million in cash. The value of the land to be transferred is estimated at more than $230 million.

Band members voted 98 per cent in favour.

The agreement costs B.C. taxpayers $70 million, including $30 million to buy the golf course back from UBC and $20 million to pay for seven hectares of land at the site of the River Rock Casino in Richmond that also goes to the Musqueam. The golf course lands cannot be developed until 2083.

Aboriginal reconciliation minister Mike de Jong said many people have forgotten that the creation of Pacific Spirit Regional Park happened in 1989 on the understanding the transfer was without prejudice to Musqueam claims.

He noted the most heavily used part of the park land to be transferred to the Musqueam is to remain a park open to the public.

New Democrats are supporting the agreement, although aboriginal reconciliation critic Scott Fraser asked whether such deals outside the treaty process give bands less incentive to sign final treaties.

“Done recklessly, that could be the effect,” de Jong responded, but maintained careful incremental agreements build trust and can lead to final treaties.

He did not rule out the possibility more of the park could be turned over in an eventual Musqueam treaty, but said there have been no specific discussions so far.

jnagel@surreyleader.com

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