Court finds Community Forest permits were properly issued

Logging

The BC Supreme Court has ruled that the Sechelt Community Projects (SCPI), the district-owned company that manages the Sunshine Coast Community Forest, and the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations (FLNRO) carried out proper consultations before a cutting permit was issued for the block in the East Wilson Creek area known as EW28 or the Chanterelle Forest.

Elphinstone Logging Focus (ELF) succeeded in getting a temporary injunction to halt the logging of EW28 last December, by arguing in court that SCPI didn’t properly consult with the community and stakeholders.

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The injunction was lifted when ELF would not provide an assurance it could pay any damages that might be awarded if it lost the case.

However, the judge who heard the injunction application, Justice Lisa Warren, agreed “there is a serious issue to be determined with respect to whether the [cutting permit] ought to be quashed as a result of the dearth of community consultation at the site plan or cutting permit application stage.”

Arguments on that issue were heard March 5 and 6 before a different judge, Justice Nitya Iyer.

By that time EW28 had already been logged, and ELF’s lawyer argued that although it would be pointless to overturn the decision to grant a cutting permit, the court should make a declaration that the decision was “unreasonable or procedurally unfair” because the FLNRO district manager failed to ensure SCPI had consulted non-Aboriginal communities.

In a 19-page ruling, Justice Iyer said the case hinged not on whether SCPI and FLNRO ought to have consulted the broader community but whether there was a legal obligation to do so.

She found there is no legal obligation beyond the one to “consult with Aboriginal groups that may have an Aboriginal right or interest in the land under consideration,” and that those consultations took place.

Iyer noted that SCPI is required under its Community Forest agreement to “inform the public about its intended activities,” but that requirement should not be interpreted as a duty to consult.

Iyer’s ruling is confined to the granting of the cutting permit for EW28 and does not address issues around whether the legislation governing Community Forests in B.C. should include stronger requirements for consultation.

In a statement issued May 16, ELF said it was considering an appeal and urging local politicians to change to how the Sunshine Coast Community Forest operates.

“If [the ruling] stands, it means that a Community Forest does not need to consult with the community regarding the activities it carries out on the ground in specific cutblocks,” ELF’s Ross Muirhead said. “It effectively takes the ‘Community’ out of ‘Community Forests’ and makes them no different from other forest tenures.”

SCPI was not able to offer comments on the ruling before Coast Reporter’s deadline.

In his most recent Mayor’s Message, Sechelt Mayor Bruce Milne said the district plans to launch a public consultation and engagement on the Community Forest in the coming months.

The full text of the decision is available on the BC Supreme Court website: http://www.courts.gov.bc.ca/supreme_court/.

 

 

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