At a recent Agricultural Land Commission (ALC) public hearing in Langley, dozens of speakers voiced their support for including 123.6 ha (~305 acres) of farmland in South Surrey into the provincial Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR).
The ALC also received 365 written submissions – 363 of which were generally in favour of the proposal – by 4:30 p.m. Jan. 23, the night the hearing was held.
The main submission not in favour of the proposal to include the farmland, which has been farmed by the Heppell family for 50 years and provides some of Canada’s earliest vegetable crops, came from First Peoples Law and Munnings Law, the legal counsel representing Katzie, Kwantlen and Semiahmoo First Nations (KKS), dated Jan. 6, 2023.
“Although the ALC appears to have devised and initiated a plan to include the Land in the ALR, its actions are entirely misguided in respect of both its own jurisdiction as well as its legal obligations to KKS,” the submission states.
“As you are aware, Aboriginal title encompasses the right to make decisions about how the land is used and the right to benefit economically from the land. KKS ancestors have occupied, governed, stewarded, and used the Land, waters, and resources of their territories, which include the Land, since time immemorial.”
The submission noted that the land in question – at 192 Street and 36 Avenue – comprises an integral component of KKS’s territories, and urged the ALC to cancel the Jan. 23 public hearing, and noted the ALC does not have jurisdiction over the federally owned land.
It states the land has been used for national defence purposes for many years and that the Agricultural Land Commission Act (ALCA) “does not apply to the land,” and outlined the reasons the KKS land is immune from the application of the ACLA.
The inclusion of the Land in the ALR will have a significant impact on the ability of KKS members to exercise their inherent and constitutionally protected rights in the area in question, the submision said, and particularly, their right to benefit economically from their lands.
It says the ALC’s proposal would “result in significant long-term (potentially permanent) impacts. The risk of non-compensable harm is high. As such, the Province must be prepared to accommodate KKS by adjusting its plans where necessary, negotiating satisfactory interim solutions, enabling KKS’s participation in the decision-making process, and ensuring adequate economic accommodation.”
The submission pointed out that the ALC failed to contact KKS in any way with respect to its proposal, nor attempted to engage KKS in the deep consultation required.
“KKS members have seen the land base available to them for the exercise of their inherent and constitutionally protected rights continually diminished,” the submission noted.
The ALC included a Jan. 10, 2023 email response to the submission online, noting it gave public notice about the hearing on Dec. 7, 2022, as well as earlier notice by letters dated Nov. 9, 2022, to the registered owner of the lands, “His Majesty the King in Right of Canada c/o the Regional Office Department of Communications (Vancouver) and Public Service and Procurement Canada.”
The ALC also sent an email on Jan. 12, 2023, saying the ALC would be pleased to meet with KKS representatives “before or after” the Jan. 23 hearing, “to facilitate getting KKS perspectives on the record to be considered by the Commission.”
ALC chief executive officer Kim Grout said Wednesday the commission did not meet with KKS representatives prior to the hearing.
“The federal government, the City of Surrey and affected First Nations have until March 6 to provide the commission some more information and input into the process,” she said.
Often, facts can be misconstrued or confusing, she said, noting that John Aldag, MP for Cloverdale-Langley City spoke about the federal disposition process being paused at the hearing, which is a completely separate process from the commission’s process, which has not been paused.
“The commission’s decisions take time,” said Grout, noting it’s a lengthy process involving several steps.
The transcript from the hearing will soon be available online as well, she noted.
Right now, the commission must wait until March 6.
“Then, depending on what we get (in that timeframe)… might result in further engagement with those groups and stakeholders,” she said, noting they’ll know more once any further information is received.
Ultimately, all information and submissions and the transcript from the hearing – the evidentiary record – will be bundled up and made available to the commissioners, she said, before any potential decision will be made.
“I can’t give a solid date,” she said.
The Peace Arch News has reached out to Semiahmoo and Kwantlen First Nations and has not yet received a response.
A spokesperson for Katzie First Nation declined an interview request for Chief Grace George after the Peace Arch News would not provide the questions in advance.
Read the full submission on the ALC website, alc.gov.bc.ca, by scrolling down, clicking on the ‘learn more’ in the section about the proposal, then clicking on the submissions from the hearing at the bottom of that web page (the KKS submission starts on page 441).
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