Front Room? Back Room?

Ron Bolin: July 9, 2013

Last night at City Council on the 50th anniversary of the arrest of two first nations individuals on the charge of hunting deer out of season, Chief Douglas White III Kwulasultun, spoke passionately to Council concerning Snuneymuxw interests and rights in the matter of fisheries as they may be impacted by the removal of the Colliery dams and to ask for a cooling off period for broader consideration of all the factors which should, but have not, been considered in the dam removal tender which was up last night for action .  The basis for his right is the case of R. v. White and Bob, which in 1965 determined that treaty rights granted to the Snuneymuxw by the crown were neither extinguished nor superseded, but remained active and that hunting and fishing rights were among them.  Chief White’s presentation on this 50th anniversary was particularly meaningful as Clifford White, one of the plaintiffs in the precedent setting White and Bob case, was his grandfather.

In his presentation to Council Chief White, while defending the primary rights of his people in the matter of the Colliery dams was also careful to open the door to the Front Room, i.e. to request the participation of all involved in the matter, i.e. not only the Snuneymuxw and the City, but the other parties with either legal or community interests such as the Dam Safety Board, the Department of Fisheries, the residents of Harewood where the Colliery Dam Park is located and the citizens of Nanaimo who are the owners of record of the Park.  He noted the discord which this matter has sewn in the community and its constituents and the misinformation and misunderstanding which surrounds it and asked for a period of sober second thought and a search for reconciliation before precipitous action such as the awarding of a contract for removal of the dams, which was before Council at this meeting, was granted.

With 56 more citizens of Nanaimo waiting to speak to the issue of the dam removal, Council reacted to Chief White’s invitation with concern and with dignity and after some discussion granted his request to postpone decision on the removal contract for a 30 day period with only Councillor Greves opposed.  It was not evident what actions will be taken during the next 30 days to seek a just and common consensus on the issue of the dams, nor was if obvious that Council is as interested in coming out of the back room and into the front as was Chief White.  This remains to be seen.  But it will be important that the tools for achieving the front room objectives set out by Chief White be established quickly.  Thirty days is a very brief time in which to unravel in the front room a problem which has been festering in the back room for years.

In other matters related to the Colliery dams/lakes/park issue arose during question period.  (It should be noted that Councillors Greves and Anderson left the meeting early.)

  • ·         It was established that, although left out of the Harewood neighbourhood plan, that Colliery Dam Park is, in the map showing the neighbourhoods of Nanaimo, in Harewood.
  • ·         It was revealed that, though not final, the estimated cost to the taxpayers of Nanaimo of the failed attempt to obtain an injunction against Dave Cutts and John and Jane Doe as imminently guilty of offenses against City Bylaws is currently $30,000.  This, of course, does not take into account the cost of the defense of Mr. Cutts and of John and Jane Doe.  Such costs can prove to be a valuable tool in dealing with unhappy citizens. Win or lose, the citizens lose.
  • ·         The matter of in camera meetings and their attendant records, with particular reference to the in camera decision to remove the Colliery dams was brought forward.  Mayor Ruttan noted that minutes and votes taken in in camera meetings were kept as required. While citizens wait for the “soon come” release of the Staff report on in camera meetings, it was not at all clear why, when the initial in camera decision on the removal of the Colliery dams came forward, the full minutes and voting record from that meeting did not come forward with it.

While this was not the only significant matter facing Council last night, I am satisfied to open and close this post with it.

In the meantime we must all stay on top of the steps which will be taken during the next 30 days to come to some mutual understanding on the issues, risks and fiscal and social costs involved.  Let’s hope that the matter will be taken into the front room and remain there.

PS:  For those who may be interested the podcast of my interview on CHLY of several weeks ago speaking on City issues, it is now available at: