Author Archives: David Steen

Open letter to Islands Trust candidates

(This open letter to Islands Trust candidates was published early in the election campaign in the fall of 2014.)

Dear Islands Trust Candidate

Congratulations on making the bold decision to run for Islands Trust. There’s no higher calling than serving others. When good people do good things for their communities, as they have for the Gulf Islands for the past 40 years, the result is a better place to call home. Well, it’s not just ‘better’, it’s magnificent and inspiring.

Our Gulf Islands Alliance (GIA) — we got started 9 years ago — is a profit group that supports the ‘preserve and protect’ goal of the Islands Trust Act. Although we don’t endorse candidates, we do confess to being partial to bright community-minded people who vigorously defend the Act’s environmental goals. Like all institutions, the success of Islands Trust rests largely on dynamic leadership.

Forty years ago the designers of the Islands Trust vowed not to let the islands, “this precious jewel”, slip through their fingers. The threat then was from folks taking advantage of weak local government to over-develop. A few years ago GIA commissioned an expert legal opinion that confirmed a judge’s declaration that the Trust Act’s goal of preserving and protecting this beautiful natural environment has a ironclad footing in law, that it’s “not a mere piety”.

If you’re elected, you will be entrusted to uphold this wonderful vision. Beyond seeing that any growth and development strictly conforms to the Policy Statement, you will face other challenges, including many that GIA has been busy identifying and encouraging the Trust to tackle. Here are a few:

  • One frustration you will encounter while campaigning is that too many islanders know too little about the Trust. GIA believes the Trust should do more to robustly tell its story. Widely broadcasting its goal to keep the Gulf Islands a beautiful place to live and visit would help to distinguish the Trust from traditional local governments and discourage initiatives that would weaken or even break it up. Uninformed islanders are less likely to defend their unique governance system. GIA feels thankful when we consider what the islands would look like if there had been no Islands Trust.
  • It is imperative that the Trust improve relations with the 30 First Nations groups with ancestral claims in the Trust area. The absence of agreements with 93 percent of them and a lack of Trust presence at the treaty table unnecessarily contributes to community discord, as seen with shellfish aquaculture activities on Denman Island, an industry set to expand on other Gulf Islands.
  • Local ferry service has declined and fares have escalated more than 100 percent in a decade, squeezing the economic life of coastal communities. The Trust must continue to aggressively demand that ferries be returned to the provincial highways system.
  • Even fossil fuel investors — and that includes just about everyone whether they know it or like it or not — don’t want oil lapping their island waterfronts. Environmental losses and clean-up costs from an oil tanker spill are unimaginable and lasting. Trustees must continue demanding no increase in tanker traffic in the Salish Sea.
  • Bylaw violations often involve environmental damage and long term friction between neighbours. The Trust must provide full and air bylaw enforcement.
  • Rising sea levels and other climate changes pose the greatest threat to the Trust’s mandate. While shoreline and energy initiatives must continue, the Trust’s more important role is advocacy. GIA has proposed that the Public Trust Doctrine be incorporated into the Trust’s Policy Statement, as a model to the world clamouring for ways to fight climate change. The doctrine insists that life-sustaining elements such as the atmosphere and sea belong equally to everyone and must not be damaged in order to serve other interests.

From all of us at the Gulf Islands Alliance


Troubled water over Gabriola bridge study

The province is squandering up to $200,000 for a feasibility study on building a fixed link to join Gabriola to Vancouver Island.

One possible scenario would be a bridge from the Cedar area to Mudge Island and another from Mudge to Gabriola. Driving distance from Gabriola to downtown Nanaimo would be approximately 20 km.

The study is ill-founded because it’s confined to comparing capital and operating costs of various link routes to continuing the existing ferry service.

A decision to actually construct the link would involve the much greater consideration of how it will radically change Gabriola’s social and economic landscape. Because high-volume transportation projects spur development, Gabriola and Mudge would likely evolve into commuter communities for Nanaimo.

For much more about the bridge issue, visit

“Islanders and non islanders alike recognize that such connections destroy the very essence of islands, something that, once lost, can never be restored,” Islands Trust Former Chair Sheila Malcolmson, a Gabriola resident, complained to the province in a letter.

Such a link would also weaken the role of Islands Trust, a unique form of local government created by the province to preserve and protect the beautiful Gulf Islands which include Mudge and Gabriola. A poll in 2011 showed that almost 90 percent of British Columbians favor the Trust vision to protect the islands.

Trust Council’s policy statement, along with official community plans for Gabriola and Mudge, doesn’t support building fixed links to other islands. Critics note that the same government that approved these policies is spending public money on a study that could lead to undermining them.

If the study’s findings encourage actual construction, questions about its impact on the natural environment, government credibility and community values would dominate what would surely become a bitter public debate. These big questions should have been considered first in an open public process before comparing bridge-versus-ferry costs.

In addition to responding to a petition by the Gabriola Bridge Society, GIA believes the motivation for the study is to deflect criticism of the government over BC Ferries policies and practices. A study by BC municipalities this fall shows that excessive ferry fare increases and service cuts in the last decade sucked $2.3 billion out of the coastal island communities economy and deprived the province of $231 million in potential tax revenues. Instead of abandoning its unfair user-pay objective for ferries, a goal not applied to highways and public transit, the government is floating the distracting alternative of building fixed links.

GIA suspects the provincial government also sees the Gabriola project as strategic to building a major ferry terminal on Gabriola’s east side, to be closer to the Mainland, and ultimately a fixed link from Vancouver Island to the Lower Mainland. Among a half dozen possible routes, the least expensive would see Gabriola as a stepping stone between the Nanaimo area and Richmond.

The cost and engineering challenges to build a bridge or tunnel across Georgia Strait — they include its excessive length (up to 26 km), high volume freighter traffic, deep ocean, and earthquakes — make it an economic absurdity. At a currently estimated cost of a bridge at $12 billion, likely a wild underestimation, a break-even one-way toll would be $260 for an undersized vehicle.


In a letter to the Gabriola Sounder, Dave Neads, a Gabriola resident, commented further on the bridge study:

The proposal to replace B.C Ferry route 19 with a new highway will require expensive construction of two long, high span bridges, several kilometers of a two or 4-lane thoroughfare, new interchanges, local upgrades and disruptive expropriations on Gabriola, Mudge, and Cedar.

If the province does forge ahead with this new transportation project it will NOT build a homey, two lane, Huck Finn/Tom Sawyer affair with nice little bridges where you can stand and fish. Make no mistake, this initiative will be part of a larger scheme to implement the Short Ferry route from the mainland to Vancouver island.

In other words, this new transportation corridor will be a full blown industrial infrastructure project .

It was this proposal, the Short Ferry option, that B.C Ferries floated as a trial balloon a couple of weeks ago. The proposal has gone back to be reworked, but it will resurface once the two lane or four lane route analysis is made public this spring.

Consider: the province carries a $64 billion debt load. The Quinsam runs about $1.5 million deficit. In other words, .000023 % of the provincial obligation. There is no way the province will spend a hundred or more million dollars to remove this infinitesimal debt.

However, Victoria will happily spend this much money to rearrange B. C. Ferries major routes. Not only will this plan save them hundreds of millions in upgrade costs to the aging, congested, non-earthquake proof Horseshoe Bay infrastructure, the adoption of the Short Ferry strategy will facilitate the removal of one third of B. C Ferries Salish Sea crossings by combining two ferry terminals into one modern, efficient facility.

Implementation of this option would provide large scale operating and capital savings for the corporation, significantly improving its financial outlook. This is something government desperately needs; the brokerage community is demanding. So the Short Ferry strategy is win/win for B.C Ferries and its financial overlords.

But what of those of us who live here? While there is a lot of debate as to whether the creation of a new access artery would be good or bad, it is not debateable that building such a conduit will bring huge changes to Gabriola.

So don’t be lulled, don’t think there is a middle road. There isn’t. The Gabriola lifestyle as we have known it is on the chopping block.

What are you going to do about that?

Dave Neads

Trust–First Nations relations need fixing

This is an abbreviated version of GIA representative Graham Brazier’s presentation to Islands Trust Council at their quarterly meeting in March, 2014, on Hornby Island.

Throughout its forty-year existence, jurisdictional tussles have been a way of life for the Islands Trust. If it wasn’t one provincial ministry or another it was likely some arm of the federal government claiming higher standing in the jurisdictional pecking order.  Nevertheless, late last year, Islands Trust Chief Administrative Officer, Linda Adams, acknowledged she was ‘surprised’ by a declaration that the K’omoks First Nation intends to assert its aboriginal right to practise aquaculture in an area where it has been prohibited by duly passed by-laws of the Denman Island Local Trust Committee. While it is self-evident that this claim is of a profoundly different order than the Trust has faced in the past and we at the Gulf Islands Alliance agree that reconciliation of the gross injustices inflicted on the aboriginal people of the province must be among the highest of priorities of our provincial and federal governments, we nevertheless encourage the Islands Trust to take all measures consistent with its mandate to advance its case on behalf of the preservation and protection of the natural environment of the islands in the Trust Area.

We believe that the Treaty Process, which has been under way without any involvement of the Islands Trust since 1992, offers the best forum for the assessment and evaluation of what may be competing interests within the Trust Area.  Furthermore, we believe the Trust is bound by its legislated mandate to insure that its interests are fully considered as this process moves toward a settlement with the numerous First Nations of the Salish Sea. In this connection it is important to note that the Ministry of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation “recognizes that communities must be consulted and informed if treaties are to be successful”.We, at the Gulf Islands Alliance, urge the Trust, as representatives of the communities of the islands, seek active involvement in this process or, at the very least, obtain assurances from provincial negotiators that community interests will be vigorously represented throughout the process. Furthermore, in our view it is also essential that these interests be fully represented when, as was the case of the K’omoks First Nation, Interim Measures Agreements involving aquaculture were negotiated following the acceptance of an Agreement-In-Principle; also without the participation of the Trust.  

In the meantime, we feel it may be instructive to ask how the ‘surprise’ element, which was evident in the recent announcement, might be minimized in the future. The answer, of course, is that relations between First Nations of the region and the Islands Trust need to attain some measure of formality.  As the Islands Trust enters its fortieth year of existence inside a geographic area where thirty First Nations groups have had longstanding interests it is noteworthy and disappointing to observe that formal protocol agreements exist between the Trust and only two of those nations. Clearly, a 7% success rate suggests there is work to be done.

As recently as 2010, local governments in the Comox Valley (including the Comox Valley Regional District, the City of Courtenay, the Town of Comox and the Village of Cumberland) signed a protocol agreement with the K’omoks First Nation that established “a positive government to government relationship”.  We are bewildered to note that the Islands Trust was not among the signators of this agreement.  

Consider further that since 2009, groups able to speak authoritatively about First Nations interests in the Trust Area have appeared before Trust Council twice (once in 2012 and once in March of 2014) while, over the same period of time, groups representing San Juan County in Washington State with no direct relevance to Islands Trust issues, have made six formal appearances at Trust Council. No offense to the folks from San Juan, but this seems incongruous to us at the Gulf Islands Alliance. 

While it’s encouraging to note that the current Islands Trust Strategic Plan states that strengthening relations with First Nations is a goal of the present term of Trust Council, the agenda for the meetings on Hornby Island at the beginning of March for this year are the only substantive evidence that energy is being directed toward this critically important goal. In this connection, it seems that recently Trust Council took a step backward when it chose not to fund a “First Nations Engagement Strategy” advanced by staff. We urge you to reconsider this decision.

As it seems to us at the Gulf Islands Alliance, engagement with First Nations appears to either slip through the cracks or get relegated to a back burner, we believe it may be worthwhile to consider some administrative or structural changes to insure that progress is made on this front.  To begin with, it seems evident that an annual up-date on treaty negotiations with an opportunity for dialogue would fill a useful information gap at one of Trust Council’s quarterly meetings.

Perhaps, more importantly, it may  be worthwhile to consider creating a standing First Nations Relations Committee on a par with the Local Planning Committee, the Programs Committee and the Finance Committee with its own staff person with an archive and library of material relating the forty year history of relations between First Nations and the Islands Trust.   Such an adjustment in addition to a commitment to continue the archiving of Islands Trust documents would enable individual Trustees to conduct independent research and keep up-to-date on First Nations issues without any commitment of time on the part of staff.

In closing, we would like to remind you that, as First Nations have demonstrated over the course of the last 160 years, if a strategy is to be successful, “perseverance” must be its cornerstone.


Ferry consultations an assault on fairness

The second round of BC Ferry public consultations, which included visits to ferry dependent Gulf Islands communities, is a sham parading as a democratic process.

Consultants and provincial government officials faced many bitter and cynical customers on their 20-stop tour in November and December as they sought responses to announced cuts in service and the cancellation of free weekday passenger fares for seniors.

With fare increases of more than 100 percent in a decade and resultant decreases in usage, there has been a decline in the social and economic vibrancy of coastal communities.

The phoney road show was an attempt to shield the province from the brunt of ferry user anger. The illusion, created by Victoria to make citizens believe their voices are really being heard, was received with disbelief and contempt.

The predominant message from the public in the first round was that government must manage and fund ferries with the same enthusiasm they give to the construction and maintenance of highways and bridges. That message was ignored then. And now.

The government’s goal is to reduce the operating budget on 22 smaller ferry runs by 6.1 percent, compared to a desired reduction of only 1.7 percent on the 3 major routes (from the Lower Mainland to Vancouver Island).

Chris Abbott, president of BC Ferry and Marine Workers’ Union, said 85 percent of the ferries’ operating costs are covered by fare-box revenues, the highest percentage of user-pay for any provincial transportation system and among the highest world-wide. He told the standing-room-only Thetis Island consultation meeting on December 11, “The province is telling you that your communities aren’t worth investing in.”At the same meeting, New Democrat MLA Doug Routley said the government’s ferry decision has already been made and now it will “bend the facts to suit their decision.” The only hope to change the decision before new fares and schedules come into effect April 1 is to take the protest directly to the government in, he said. The Liberals are discounting the 30 percent of BC’s population affected by the changes, he added.

A common sentiment expressed during the consultations is that the province discriminates against coastal communities. For example, it unfairly uses terms such as “sustainability”, “subsidies”, and “services” that imply ferries are a gift from the public purse, unlike highways with their unquestioned status as necessities.

Islands Trust Council met with coastal community leaders on December 3 and concluded that ferry changes “present the greatest threat to island economies.” Trust chair Sheila Malcolmson noted the province’s failure “to conduct a socioeconomic assessment of ferry cuts and rate hikes at a time when we are working with communities and government to strengthen economic sustainability.”

Council is “deeply concerned” about the effects on “users’ employment, education and other core activities”.

John Hodgkins, Gabriola’s Ferry Advisory Committee chair, describes the consultation as “a political decision that has little or no recognition of the impact it will have on the lives, employment and businesses of Gulf Islanders.” From an on-line survey (800 respondents) and on-board interviews with Gabriola passengers, he “very quickly concluded that the cuts proposed were untenable to large numbers within the community who would be forced to consider giving up their job or moving off island, all evidence that would have been identified had the desired socioeconomic analysis been conducted. The expectation that the Committee will work with BC Ferries in January to fine tune the proposals to minimize impacts is unrealistic and an insult to our community.”

Bowen Island Municipal Council says the government doesn’t comprehend the damage the ferry cuts will have “on the future economic health and social fabric of Bowen Island.” It has asked to meet with government and ferry officials “to find creative options to the service cuts.”

Navigating through a sea of problems

Islands Trust is looking out to sea.

For its first four decades the Trust has been preoccupied with land use, but in recent months it has turned increasing attention to marine matters, a move strongly promoted by the Gulf Islands Alliance.

Troubles with the shellfish industry dominated discussion at Trust Council’s town-hall session in Victoria in early December. Other sea-change challenges are the prospect of tanker traffic oil spills in Georgia Strait, possible polluted run-off into Baynes Sound from the proposed Raven Coal Mine, ongoing struggles to save seashore ecology against near shore and shoreline developments, and, in the longer term, preparing for rising sea levels and other climate-change threats.

Shelley McKeachie of the Association of Denman Island Marine Stewards got Council’s full attention when she said the environmental damage and lack of government control over the shellfish industry, so far confined to the Baynes Sound, could spread to all the southern GulfIslands with the introduction of geoduck (gooey duck) aquaculture.

Council followed by instructing the Trust’s executive committee to “study and make recommendations to Council regarding the costs and resources necessary to create an advocacy campaign for the marine and coastal protection of the Salish Sea, and that all related advocacy issues such as aquaculture, oil tanker traffic, coal transport and climate change be included in this examination.”

Council is checking to see if it can afford the finances and staff resources to take part in the National Energy Board hearings into the expansion of Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain Pipeline to Vancouver. If approved, there will be large increase in tanker traffic oil spill risk. Council wants the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency to have Port Metro Vancouver study how increased marine traffic from Roberts Bank Terminal 2 would impact the ecosystems, species, and communities of the Salish Sea. 

The struggle to protect Trust Area waters and ecology has intensified in recent years as the federal government has promoted energy industry expansion. When Scott Vaughan, Canada’s commissioner of the environment and sustainable development, retired early in 2013 he said “environmental protection is failing to keep pace with economic development.” He lamented the absence of sea life protections. As we’ve seen in the Trust Area, setting up the promised national network of marine protected areas, free of heavy economic activity, has been painfully slow in Canada.

Vaughan‘s complaint about “jurisdictional confusion” applies both to monitoring and control of energy companies and fisheries. He noted that government-imposed liability limits for oil spills are outdated and ridiculously low. The cost of the 2010 Gulf of Mexico spill was $40 billion.

To attract taxpayers’ attention to the fact they would be on the hook to pay billions to clean up a marine oil spill, the Gulf Islands Alliance’s suggested that Islands Trust should ask senior governments for a ‘cost assessment of oil spills that includes an economic evaluation of the loss of natural services’. We were turned down.

The Trust opposes ‘oil pipeline projects that lead to the expansion of oil export by barge and tanker from Canada’s west coast’, and supports a ‘long-overdue initiative to improve the BC spill prevention and response regime.’ The Trust noted that UBC fisheries economists figured a major tanker spill off BC’s northern coast $10 billion.

Of even greater concern than oil spills is what the International Programme on the State of the Ocean, an international group of marine scientists, describes expected unprecedented damage to ocean ecosystems by climate change, overfishing, and industrial pollution. In their 2013 report they said increased warming, acidification and de-oxygenation reduces the capacity of oceans to nurture resident plants and animals. Program spokesperson Professor Alex Rogers says, “The situation should be of the gravest concern to everyone since everyone will be affected by changes in the ability of the ocean to support life on Earth.”

Climate change has ignited predictions of more lethal weather events, causing damage far beyond the capacity of affected local governments to repair.  Parts of the Lower Mainland and the islands are increasingly vulnerable to violent weather and rising sea levels. A rise of 1 metre could occur in 20 years, says Coastal Cities At Risk, a group looking at ways to protect communities at high risk from climate change. A major concern is seawater seepage into ground water or the outright flooding of food production areas. Many crops won’t tolerate extra salt. Another huge challenge is to find ways to protect infrastructure and deal with private property rights and zoning to discourage development in low-lying areas. 





Oil spill risk unacceptable: GIA

Gulf Islanders have a vital stake in the current debate over the future of oil tanker traffic in BC’s coastal waters. A major spill in our area would be an environmental disaster.

While this is a complex issue that has ignited ongoing and wide-ranging political, business and environmental passions and opinions, the Gulf Islands Alliance (GIA) is convinced that proposed pipeline capacity and tanker traffic increases pose an unacceptable risk for our islands.

GIA arranged a series of free public meetings in the Southern Gulf Islands in early 2014 to give islanders an opportunity to have their say about plans to quadruple the volume of Tar Sands oil shipped through the Islands Trust Area. These community meetings focused on the risk to our environment and wildlife and explained how you can best voice your concerns. Sponsored by the Gulf Islands Alliance, Raincoast Conservation Foundation and Georgia Strait Alliance, these meetings preceded hearings by the National Energy Board into an application by Kinder Morgan to twin their pipeline from Alberta to Burnaby. GIA’s Misty MacDuffee, a marine biologist, is leading our campaign to keep our waters free of oil and other harm. Of proposals to convert our coast to an energy corridor for global shipments of tar sands oil, she says:

“Between Enbridge’s Northern Gateway proposal and Kinder Morgan’s (KM) Trans Mountain Proposal, 700 loaded tanker trips (one-way) could occur annually. KM wants to deliver 700,000 barrels per day to the Vancouver region by 2016 with tankers transiting the Fraser estuary, GulfIslands, Haro and Juan de Fuca Straits.  In the hopes of not triggering a public review, KM is seeking incremental approvals for this increased capacity. Traffic could also come from loaded Northern Gateway tankers entering the Juan de Fuca for Cherry Point.

“The implications for the SalishSea region are enormous and the populace is being asked to bear the risks with virtually no public engagement. Our archipelago hosts wild salmon populations, migratory birds on the Pacific flyway, important estuaries, shellfish beds and the habitats of many rare, threatened or endangered coastal species including southern resident killer whales. The SalishSea is already suffering intense pressures from growth; chronic oiling and spills will only intensify the declining health of our ecologically fragile region. In saying ‘no’ to pipeline expansion, we are saying ‘yes’ to a different vision for our islands, coast and country.”

The pipeline-tanker file is one of GIA’s priority initiatives, consistent with the idea behind GIA’s reason-for-being as a non-profit grassroots group — to bring together like-minded people from across the Trust Area islands to speak with a strong, unified voice in support of the Trust object to preserve and protect our islands.

In December, 2013, GIA reiterated its support to Islands Trust for its “leadership in opposing the proposed expansion of oil tanker traffic…as well as shipping US coal through the SalishSea.

“The Salish Sea must not become a carbon corridor,” GIA said in a letter to the Trust. “In particular, the Trust should ensure it secures its role as an intervenor in the upcoming National Energy Board hearings on Kinder Morgan’s proposal.”

The Islands Trust jurisdiction over lands and waters that surround the tanker route command such status. This status should also extend to citizens within the Trust Islands who are equally affected by this proposal. Protecting democracy is crucial for protecting our environment. “We also suggest that Trust Council support the demand of several environmental groups to withdraw from the Equivalency Agreement between BC and the federal government. Such action would reclaim BC’s right to hold its own environmental assessment of Kinder Morgan’s expansion plans and other major energy projects.”

The Salish Sea must not become a carbon corridor.

The scope of these reviews could also be widened to properly assess upstream and downstream consequences not being considered by the NEB process.

In February 2014, GIA applied for commenter status at the upcoming NEB hearings. Here’s the text of GIA’s application:

“The Gulf Islands Alliance (GIA) is a non-profit NGO formed in 2006 to protect BC’s Gulf Islands, their natural environments, rural nature, and unique cultures, for now and for future generations. We support the Islands Trust federation in achieving its legislated Object of preserving and protecting these unique Islands. Our organization draws its support from hundreds of individuals, families and communities that live throughout the Gulf Islands.Gulf Islands ecosystems are finite, threatened and in need of policies that offer greater protection for land and marine ecosystems.

“GIA supports and encourages the conservation of island landscapes, habitats, and native species. We advocate for new marine protected areas and the expansion of the proposed National Marine Conservation Area to safeguard marine features, processes and species in the Trust area. Kinder Morgan’s oil tankers must traverse the Gulf Islands to reach their Vancouver and international destinations. These islands, and the marine and coastal habitats they lie within, are directly affected by increased oil tanker traffic. As such, the interests of our organization are directly affected by this proposal, as they would be adversely affected in the event of an episodic oil spill, chronic oiling and/or air quality impacts that would accompany increased tanker traffic. Impacts to the ecological quality of this region have further consequences for the social and economic health of these rural island communities and their ability to support and accomplish GIA’s objectives.

“GIA plans to comment on the ecological risks, the known and the potential adverse effects of increased tanker traffic on species, habitats and ecosystems of the Gulf Islands that surround Kinder Morgan’s oil tanker route. This includes the adverse consequences from chronic oiling, episodic oil spills, and increased shipping. We will also consider cumulative anthropogenic effects which already adversely affect species within the proposed project area.”


After being granted ‘commenter’ status, GIA submitted the following on August 17, 2015
To the National Energy Board
Re: Application to expand Kinder-Morgan Pipeline Commenter Number A58491
In an earlier letter the Gulf Islands Alliance objected to the expansion of the Kinder Morgan pipeline for reasons such as increased risk of spillage — which along with the perception that the NEB process is industry-biased — that have been voiced by the thousands of Canadians.
This letter focuses on an even more crucial issue: the NEB’s role, as seen in the Kinder Morgan process, in responding to climate change.
If we could imagine seeing the world from outer space or a future century, our age will be described as a time when humanity collectively shot itself in the foot. Maybe, in the heart. Because, in the pursuit of cheap and abundant fossil fuel energy, we made the climate unbearable for healthy life and the natural environment as we’ve known it.
In that distant assessment the culprits will be identified. Most of us will share the guilt, but those in positions of power and authority, including NEB appointees, who foster carbon fuel extraction, transport and consumption, will be blamed most.
The suggestion that consideration of climate change is outside the NEB’s mandate is a cop out. Energy and climate change are dance partners. Official blindness to this fact moves the agency into the same place of revulsion we have for soldiers who murder on orders from superiors. Moral law must trump contrary human law. To behave as if escalating fossil fuel use can be done safely perpetuates the lie that catastrophic harm isn’t being done.
The Gulf Islands Alliance is a non-profit, grassroots group that supports the ‘preserve and protect’ mandate of the Islands Trust Act. We see climate change as the greatest long-term threat to the Gulf Islands and the world beyond. We believe there comes a time when enlightened people of conscience and decency must stand up for our children’s future and the earth itself. That time is now. We beg you to do the right thing.


Trust must repair bylaw enforcement

On December 4, 2013 Islands Trust Council heard two individual presentations on the need to strengthen bylaw enforcement in the Trust Area. Here is the full text of a letter from Maxine Leichter, a former GIA board member, followed a post-presentation letter from Jan Slakov, a sitting GIA board member:

 Dear Trustees:

 This letter focuses on aspects of bylaw enforcement that are trust-wide, and not those under the jurisdiction of Local Trust Committees. I’m not questioning the long standing Islands Trust policy of giving priority to complaints and allowing violators time to comply; and I’m not criticizing the bylaw enforcement officers who are the least likely to be responsible for problems. This letter hopes to make some constructive suggestions.

In 2008, Trust Council commissioned a study, “Bylaw Enforcement and Litigation Management Review” by Roycroft Consulting Services. My guess is that some of the recommendations in this report have been implemented and others have not. However, from the perspective of the community, the same problems are still with us.

 When I moved to SaltSpringIsland in 2003, I looked into why bylaws to protect the environment were not being enforced. I found out that the Development Permit Area bylaws were written in ways that make them very difficult and expensive to enforce. My attempts to make them easier to enforce were not successful and my friends kept telling me that it wouldn’t help since bylaws were not enforced anyway. Time has proven them correct. However, effective bylaw language is a separate subject. This submission focuses only on enforcement of zoning bylaws, because that is more straightforward.

 Ideally, a new study would focus on actions under the control of Islands Trust since problems caused by provincial and federal policies and funding levels are out your control. A new study could:

 1) Follow-up on the previous Roycroft study to report what steps were taken and if others were not taken, why not.

 2) Focus on a list of most pressing problems agreed upon by trustees. The Roycroft study interviewed trustees who identified concerns but there was no agreed upon set of problems.

 3) Please consider inquiring about the following list of specific concerns:

 The Problem

 For the community, the most pressing problem is that when someone refuses to comply with a bylaw there does not appear to be any meaningful deterrent. In other words, if someone does not agree with the bylaws or wants to make money by ignoring them, they are free to do so. The only deterrent is a bylaw enforcement officer visiting them over and over and asking for compliance. Usually, those who violate have a compelling reason to do so. They are gaining a benefit, usually a financial benefit, while their neighbours who are following the bylaws suffer. Below, I’ve provided you with three examples, one that has been going on for 4 years and two that have been going on for seven years or more.

 Violators are free to proceed because there are so few prosecutions. We also do not hear about tickets being issued or fines collected. Prosecutions and tickets will not provide a deterrent unless the public knows about them. Below are some of the negative effects of the failure to prosecute intransient offenders:

 Effects on neighbours include noise, possible soil contamination, threats to their health and safety, reduced property values, time spent at government and neighbourhood meetings, writing letters, making phone calls, sending emails, and emotional stress. Allowing violations to continue while those who follow the laws suffer is obviously unfair.

 Effect on the Community: Un-permitted uses in environmentally sensitive areas can harm the environment causing impacts beyond the neighbourhood. The entire community loses respect and confidence in a government.

 Violations increase: Because it is known that violators are rarely prosecuted, violations proliferate.

 Below is a list of possible causes that could be investigated. They provide hypothesis to test.

 Funding issues

 1) Is inadequate funding preventing prosecution of violators? Because funds are limited, are lawyers advising the Trust staff to obtain agreements with violators rather than going through a trial? There is little value in agreements with violators who do not keep them. Does inadequate funding for prosecution result in only a minimum number or the easier cases being prosecuted leaving many others to sit for years before they are addressed?

 Legal and communication issues

 2) One case took ten months from the time the Local Trust Committee referred the case for legal action until a summons was issued and then years before there was a date for trial. Are such long delays still occurring? If so, why are Trust lawyers not acting more promptly? Is this a funding issue?

 3) The Trust’s policies allow violators to apply for a zone change or a temporary use permit (TUP) to stall enforcement. (See Bylaw Enforcement Best Practices Manual, pages 6 and 17). While a request for a TUP or zone change is being considered, which can take months, the violator doesn’t have to comply. After a zone change or TUP is turned down, if it takes a year to get to a court hearing, we have been told that the trust must allow the violator to apply for another TUP or zone change, which can again take months to process, etc. Is this correct? Can a Local Trust Committees adopt a policy to refuse consideration of a request for zone change or TUP unless the landowner is in compliance with current zoning and other regulations? If they must “consider” it, can an expedited process be adopted?

 4) Even after violations have gone on for several years, community members have been told that cases cannot be prosecuted because the judge won’t order compliance unless the violator has been given sufficient time to comply. Based on previous court decisions, how much time do judges look for? Two of the violations cited below have been pending for seven years and one for four years. We would appreciate this issue being clarified.

 5) Should the Trust hire in-house council? The money spent may provide better return than payments to outside legal firms. In-house council could do bylaw enforcement, defend the Trust when it is sued, help the trust staff draft enforceable bylaws and help bylaw enforcement staff to be more efficient and effective at gathering evidence that will support successful prosecutions.

 Setting up a law office no longer requires a law library because research materials are on the internet. On the rare occasion that a lawyer needs something further, they can get it from the law library in downtown Victoria. If the in-house lawyer needed case specific expertise, this could still be obtained from an outside source. Many local governments do this. This option should be investigated but not by one of the municipal law firms in BC because they have a conflict of interest.

 6) Why are we losing cases? The vacation rental lawsuit on SaltSpringIsland is a recent example. How was the decision made to sue the rental agent rather than the accommodation owners? Someone I know who has had legal training but does not specialize in municipal law, identified this fatal flaw in the Trust approach before the case was decided.

 How bylaws are enforced

 7) Do the bylaw enforcement officers have written procedures describing how to properly gather evidence and log their interactions with violators so that evidence will be persuasive in court? If these rules exist, can they be distributed to the public? Are bylaw enforcement officers being given the time and resources to implement them?

 8) Are bylaw enforcement officers making surprise inspections where indicated? There is little point to making appointments to observe infractions that can be hidden.

 9) Has the new bylaw dispute adjudication process been helpful on those islands where it has been implemented it. How many cases have gone to adjudication? Has this method worked with recalcitrant violators? If so, could examples be publicized?

 10) If some islands do not have problems with bylaw enforcement, can enforcement there be given lower priority? Do all islands have to be treated alike?

 Corporate Culture

 11) Is there a corporate culture at the Islands Trust that does not regard bylaw enforcement as a priority? It is expensive and one can lose cases. It involves conflict which is unpleasant. How important is bylaw enforcement to management?

 Bylaw Officer Morale: One wonders what the effect lack of prosecutions has on bylaw enforcement staff. Do they feel valued and supported? How can they feel they are being effective when violations continue for years? We owe them our 100 percent support.

 People say, “You cannot force people to comply.” Actually, it is more likely that if bylaws are enforced compliance will improve. Scientific studies have shown that a majority of research subjects will cheat and act unethically when there is no risk getting caught, and that a majority of them will change their behaviour when discovery is more likely. (See The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion, By Jonathan Haidt, Pantheon Books, New York 2012, pages 82, 83.) That is why it is important that prosecutions of recalcitrant violators not only take place, but also be publicized.

 For the Islands Trust to be successful as the unique and special form of government that it is, it needs to have the support of the communities that it serves. But lack of effective bylaw enforcement is eroding the public’s confidence in and respect for the Islands Trust. Community members who have given their personal time to provide public input on OCP revisions and new bylaws are asking me why they should bother if the rules are not enforced.

 Bylaw enforcement should be primarily about protecting the community. In addition to providing services to protect health and safety, which are beyond the mandate of the Islands Trust, bylaw enforcement is the most basic and important function of local government. It is a failure of government to fulfill its most basic role if bylaws are no more than mere guidelines or suggestions. In the sphere of local government, bylaw enforcement is the “rule of law” on which we depend for a just society. It is the foundations upon which all else stands.

 Here are three examples of long-running zoning bylaw violations:

 One: A 2 unit building was built legally. Soon after, at least 4 additional residences were added within the building. Neighbours complained. The septic system overflowed. VEHA, electrical and fire inspection services are all inadequately funded to respond. Before a CRD building inspection visit, extra appliances and furniture were hidden. Seven years have gone by. Recently our Local Trust Committee received a request for re-zoning which was turned down. CRD says they can only correct deficiencies for permitted use for 2 residences. It falls to the Islands Trust to take action against the un-permitted extra residences. After a year, the owner is allowed to apply for a temporary use permit (TUP) for more residences again and during the time it is being considered, the owner is not under responsibility to comply.

 Two: On a lot zoned for one residence, persons were observed to be living in a separate structure not allowed by the zoning. The extra structure is in a Development Permit and environmentally sensitive area. A complaint was made four years ago. The Local Trust Committee turned down a request for rezoning several years ago. The structure appears to still be occupied. The owner is free to delay enforcement by applying again for a zone change or TUP.

 Three: An industrial activity commenced in a residential area over 7 years ago. Despite this obvious violation of zoning, complaints by the neighbours of noise, dangerous vehicle access and egress, and possible environmental contamination, the activity still continues. A request for a Temporary Use Permit was turned down in February of 2008 at which time the LTC referred the case for legal action. It took 10 months before a summons was filed and another three years until the case could be heard in court. By then it was near the end of the term of the next set of trustees. I was told that the case could not go to trial because the violator had to be allowed to apply for a zone change. By the time that LTC heard that request for a zone change, it was their last meeting and they left the decision to our current LTC. Our current LTC took the request for zone change under consideration and made a decision several months later. A court date came up and rather than have a trial, the violator was allowed to apply for a TUP again. We understand that some of these delays may be the result of the decisions made by the LTC. However, some delays must be from other causes.

 Thank you for considering this very serious issue.


 Maxine Leichter, SaltSpringIsland



Dear trustees and staff,

It felt good today to be able to speak to you about the bylaw enforcement issue. Thank you for your interest in all our presentations and for the welfare of this special place in general.

On the way home I thought of a bit of a story I want to share, a message I hope you will find inspiring.

 When Elizabeth May moved out here to run for the Green Party, I just knew she couldn’t win. But I admired her greatly and did my best to help.

 Of course, on election day my certitude was washed away. In Ganges I met someone who asked me where to go to vote and others who indicated in one way or another that this was the first time they were voting. To me it felt like I imagine it might have felt for Germans when the Berlin wall came down. There was this feel of a revolution.

 That event has made a huge difference in my activism. I know that we never know when this may be the time we succeed.

 When Elizabeth first moved here, she said the biggest hurdle she would need to overcome was our sense of defeatism. So many times we had tried to alert people to the need for change, to the idea that “another world is possible”. It felt like the system was rigged.

So I can understand if Trust staff, some of whom have been working for the Trust for over a decade, and some trustees, might feel quite helpless to stop industrial shellfish aquaculture or they may feel that there is nothing much more we can do to make our bylaw system and enforcement work better.

 Each of us, no matter what our position in life, has power. I was reminded of a quote (wrongly attributed to Nelson Mandela) by Marianne Williamson: “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.” Mandela said, “It always seems impossible until it is done.”

Please accept the offers of the Association of Denman Island Marine Stewards, Gulf Islands Alliance, Save the Salish Sea group and other concerned citizens to work with you to rectify problems and prevent some of the outrageous plans you heard about today, such as turning the SalishSea into a carbon corridor, from going ahead.

It need not take inordinate amounts of staff time to work on these things, especially if you make full use of the eager and skilled volunteer spirit and work we have to offer.

Each of us does have power, but alone it does not amount to much. Together we can accomplish a great deal, I’m sure. 


Jan Slakov, Salt Spring Island

Shellfish aquaculture worries islanders

The poorly regulated shellfish industry is the most visible example of government failure to do the right thing for Gulf Islands shorelines and marine environment.

The federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO), aided and abetted by the province, is hell-bent to exploit sea-life at the expense of the environment, Islands Trust’s mandate, and residents’ quality of life and property values.

Two rubber-boot clad locals dig for geoducks on Denman Island

Coming to a beach near you? Geoduck aquaculture has started in earnest on Denman Island. Here, in mid-June 2014, PVC pipes for the cultivation of intertidal geoducks are installed using a power auger. Despite protests by the Association of Denman Island Marine Stewards and GIA, the federal government appears determined to allow geoduck farming across the Gulf Islands.

So far, the battle site is the 90 percent of Denman Island’s western shore that’s under shellfish tenure. Company vehicles drive on the beaches. Tons of industry debris are left each year for residents to clean up. Beaches are bermed, water courses altered, and   anti-predator netting snares wild life and destroys bird habitat. After the Fraser River estuary, the Denman/Baynes Sound area is the  most important waterfowl habitat in BC and an important area for herring spawning and the growth of salmonids and other fish species.

This scene could spread to other islands if the DFO succeeds in opening BC’s coast, including the shorelines of Salt Spring, Galiano, Gabriola, and other major islands, to geoduck aquaculture. It is promoting the geoduck as “one of the most economically prosperous and environmentally sustainable fisheries on the west coast.” One company owner says geoduck aquaculture could become a billion dollar industry in the Salish Sea.

The geoduck is a saltwater clam that in rare cases measures up to 2 metres in length and 7.5 kilograms in weight. It sells for a reported $150 a pound in China, its largest market.
One feature of geoduck farming is the vertical installation of 20,000 to 40,000 PVC pipes, each about 12 centimetres in diameter and 25 centimetres long, per acre into beach sediment for predator protection for the first 18 to 24 months of a 7 to 10 year crop cycle. PVC pipe breaks down in a marine environment, releasing toxins absorbed by zooplanktons and bio-magnifying their harm as they move up the food chain. Vinyl chloride in PVC is a human carcinogen. GIA asks how the DFO can honestly reconcile its enthusiasm for the geoduck industry with its legal duty to maintain a sustainable marine ecology and protect endangered species such as orcas?

The industry has proven highly controversial in Washington’s Puget Sound — it has about a 15-year head start over BC — because of its damage to the ecology and other facets of the economy, such as tourism. Many of the more than 225 shellfish sites there converted to commercial use without shoreline permits, public comment or environmental review.

In the fall of 2013 GIA sponsored a public talking tour by the Association for Denman Island Marine Stewards  on Gabriola, Thetis, Salt Spring, Galiano, Mayne and Pender Islands. Neither GIA or ADIMS oppose the industry per se; our complaint concerns its large scale, lack of government regulation, disrespect for the marine environment, and planned expansion of geoduck aquaculture to the rest of the Gulf Islands. We’re also concerned that owners of existing tenures won’t have to apply to the DFO or notify local government or the public when they switch to geoduck. The Gulf Islands Alliance supports the Denman group’s bid to have geoduck aquaculture banned in the Islands Trust Area, similar to an existing ban on fin fish farms.

The Denman case exposes the Islands Trust’s weakness in enforcing its environmental mandate when senior governments exploit resource-based business opportunities that occur on the islands. We’ve seen it forestry, and now shellfish aquaculture. Licenses and tenures are granted contrary to existing zoning and wise environmental practice. The industry successfully thumbs its nose at the Trust which acknowledges the Denman-Baynes Sound shellfish industry is unsustainable and, in part, illegal.  The Trust Policy Statement’s vow to protect its marine areas has been muted by happenings in Baynes Sound.

A central objective of good planning, the separation of incompatible uses, has been violated on Denman. And yet Trust planners report that even if proper prohibitions were adopted by the local trust committee, “by-law enforcement of non-compliance would be difficult if not impossible given the predicted pressures from (the province) and Department of Fisheries … and the high chance of creating conflict (with them).” Denman’s local trust committee retained a consultant who mostly confirmed the planners’ position and also recommended hiring a lawyer “to address driving on the beach and beach modification in a manner that does not interfere with the constitutional jurisdiction of Canada in managing the shellfish aquaculture licenses.”

Hardly a confidence-builder for other Gulf Islanders who have taken for granted that their beaches are off limits to such intrusions.

Here’s GIA’s letter to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans

April 19, 2014
Jennifer Mollins, Senior Coordinator,
Shellfish Aquaculture Management,
Fisheries Management Branch — Pacific Region,
Fisheries and Oceans Canada

Gulf Islands Alliance response to the DFO Draft Geoduck Management Plan

Dear Ms Mollins

This is to request the DFO exclude the Islands Trust islands from its geoduck aquaculture management plan at least until there’s a full independent public review of its potential impacts on the islands’ natural and social environments.

As a priority, the review would take into account the unique nature and significance of the Islands Trust Act and the area of its jurisdiction. Unlike all traditional forms of local governments in Canada and beyond, the 40-year-old Trust was set up to ‘preserve and protect’ the remarkable natural environment of BC’s beautiful Gulf Islands. The importance of the Act’s environmental priority has been confirmed by the courts and in an expert legal opinion commissioned by the Gulf Islands Alliance.

The Trust is not alone in treasuring and trying to protect this area. Its boundaries are partially overlapped by the proposed 1,400 square kilometre Southern Strait of Georgia National Marine Conservation Area Reserve that Parks Canada says is “among the most productive marine ecosystems in the world (and) also among the finest areas globally for scuba diving, whale watching, sea kayaking and coastal cruising.” This federal agency aims to “conserve this vital marine ecosystem while allowing human uses to continue in an ecologically sustainable manner. It is also an exciting opportunity to create a legacy for future generations — a legacy of healthy, productive marine ecosystems that benefits both local residents and visitors.”

The DFO draft geoduck plan makes no mention of Islands Trust, Local Trust Committees or the Trust’s Policy Statement that urges senior governments to honour the Trust Act by protecting areas that thrive with naturally occurring shellfish populations and other marine life. The draft contains no provision to invite any affected local government to join with federal and provincial agencies in the ‘harmonized’ review process for issuing shellfish licences and tenures. The Trust already insists that finfish farms should not be permitted in its marine waters and aquaculture should only be permitted “if compatible with maintenance of ecosystems and community character.”

Compatible with maintenance of ecosystems?

The Trust describes intertidal habitats as “biodiversity hotspots … home to hundreds of marine species…that connect foodwebs from the land to the ocean abyss.” But present commercial shellfish monocultures on the western shores of Denman Island and Baynes Sound in the Trust Area are incompatible with the maintenance of beach ecosystems there. Further escalation and expansion of these unsustainable practices to other Trust islands under the proposed geoduck plan would provoke well-founded opposition by Gulf Islanders and other concerned Canadians. The DFO’s description of the geoduck as “one of the most … environmentally sustainable fisheries on the west coast” is held in some disbelief. Last fall the Gulf Islands Alliance sponsored a series of public meetings on six major Gulf Islands by the Association for Denman Island Marine Stewards who told of company vehicles driving on beaches, tons of industry debris that residents clean up each year, the disruptive berming and altering of water courses, and anti-predator netting that renders critical bird habitat unavailable to birds for feeding and can snare other wildlife. And recently some Gabriola Island residents complained that silt stirred up by the use of stingers to harvest wild geoducks is destroying “kelp, starfish, snails and jellyfish” in the Whalebone area.

Looking south, many Gulf Islanders are alarmed and demanding that the ecological damage and bitter legal citizen/industry conflicts caused by geoduck aquaculture in Washington State must not be repeated here. The Case Inlet Shoreline Association of Puget Sound says the shellfish industry and commercially-biased government regulators use out-of-context self serving pseudo science to justify injurious practices and deny obvious environmental damage. Among other wrongs, the Association says the shellfish industry causes the loss of biodiversity, the depletion of native species, the introduction and spread of alien organisms, the killing and hazing of shorebirds, the use of chemical poisons to kill native burrowing shrimp and the disruption of fish habitat. It dismisses as “false and misleading industry propaganda” claims that shellfish aquaculture provides positive ecological functions and improves water quality. It says the geoduck industry removes and destroys eelgrass, sand dollars, and starfish and further threatens endangered salmon species and bald eagles.

The Association also points out the high environmental cost of using polyvinyl chloride (PVC) tubes. They weigh in at 75 tons per acre of geoduck aquaculture. PVC pipe breaks down in a marine environment, releasing toxins absorbed by zooplanktons and bio-magnifying their harm as they move up the food chain. Vinyl chloride in PVC is a human carcinogen. While like the Denman marine stewards the US group doesn’t oppose a well-managed and regulated shellfish industry of limited scale, it does insist that the precautionary principle should be imposed until all the present unknown cumulative effects of the industry’s potential impacts are understood.

Compatible with community character?

Before intertidal geoduck aquaculture is imposed, Gulf Islanders must be afforded the same right of due process that’s applied to any proposed land use change. Separating incompatible uses is a pillar of desirable and humane planning. Because of unnecessary, deleterious effects on quality of life and property values, active industries and residences must be kept from each other’s doorstep. DFO’s list of licensing considerations, including adjacent land uses and ecological protection, offer little comfort to those who witness their unhindered violations. Allowing geoduck aquaculture in the intertidal zone directly in front of shoreline homes is an avoidable provocation. Most distressing, the draft plan allows owners of existing tenures to switch to geoduck cultivation without approval by any authority.

Being public property should not excuse senior governments from observing fair planning and zoning practices and seeking full and formal public input. There are many other legitimate, significant and competing interests evident in the Islands Trust marine areas, interests that should not be pre-empted by DFO. Important decisions such as introducing geoduck aquaculture to new areas — decisions that also have impacts on property tax revenues, tourism, recreation and other elements of the local economy — should be political and not assigned to the discretion of singularly-focused, unelected government agencies. An open review of the geoduck plan would uncover just how much islanders love their marine environment and surely lead to a better resolution. Because the multi-layers of marine area jurisdiction and the process of implementing change will be viewed by the general public as complicated and confusing and because changes to shoreline uses are more ‘in your face’ than other ‘out to sea’ fisheries initiatives, there’s a greater necessity and benefit for authorities to explain what and why the proposed change is for the public good. Or not.

The Gulf Islands Alliance is a non-profit independent grassroots group of residents from across the Gulf Islands dedicated to the letter and spirit of the preserve and protect mandate of the Islands Trust Act.