By Steve Hubrecht
The West Kootenay EcoSocietys petition against the B.C. governments decision to incorporate Jumbo Glacier Mountain Resort Municipality was heard in court last week, although a decision will not likely come for weeks.
The petition was heard in the B.C. Supreme Court in Vancouver on Wednesday, July 15th , nearly two and a half years after it was first filed, with lawyers representing both the EcoSociety and the province present in court. Lawyers representing the municipality were not present.
Were basically saying that the minister (of Community, Sport and Cultural Development) and the Lieutenant Governor in Council exercised discretion (in incorporating the mountain resort municipality) in a way that goes against the express purpose of the Local Government Act and Community Charter and undermines other aspects of those acts. For instance, that there is no public (in Jumbo) for holding public hearings, said Nelson-based lawyer Judah Harrison, who is representing the EcoSociety.
Mr. Harrison added he and the other legal counsel for the EcoSociety argued that creating a municipality without people could be acceptable in some circumstances, but not in the case of Jumbo Glacier Mountain Resort Municipality.
If people were going to move there next year, it could be allowable. But indefinitely having no population creates a problem, he said. In essence, were saying the discretion (used by the minister and Lieutenant Governor) was exercised unreasonably.
The hearing was scheduled to run for three days, but instead wrapped up in a single day, which Mr. Harrison said was due in part to the absence of lawyers representing the mountain resort municipality as well as to the lawyers representing the provincial government making their case in only about an hour.
The governments response, in essence, was that the statute says we can do this, so we can do it, said Mr. Harrison.
The Pioneer could not reach the lawyers representing the government for comment on the case.
Jumbo mayor Greg Deck later told The Pioneer at the July 21st Jumbo council meeting that the municipality did not have a lawyer present in court for the case, since the case dealt solely with the provinces role in incorporating the municipality, not with the municipality per se.
The hearing was about the legitimacy of the provinces decision to create the municipality. It was the provinces decision and the provinces process, said Mr. Deck, adding it would be somewhat odd to be at a hearing debating the legitimacy of your own existence.
Mr. Harrison also pointed out that the case was heard by a relatively new judge, Grace Choi, who has been sitting on the bench for just two months.
Thats a huge factor for us, he said, adding he expects it will mean her ruling in the case may take six weeks to six months, because its one of the more complex cases shes dealt with.
According to Mr. Harrison, there is little indicating which way the ruling when it comes could go.
This case has always been an unsure one. I dont know where this is going to go. It could go either way. I think were right, but I think were asking the judge to step on the highest level of government, he said.
Irrespective of where the case goes, Mr. Harrison said he wouldnt be surprised if the municipality ceases to exists soon.
In my opinion, theres a fairly strong chance that the government will nullify the municipality as a result of the expiration of the environmental certificate, he said. It just makes abundant sense that this is dead from a municipal angle.
In a press release on the case, the EcoSociety disclosed that environmental and public advocacy organization West Coast Environmental Law Foundation had financially supported the case, and that the EcoSociety has launched a crowd-sourcing campaign to help cover the remaining legal costs.