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Snaw-Naw-As lawsuit looms over Island Corridor Foundation

Island Corridor Foundation CEO says March 31 funding deadline can’t be met unless legal case is resolved
Island Corridor Foundation CEO Graham Bruce speaking at a roundtable meeting for the ICF at Tigh-Na-Mara Seaside Spa Resort on Feb. 3.

The Island Corridor Foundation (ICF) needs ministerial sign off by March 31 to receive its funding from the federal government, but that won’t happen until the lawsuit filed by the Snaw-Naw-As (Nanoose) First Nation is resolved, said ICF CEO Graham Bruce.

Bruce explained all of this at an ICF roundtable in Parksville on Friday (Feb. 3). The roundtable was meant for community members and included speakers from partnering organizations involved with the corridor foundation to provide and in-depth look at the current and future opportunities, according to the ICF’s website.

The ICF has continuously said it could re-start passenger rail service on the Island for $20.9 million. It was to get the money from the regional districts and the provincial and federal governments.

Bruce said two weeks ago, the federal government informed the ICF that it will not receive funding from Infrastructure Canada unless it has ministerial sign off by March 31. But, he said, it cannot get sign off as long as it has litigation with the First Nation communities.

But Bruce said since March 31 hasn’t come and gone yet, there are “miracles that happen.”

The Snaw-Naw-As First Nation initiated the civil lawsuit in B.C. Supreme Court against the ICF and the Attorney General of Canada over the E&N rail line in late 2015.

The lawsuit asks for the return of the Snaw-Naw-As land that was taken in the last century to build the railway which runs through the reserve in Nanoose Bay.

Bruce said that section of rail line is “just shy of a mile” in Nanoose Bay.

“Their claim was that this was their territory, their property and that there were no trains running on there and they have reversionary rights and the land should be transferred back to them,” Bruce said.

In March, the Nanaimo News Bulletin reported that the ICF was seeking to have the lawsuit thrown out of court. The ICF claims the lands continue to be used for railway operations, railway works and railway purposes.

“While we were doing this and filing our claim, or our response to their claim,” Bruce said. “Cowichan Nations Alliance, which is four other First Nations part of the corridor … took exception to some of the wording in our reply (to the claim) which they’re (the Cowichan Nations Alliance) part of.”

Bruce said the ICF met with the chiefs and worked out a compromise to reword its response in a way to not offend the other First Nations and still go ahead with negotiations with the Snaw-Naw-As.

Bruce said he thinks they will be able to resolve it, but it “takes a fair amount of time.”

More than 40 people attended Friday’s event which included Nanaimo Mayor Bill McKay

Parksville Mayor Marc Lefebvre said he declined an invitation from the ICF to attend the roundtable, while the Parksville and District Chamber of Commerce and Parksville Qualicum Beach Tourism Association didn’t even receive invitations.

The RDN board voted last year to take back the $900,000 in taxpayer money it had committed to the ICF for the re-start of passenger rail service on Vancouver Island. The City of Parksville and the Town of Qualicum Beach stopped paying the ICF years ago for rail crossings in their communities. The RDN pulled its funding and the federal government has yet to provide money, which would trigger the province’s contribution.

Lauren Collins

About the Author: Lauren Collins

I'm a provincial reporter for Black Press Media's national team, after my journalism career took me across B.C. since I was 19 years old.
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