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First Nations seek to intervene in Beacon Hill Park appeal

Lawyer for Songhees and Esquimalt First Nations says they don’t want the 1882 Beacon Hill Park Trust to be interpreted in a way that would prevent First Nations’ interests from being considered
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Sign at the Cook Street and Dallas Road entrance to Beacon Hill Park. The province is appealing a court decision that effectively banned camping in the park. ADRIAN LAM, TIMES COLONIST

The Songhees and Esquimalt First Nations have applied to be interveners in the province’s upcoming appeal of a B.C. Supreme Court ruling that effectively banned camping in Beacon Hill Park.

Lawyer Robert Janes said from Vancouver on Tuesday that the First Nations want to ensure that when B.C. Court of Appeal judges look at public interest and recreational use in the park, they also keep in mind Indigenous use, since the park was part of the nations’ territory and used as a village site.

Janes said the nations don’t want the 1882 Beacon Hill Park Trust, which governs use of the park, to be interpreted in an overly narrow way that would prevent First Nations’ interests being considered in the future, since Court of Appeal decisions can have wide-reaching effects.

Issues that could come up in future include interring human remains discovered during local development in the park, he said — emphasizing that no one is talking about turning the park into a graveyard — or allowing camas lily bulbs, a traditional First Nations food, to be harvested in a certain area.

The First Nations’ application was filed Sept. 22 in the Court of Appeal in Vancouver.

The province is appealing a B.C. Supreme Court ruling in February that sheltering in the park runs contrary to the purpose of the trust to preserve the park for the use, recreation and enjoyment of people.

The ruling came in response to a request by the City of Victoria — the owner of the park and its trustee — for clarification about whether the park can be used by people without homes for temporary sheltering under the terms of the trust.

The province, which filed the appeal in March, maintains the judge incorrectly interpreted the trust as an unchangeable contract rather than something that was subject to change depending on current conditions.

The Friends of Beacon Hill Park is asking for the province’s appeal to be dismissed.

The case is scheduled for a hearing in mid-November.

Camping was banned in the park for two years by the city, but that term is set to end next summer.

cjwilson@timescolonist.com

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