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Majority vote by strata owners enough for Sidney Island deer cull, tribunal rules

Parks Canada wants to do a mass kill of fallow deer on Sidney Island, but needs approval from the strata council for property owners on the island
Controlled hunting and periodic culls over the years have reduced the number of fallow deer on Sidney Island from thousands in the 1980s to an estimated 400 to 500. TIMES COLONIST

The decision to go ahead with a mass kill of fallow deer on Sidney Island is back in the hands of strata property owners.

Parks Canada is ready to start rounding up the invasive species using dogs, fencing and helicopters, but needs final approval from Sallas Forest Strata Corp., made up of Sidney Island property owners, who own 1,500 hectares in 111 bare-land-strata lots.

The strata held a vote in May that required a 75% threshold to allow the cull to proceed, but only 55% of owners were in favour.

However, a group of owners filed a claim with the Civil Resolution Tribunal challenging the 75% threshold, saying a simple majority vote should allow the cull to go ahead.

In a decision released on Friday, Civil Resolution Tribunal vice-chair Kate Campbell agreed and ordered the strata council to hold a new vote within 90 days.

Parks Canada started planning the cull of European fallow deer on Sidney Island in 2020 as part of an effort to restore native plants and undo decades of damage.

Parks Canada controls about 440 hectares on the north end of the island — including Sidney Spit — as part of Gulf Islands National Park Reserve. It’s leading the cull initiative with the First Nations of the W̱SÁNEĆ Leadership Council, Islands Trust Conservancy and island residents.

A mass killing of the deer is a touchy subject with strata owners, who have been split between those who favour the cull to get rid of the deer and others who want to continue reducing the animals’ numbers through seasonal hunting.

Controlled hunting and periodic culls over the years have reduced the number of fallow deer from thousands in the 1980s to an estimated 400 to 500.

Considering the unusual case under strata law boils down to stratas’ obligation to repair and maintain common property and assets under the Strata Property Act. One group of owners argued that “repair and maintain” can include restoration, replacement and alterations to appearance.

The act does not require the strata to obtain ownership approval for all repairs and maintenance unless bylaws provide otherwise.

However, if a maintenance or repair project involves spending money not accounted for in the annual operating budget, a strata ownership vote is required, with higher vote thresholds.

In her decision, Campbell said a 75% vote may be required in some circumstances, such as to approve a special levy. “However, in this case, the access licence agreement [to allow the cull] will be fully paid by Parks Canada, and does not require any strata expenditure,” she said. “The parties do not argue otherwise. So, I find no spending vote was required.”

The tribunal also noted that sections of the act requiring a higher vote threshold for disposal of common and personal property of the strata also do not apply in this case.

“The deer are not common property or common assets of the strata,” said Campbell. “Rather, as wildlife, deer are owned by the province, as set out in the Wildlife Act.”

Parks Canada says the eradication of fallow deer is essential to restore the natural ecology on Sidney Island and aid native plant recovery that will support insects, butterflies, songbirds, rodents and black-tailed deer.

Sidney Island is considered one of the least ecologically diverse islands in the Gulf Islands because of the deer and invasive plants, according to Parks Canada.

In her decision, Campbell separated deer- and plant-removal plans in the access licence agreement.

“I find it is not yet clear whether the plant eradication portion of the [access licence agreement] will require a three-quarter vote, since the scope of the work is undetermined,” said Campbell, adding the property owners’ vote earlier this year did not distinguish between the two.

She also disagreed with the strata council and some owners that the 55% vote on May 22 should stand.

“By retroactively changing that to a majority vote, I find the voters’ intentions could be undermined,” said Campbell. “For example, there is no way to know if the eight abstainers might have cast a ballot in a majority vote.”

The fallow deer were introduced on neighbouring James Island in 1902 by the owner at the time as prey for hunting parties. The spotted deer with impressive antlers invaded Sidney Island in the early 1960s, when ponds were dug and the first standing fresh water became available to sustain them.

Their numbers grew to the thousands in the 1980s, damaging Garry oak meadows, Douglas firs and dozens of native plant species.

Eric Pelkey, hereditary chief of the Tsawout Nation and representative of the W̱SÁNEĆ Leadership Council, told the Times Colonist in 2021 that First Nations want to see the island return to the natural state it was in when his ancestors had an active village and burial grounds there, edible and medicinal plants such as camas and ferns were plentiful and native black-tailed deer caused far less damage.

Parks Canada has said it would use an internationally accredited firm to carry out the mass kill in the most humane manner, though all the parties admit it would still be a gruesome task. It has solicited bids for a contract to develop the eradication operational plan, and will implement it if the strata vote passes.

Pelkey said the process would involve netting and penning the deer to be killed quickly. He said hunting dogs and possibly helicopters would be used to round up or hunt remnants of herds.

Sidney Island is five kilometres southeast of Sidney and 10 kilometres from Roche Harbour on San Juan Island.

Parks Canada has not released the cost of the deer eradication plan.

However, the Sidney Island Deer Management Society, a group that wants to see fallow deer managed rather than killed en masse, said documents from an FOI request in February indicated the cost for the operational phase was estimated at $2.8 million. The budget items found in the documents were dated November 2019 to April 2022.

The group said it was advised there is an updated budget that comes in at $6 million, but added “we emphasize we have not seen this document.”

In 2017, the federal government announced it was spending $5.7 million over three years to eradicate introduced deer on six islands on Haida Gwaii, which included the hiring of sharpshooters to fire from helicopters and boats and on the ground with tracking dogs.

Read the full tribunal decision at

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