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Reserve policy is ‘a real threat’ to farmland
Richmond properties bought by First Nations could become aboriginal reserve lands—and potentially stripped of Agricultural Land Reserve protection—under a proposed federal policy, city officials warned Monday.
“With the proposed (changes), any First Nation with the majority of their reserve lands in B.C. could potentially purchase land within Richmond and apply to have this land included as part of their reserve,” noted Amarjeet Rattan in a report to Richmond council.
A key proposed change to the federal government's reserve and reserve creation policy is to allow lands to be designated as reserve even if they're not connected.
In Richmond, reserve lands are few. The Musqueam Indian band has 6.5 hectares of reserve land on the northwest corner of Sea Island. The band also owns land under River Rock Casino Resort and a one-hectare Fraser River lot adjoining Vancouver.
The existing federal policy requires reserve lands to be contiguous, council heard. The prospect of any land in Richmond becoming part of a reserve has civic politicians worried.
“It could be a real threat to the (Agricultural Land Reserve) both in Richmond and throughout the province,” said Coun. Harold Steves.
According to Rattan, the city's director of intergovernmental relations and protocol unit, it’s unclear whether farmland acquired under the proposed policy could be stripped of its protected ALR designation.
Aboriginal reserve lands are not subject to the city's land use regulations, bylaws or municipal taxation.
“That’s so scary,” said Coun. Evelina Halsey-Brandt. “If you are adjacent to somebody who doesn’t have to follow the same (laws) as everybody else, it can create issues.”
Similar concerns have come from Metro Vancouver’s Aboriginal Relations Committee, which is also taking issue with a lack of consultation with local government.
Richmond council agreed Monday to write letters expressing “the city's strong concerns” to the federal minister and Richmond MPs Kerry-Lynne Findlay and Alice Wong.
Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Bernard Valcourt has said the federal government is responding to calls for a more efficient process of creating reserve lands to better allow First Nations to take advantage of economic development opportunities.
“Our government is taking concrete action to respond to calls from First Nations to accelerate the Additions to Reserve process,” he said in a recent news release. “Expanding the reserve land base is an important mechanism by which First Nations can create conditions for economic development and job creation in their communities.”
Under current policy, applications to add land to a reserve take five to seven years to complete. The revised policy would streamline that process, as recommended by Canada’s auditor general.
Since 2006, 339,982 hectares have been added to the reserve land base of First Nations in Canada, according to the ministry, representing a 10-per-cent increase.
Public comment on the proposed changes can be made until Oct. 31 through the ministry's website at www.aadnc-aandc.gc.ca.