The Beloved Community

It’s late at night on Easter Monday. It has been remarkable these last few days to see white blossoms on the plum trees, fat pink buds on the grape vines, and to bring in bright yellow daffodils from the garden. Life is bursting forth everywhere, which of course makes it the ideal time to reflect on the themes of renewal and rebirth.

Consider this: in the long, hard saga that our community has been through, three times pivotal moments have occurred right around Easter.

The week before Easter 2013: Ministry of Environment released SIA/CHH’s draft permit.

Two weeks before Easter 2015: Environmental Appeal Board (EAB) released its decision to uphold SIA/CHH’s permit.

The week before Easter 2016: BC Supreme Court ruled that CHH’s landfill is not a permitted use on the Stebbings Rd property.

(Not to read too much into the Easter theme, isn’t it interesting that on the third year, the Shawnigan community has experienced its own rebirth and renewal?)

For so many of us in Shawnigan, this last year has been one of the hardest years of our lives. Last spring, with the decision of the EAB to uphold SIA/CHH’s permit to dump 100,000 tonnes of contaminated soil each year for 50 years in our watershed, felt like a kind of death for our community.

Hopes, visions, and dreams, which had been steadily building in Shawnigan, were set aside as the community galvanized itself around a single, unwavering goal: to have the permit overturned and to have our watershed protected from the risk posed by 5 million tonnes of contaminated soil left in it for perpetuity.

Three avenues of effort were embarked on simultaneously.

Firstly, the CVRD moved forward with its zoning bylaw case, which was filed in BC Supreme Court shortly after SIA/CHH announced that it was “open for business and accepting contaminated soil” – as this meant that the company was indeed in contravention of the CVRD’s zoning bylaw.

Secondly, the legal team representing the Shawnigan Residents Association moved forward with filing an application for a Judicial Review of the EAB decision. The application filed in May presented evidence to support the SRA’s argument that the EAB decision was “substantively unreasonable.” Bolstering SRA’s argument was the document that emerged in July 2015 that appears to show a 50-50 profit sharing agreement between SIA/CHH and their qualified professionals, Active Earth Engineering.

Thirdly, and in my opinion, most importantly, the people of Shawnigan came together and galvanized into a highly determined, effective, committed, capable, and passionate community. Have no doubt – the tireless work of the Shawnigan community has been incredibly valuable on so many levels. The people of Shawnigan have demonstrated what needs to be done in the face of a failure of democracy, a failure of process, a failure of a government agency to look effectively at science, facts, and authentic concerns. The people of Shawnigan have demonstrated the importance of active engagement in standing up for a future that we want to create, rather than accepting a future forced on our community by one company.

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And the people of Shawnigan have shown that some issues transcend all political boundaries. Shawnigan has invited and worked with an incredible number of allies. In a province that has its share of political divides, consider this: people of all political stripes have joined and supported Shawnigan’s efforts.

During the 2013 provincial election campaign, the four Cowichan candidates – Steve Housser, Kerry Davis, Bill Routley, and Damir Wallener all agreed on one thing: that Shawnigan’s watershed is no place for a contaminated soil landfill. Over the past year, NDP MLA Bill Routley has stood shoulder to shoulder with Green Party MLA Andrew Weaver, and been joined by MLAs Doug Routley, Gary Holman and NDP leader John Horgan on Stebbings Rd, all standing in solidarity with the people of Shawnigan Lake.

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Bill Routley has given 25 (!) speeches in the Legislature on Shawnigan’s fight to protect our water; and both John Horgan and Andrew Weaver have asked several questions during Question Period over the last year, and repeatedly raised the issue in the media.

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Federal Green Party leader Elizabeth May, and both past and current MPs, Jean Crowder and Alistair MacGregor, have stood as allies with the people of Shawnigan Lake. During the federal election campaign, Green candidates Fran Hunt-Jinnouchi and Paul Manley, Liberal candidate Maria Manna, and NDP candidate Alistair all showed support and stood in solidarity with the Shawnigan community.  Alistair has recently taken his support right to the House of Commons, where he has introduced a private member’s bill that would protect Shawnigan Lake.

 

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(Elected officials and candidates in this photo include: Doug Routley, Elizabeth May, Fran Hunt-Jinnouchi, Paul Manley, Steve Housser, Sonia Furstenau, Kerry Davis, & Gary Holman – and there may be more that I can’t spot!)

These political allies all agreed on one thing – that the protection of a community’s water source is essential, and far more important than politics. The Shawnigan effort to protect our water has not only transcended political lines and political boundaries, it has also been an example for how we can move beyond political divisions and recognize that we can indeed all work together for the greater good.

I am deeply grateful to all who have stood with us, and I hope that we will soon be coming back together for a momentous celebration.

There are so many who deserve to be acknowledged and appreciated for the efforts they have contributed.

Those who raised the alarm at the very beginning – who saw the danger coming and wanted to stop it in its tracks. SRA President Calvin Cook and the SRA Board members – who stepped up early as leaders and have led the community ever since. Former Area Director Bruce Fraser and the previous CVRD Board, which initiated the Supreme Court challenge and the EAB appeal. The incredibly hard-working lawyers, particularly Alyssa Bradley (CVRD) and Sean Hern (SRA) who have shown exceptional passion and commitment in their efforts. Cowichan Tribes First Nation, which has supported Shawnigan from the beginning, and Malahat First Nation, which came forward to support SRA’s application for a stay.  The administration, staff, and students of Shawnigan Lake School and Dwight School – both have been steadfast in their solidarity with the community.

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All the people who wrote letters and showed up to protests even before the permit was issued. The people who organized events, rallies, endless meetings, and fundraisers – and all the people who attended the events, rallies, endless meetings, and fundraisers. The small group of people – led by Shelagh – who monitored the increasing truck traffic through the summer and fall. The people who got up early through the dark, cold, wet weeks in November and December to stand on Stebbings Rd. The hundreds who attended protests, the thousands who signed petitions, and the many dozens who raised their hands to be on a “team”. The dozens who worked together night and day to bring together Helicopter Day on January 6th. The hundreds who have tirelessly raised the profile of our efforts on social media (including two amazing and prominent Canadians, Raffi and David Suzuki!).

Also deserving of recognition are the researchers, the photographers, the hikers, the video-makers, the song writers, the artists, and the people who knew just when to offer a warm drink, a nourishing snack, a kind word, or a loving embrace. There are countless heroes and heroines, and what has been remarkable is that each and every person has been willing to give themselves to something greater, and in doing so, has contributed to creating something miraculous.

It has been a long hard journey – and one that is not over yet. An important victory has been won, but the permit has not yet been revoked and the soil that has been deposited has not been ordered removed. We will be on this journey together until these outcomes have been achieved.

The company has also filed for an appeal of this decision, and for a stay of the injunction that prevents them from bringing contaminated soil onto the site. We hope and pray that the courts will not see fit to allow continued dumping, and we also await Justice Sewell’s decision on a second injunction, based on the evidence heard during the Judicial Review.

I expect that many feel – as I do – weary from having to fight so hard to try to protect our water, but nonetheless determined to stay the course, no matter what.

I also feel that it’s valuable to take some time to reflect, and to consider all that we have learned and accomplished on this four-year journey.

We have learned vigilance, determination, steadfastness, and cooperation – particularly when it comes to protecting the water that we need for our community to thrive.

We have learned how catastrophically a “process” can fail. One person – a “statutory decision maker” with no ties to our community, who never visited the site applying for the permit, who did not adhere to the guidelines of his position, and who may not have even had the authority to make the decision he did – was able nonetheless to make a decision that has impacted the lives of thousands of people. And the Minister of Environment has chosen to hide behind this person for three long years – often dismissing the serious uncertainties, concerns, and evidence of irregularities that have been steadily accumulating the entire time.

We have learned of the pitfalls embedded in the “Professional Reliance” model, introduced by the BC Liberal government as a result of now Minister of Energy and Mines Bill Bennett’s “core review”. It was this model that allowed for SIA hiring Active Earth Engineering to act as the “qualified professionals” throughout the permitting process.

We have learned how to come together, how to become highly organized, how to work together over and over again, how to never give up, no matter how tired, how exasperated, or how bullied we feel. We have supported each other, cared for each other, helped each other through difficult times, and continuously expressed the love we feel for our lake, our home, our community, and each other.

Recently, I read an interview with a long-time environmental activist Rebecca Stolnit, and her words resonated deeply:

“There’s this idea that political engagement is some sort of horrible, dutiful thing you do, like cleaning the toilet or taking out the garbage. But it can be the most fantastic thing you do. It can bring you into contact with hope, with joy, with a sense of deep connection, with what Martin Luther King called the “beloved community.” “

We have created a “beloved community” in Shawnigan.  It has made us strong, and as we continue to move through this journey, we must continue to nourish it, and to defend it from those who may want to damage it.  We must make it the one true legacy of this terrible situation that we have been forced to endure.

Let us remember, above all, to cherish and protect our beloved community.

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