Musqueam leaseholders win their rent fight

Non-native leaseholders have won their long rent battle with the Musqueam Indian Band. The Supreme Court of Canada has ruled rent increases demanded by the band were too high, because reserve land has less value.

The country's highest court says the rents can go as high as $10,000 a year. The federal government, which is the official landlord, and the Musqueam Band had wanted $24,000 to $36,000 a year from each tenant.

Thursday's Supreme Court decision says reserve land is not worth as much as "fee simple, off-reserve land" because the legal environment of reserve land must be taken into account when assessing the value.

The Supreme Court has agreed with a federal trial judge, finding that the same land would be worth about $600,000 if it weren't reserve land. The court says the Musqueam land is worth about half that, and any lease payments should be based on that value.

Chief Ernie Campbell says the ruling entrenches the position that Indian land has a lower economic value. "Land value is based on being an Indian, and on race," he says. "That's the message I get."

The 73 leaseholders had said they faced bankruptcy if they lost the case. Kerry-Lynne Findlay speaks for the leaseholders. "This decision means that this has now become a community where it is possible to live," she says. "It's now possible to survive economically."

Findlay says today's ruling is only a start. She says both sides need to begin the important work of repairing strained relations in a divided community.