British Columbia

Supreme Court to hear Ktunaxa Nation opposition to Jumbo ski resort

The Supreme Court of Canada has agreed to hear an appeal of a case from a B.C. First Nation, which claims that the construction of a large ski resort would interfere with its religion practices involving the spirit of the grizzly bear.

Ktunaxa Nation chair 'pleased' with decision

The Supreme Court of Canada has agreed to hear a B.C. First Nation's appeal of the Jumbo ski resort near Invermere, B.C. (Courtesy of Pat Morrow)

A B.C. First Nation has won the right to proceed with a Supreme Court of Canada appeal of the proposed Jumbo ski resort in southeastern B.C.

The Supreme Court said Thursday it will hear arguments on questions of freedom of religion, aboriginal rights and government decision-making.

Ktunaxa National Council Chair Kathryn Teneese welcomed the decision.

"We're very pleased that the arguments that we brought forward are going to be considered by the Supreme Court of Canada," Teneese told CBC News.

"We felt that, up until now, that the issue of our beliefs were not being taken into full consideration as the decision-making moved forward."

The First Nation sued after Glacier Resorts was given the go-ahead from the provincial government in March 2012 for construction in Upper Jumbo Valley, 55 kilometres west of Invermere. 

The lawsuit claims that the development, if approved, will interfere with its religious practices involving the spirit of the grizzly bear.

Both the British Columbia Supreme Court and Court of Appeal dismissed the claim, noting that the process had dragged on for more than two decades. The courts ruled that the approval of the development did not violate the rights of the Ktunaxa and that there was reasonable consultation.

First endorsed by NDP

The $1-billion development was first proposed — and cautiously endorsed — by then-premier Mike Harcourt in the early 1990s. It took another 20 years of review for the Liberal government of the day to finally sign off on Glacier Resort's master development agreement. 

But the Ktunaxa Nation said the project would profoundly transform its traditional territory, arguing that the construction of the Jumbo Glacier Resort is a violation of the Ktunaxa peoples' right to freedom of religion, under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms

Jumbo is slated to be built in the heart of what the Ktunaxa First Nation call Qat'muk, home of the spirit of the grizzly bear. Ktunaxa leaders said the province should never have approved the development plan to build the resort.

Once complete, the Jumbo resort will feature up to 23 lifts, a 3,000-metre-high gondola and a ski village with more than 6,000 units. The resort will be comparable in size to Silver Star in Vernon, B.C. — or about 1/10th the size of Whistler Blackcomb.

The project suffered a setback last summer when B.C.'s Environment Ministry determined that the project "has not been substantially started," and its environmental assessment certificate had expired. As a result, Minister Mary Polak said the developers, Glacier Resorts Ltd., could not proceed unless a new certificate was obtained.

The ski resort, in turn, claimed that Polak had a personal relationship with Teneese, which it claimed had an impact on her decision not to renew the lapsed environmental assessment certificate.

With files from Canadian Press