British Columbia

B.C. First Nation 'dismayed' by lack of consultation on Canfor forest tenure transfer

The Simpcw First Nation was shocked to find out that Canfor would be selling its forest tenure to Interfor without consulting the band.

Band was looking into acquiring timber rights, Simpcw chief says

Canfor announced it would transfer its forest tenure for $60 million to Interfor without consulting local First Nations first. (Erik White/CBC )

The chief of the Simpcw First Nation in the North Thompson Valley is unhappy with the recent announcement that the Canfor sawmill in Vavenby would be closing and says local First Nations were not part of the decision making process. 

Canfor announced in early June that it is shutting down operations and selling the forest tenure associated with the sawmill to Interfor for $60 million.

Chief Shelly Loring told Daybreak Kamloops host Shelley Joyce that she and her people were shocked to find out that Canfor would be selling its forest tenure to Interfor, adding that they found out about the mill closure because of a news story; they were not contacted about it in advance.

"We were very dismayed, putting it politely, that there was no inclusion of Simpcw with respect to this decision," Loring said.

According to Loring, Simpcw representatives met with B.C.'s forestry minister earlier this spring to discuss how it could expand its involvement in the forestry industry. Part of that meeting, Loring said, included a discussion around the potential closure of the Canfor mill in Vavenby.

Simpcw Resources Group Ltd., whose sole purpose is to create jobs, had been in discussions with Canfor about a desire to acquire more licences within its territory.

At the time, there was no mention of Canfor's plans to sell its forest tenures to Interfor.

The Simpcw also had a meeting scheduled with both Interfor and Canfor the week of the closure announcement to discuss the possibility of acquiring timber rights on their traditional land.

"Our people have endured years of infringement and impacts on our rights and the corresponding benefits have been minimal," she said. "This transaction, we see it as an opportunity to start true reconciliation with respect to the forestry activities in our territory."

If the Simpcw First Nation was able to take over some or all of the land tenure, they would continue logging while taking into consideration wildlife protection and the environmental impacts of their actions.

"We are the caretakers of our land, so we need to make sure that things are done right," Loring said.

Before the transfer can be completed, Canfor must complete a public-interest test, as required by the recently passed Bill 22, which according to Forest Minister Doug Donaldson, means they must consult local government, union representatives and First Nations.

"Bill 22 only passed into legislation two weeks ago and I am unaware of any negotiations that were going on between Interfor and Canfor [before that]," he said. "However, since the passage of the bill, that means that any proposal for the acquisition of tenure in this case would come to my desk for approval first."

Donaldson said no such proposal has come his way yet.

Loring wants ministry staff to work with the Simpcw to come up with an appropriate process for this tenure transfer.

"As far as we're concerned the transaction as stated is a non-starter and we need to be at the table, we need to be part of the decision making and we want to be guaranteed a significant opportunity," Loring said. "If that doesn't happen then this transaction will not move forward."

With files from Daybreak Kamloops