Park activists go free
Fifty-seven environmental activists arrested during protests against mining and exploration in Strathcona Park last year went free from a Campbell River court Wednesday. Provincial court Judge Edward O'Donnell ruled that the Crown had failed to prove the existence of a provincial order-in-council putting part of the park into a recreation area.
The public mischief charges stemmed from efforts by Friends of Strathcona supporters to disrupt exploratory drilling being done in the park on behalf of Cream Silver Mines Ltd. early in 1988.
Two of the 57 who appeared in court Wednesday had also been charged with obstructing a highway. Steve Lawson of Tofino and Aden Crane of Hornby Island were placed on probation for six months on the charges.
Meanwhile the provincial government has told Cream Silver that it "can't accept or entertain" the company's demand for $72 million in compensation for the claims it holds in the park. A furore over mining in the parks blew up last year after the provincial government declared some provincial parkland "recreation area" and open for logging and mining.
Cream Silver obtained a permit and started to explore claims within park boundaries. The work was interrupted from time to time by protesters who camped in the park and blocked access to the claims.
The provincial government appointed a special committee to look into the logging and mining issues in Strathcona Park. In September it adopted recommendations of the committee that there be no new mineral or exploration or logging in the park. At that time, Parks Minister Terry Huberts said he would work with the minister of energy, mines and petroleum resources to arrange fair compensation where legitimately held rights were affected by the policy.
Cream Silver hired two engineering consultants and on Nov. 28 submitted a claim "with heavily discounted values." But the provincial government rejected the claim. The Attorney General Ministry's legal services branch wrote to Cream Silver with the government decision. "It is the government's position that Cream Silver Mines Ltd. would not be entitled at law to compensation as a result of the prohibition of mining exploration and development in Strathcona Park."
Cream Silver president Frank Lang said the issue was one of expropriation. "One might even go so far as to refer to it in mining jargon as claim-jumping." He said the company had lost a valuable asset and should be compensated, and he is threatening to take the matter to court. "This represents a substantial risk to the government and people of British Columbia, as Cream Silver is not the only company holding claims in the park. It may be that Strathcona Park will be the most expensive park in Canada."
Lang said conflicts over land use were becoming more noticeable with recreational land use increasing dramatically. Within this environment, our governments continue to waffle from one side to the other, depending on the winds of public attention. Perhaps it is too much to ask for a level playing field. But it is also too much to ask investors to place millions of dollars at risk without a clear idea of what risks they are accepting."
Friends of Strathcona spokesman Des Kennedy said the $72-million demand was a matter of the company trying to milk a cow it doesn't own. "The resources of Strathcona Park belong to the people of British Columbia. A mining company which stakes a claim in a provincial peak does not automatically assume ownership of the minerals there, and the government certainly isn't required to purchase back those minerals at full market value."
Kennedy said the claims were staked long after Strathcona Park was established. He said the Friends maintained that companies should be reimbursed only for costs incurred in acquiring and exploring their claims. He said Cream Silver acquired its park claims for about $100,000 and received a government grant of $60,000 to help finance its Strathcona exploration scheme. In addition, the company benefitted from a tax write-off scheme, he said.