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Lawsuit of the Week: B.C. tourism firm sues province over First Nations title negotiations

Ts’yl-os Lodge and Adventures claims the province failed to negotiate with its interest in mind
B.C. Supreme Court in Vancouver | Rob Kruyt, BIV

A backcountry recreation company based out of the Ts'yl-os Provincial Park is suing the B.C. government, claiming it has failed to adequately consider its interests in negotiating land title rights with the Xeni Gwet’in First Nation.

Karen McLean, operator of Ts’yl-os Lodge and Adventures Ltd., noted in legal filings that the company has been operating since 1957 and was transferred to her by her father in 1989.

Specifically, the certificate allows her to operate the business in an area of about 2,500 square kilometres at the north end of Chilko Lake, around 300 kilometres north of Vancouver. The company has built horse trails, camps, an airport, and other infrastructure in the area.

The company provides one- to two-week fly-in packages, including big game hunts, angling, guided bear-viewing, wildlife photography and more for “high-end and selective tourists from around the world” who “pay a premium rate and often book a year in advance.”

McLean claimed the province had repeatedly assured her the business would be grandfathered in the event of any changes to policies and regulations.

She claimed that since 2010 there have been unlicensed bear-viewing and fishing guides in the Chilko Lake and river area, which McLean said has interfered with her business. She claimed she has “repeatedly” told the B.C. government about the issue, but the province has failed to act.

McLean claimed the commercial viability of her business has been “seriously diminished” due to “the detrimental impacts on the wilderness values,” resulting in loss of revenue.

And she claimed the province has, particularly since a 2014 landmark Supreme Court of Canada ruling thatgranted land title rights to the Tsilhqot’in First Nation, “on numerous occasions” delayed providing permits, sometimes until the season is over – something she said has seriously harmed her business.

The Tsilhqot’in decision confirmed Xeni Gwet’in title, the lawsuit noted. And since then, the First Nation has claimed land that overlaps with the area McLean’s business is permitted to operate in.

The B.C. government reportedly assured McLean it would negotiate with the Xeni Gwet’in First Nation regarding McLean’s business interests in the area, but she claimed the government “failed to do so in a timely manner with care for the plaintiffs’ interests.”

She further claimed the province hasn’t shared information with her or her business about how negotiations would impact Ts’yl-os Lodge and Adventures, claiming the province has “preferred its own interests over the interests of the plaintiffs.”

“The province has entered into agreements with the Xeni Gwet’in and/or Tsilhqot’in Nation that transfer regulatory jurisdiction to them without due care for the plaintiffs’ interests,” the lawsuit stated.

“The plaintiffs support the rights of the Xeni Gwet’in and Tsilhqot’in and the need for reconciliation with First Nations but have suffered harm through no fault of their own.”

McLean alleges the province failed to consider the potential for competing First Nations rights and land title claims in the area when dealing with her business and failed to act in good faith with her when addressing those claims.

McLean is seeking an order that the province failed to protect her business’s legal interests and that she and her business are entitled to damages, or alternatively that the province misstated the protections that were put in place to protect the business’s legal interests.

The province has not filed a response as of press deadline.