Snuneymuxw threatens legal action on closures

NANAIMO – First Nation says school district failed to consult on decision

A legal battle is brewing between the Snuneymuxw First Nation and Nanaimo school district centring on the district’s 10-year facilities plan.

Snuneymuxw announced Tuesday it will launch legal action, arguing that the school district did not properly engage with it during the process that led to the adoption of the plan, which will see a number of schools closed.

“They made their decision to close the majority of the schools that the Snuneymuxw members go to – we provide them $1.1 million a year to teach our children,” said Doug White, chief of the Snuneymuxw First Nation.

He said that after the school board made its decision, Snuneymuxw met with school board chairman Jamie Brennan and superintendent Dave Hutchinson to express the First Nation’s council’s concerns and state that meaningful engagement was needed.

“I asked them, ‘Now having heard all these concerns and disappointments, are you going back to your board now and let the board know that you need to reconsider the decision you’ve made and you need to engage with the Snuneymuxw in a meaningful way to work through the issues that we have?’ and Jamie Brennan said, ‘No’,” White said. “That brings us to the place where we’re at, which is seeking to make sure that we, as a government, have a meaningful say about the education of our children.”

Brennan said he found out about the legal action through the media and doesn’t know the exact nature of what the complaint will be; nevertheless he is unhappy that it could go to court.

“It’s quite disappointing because it’s going to be costly and when you get litigation, that’s an indication that the communication has broken down,” Brennan said.

He said that during the consultation process, the school district received input via Thoughtstream software, was sent large quantities of e-mail and went out to the communities affected, meeting with people on site.

He said the district also sent out letters to the groups that make up the district’s constituents, including Ladysmith town council, Nanaimo city council, the mayor and a councillor for the Village of Lantzville and Snuneymuxw.

“We didn’t receive any response from the Snuneymuxw or the Stz’uminus people with regards to consultation so they didn’t offer to meet with us, didn’t accept our offer of consultation,” Brennan said, adding that an initial e-mail was sent and estimates at least six phone calls were made thereafter.

The legal action is expected to be filed in the next four to six weeks and White said the Snuneymuxw are willing to go all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada if need be.