Okanagan Indian Band announces intentions to block sale of CN rail corridor

"The Commonage claim is a matter between the Federal Government and First Nations and it should have no bearing on the acquisition of land

Okanagan Indian Band chief Byron Louis says his band is being forced to go to the courts to protect its land from being sold by CN Rail.

The Okanagan Indian Band has informed the inter-jurisdictional acquisition team it plans legal action to try and block the sale of the discontinued CN rail corridor between Kelowna and Coldstream.

The letter of intent from the law firm of Ratcliff & Company was sent to CN, the federal and provincial governments, City of Kelowna, District of Lake Country and the Regional District of the North Okanagan, reads a press release sent out Wednesday morning.

The inter-jurisdictional team has not received a copy of the legal claim and has no knowledge of one being filed with the courts.

“The partners remain unanimous in our commitment to complete this once-in-lifetime acquisition,” said Doug Gilchrist, Divisional Director Community Planning and Real Estate for the City of Kelowna on behalf of the regional partners. “We are proceeding on what has always been our understanding – that CN owns the land outright and therefore has the legal right to sell the land.”

The federal government’s status report on First Nation land claims states the Commonage Claim was reviewed and closed with no lawful obligation found. The property covered by the historical claim is approximately 28,000 acres and encompasses Highway 97 and hundreds of public and private properties spanning from Wood Lake to the north end of Kalamalka Lake and westward to Okanagan Lake.

“We are proceeding on the understanding that the Commonage claim is a matter between the Federal Government and First Nations and it should have no bearing on the acquisition of land between a private company and a local government,” said Gilchrist. “Land reserve challenges are ongoing across Canada and the City respects any final decisions.”

Local governments respect and support the Okanagan Indian Band in its claim of reversionary rights on land that falls within IR No. 7 and, as such, those parcels have been excluded from the pending agreement with CN.

The inter-jurisdictional team will continue its due diligence, including securing the financing required for the acquisition. The District of Lake Country referendum on April 25 will continue as planned.

Pending a favourable resolution of any potential legal action, the partnership hopes the purchase and sale agreement can be completed in a timely manner. The regional partners will abide by any interim or final legal decisions issued by the court.

The inter-jurisdictional team invited the Okanagan Indian Band (OKIB) to be part of the acquisition team at the beginning of the process, however the band respectfully declined the invitation. Meanwhile, municipal staff and elected officials have met with OKIB council members on numerous occasions to discuss this and other projects that could be mutually beneficial to all citizens.

The municipalities of Kelowna, Lake Country, Coldstream and Vernon, as well as the regional districts of Central Okanagan and North Okanagan, have jointly identified the value the rail line could have as a continuous multi-modal transportation corridor connecting all the communities.


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