Category Archives: 1

Let Them Eat Condos

Bilston Creek Estates

June 2009

Langford’s farmers, food lovers, and political bodies are struggling with the dilemma of farmland preservation

Along Bilston Creek, fat mallards flap and quack over a willow thicket and red-winged blackbirds perch on cattails to sing their spring songs. Nearby fields are dotted with blackberries, horse paddocks, and hay bales. But public notices on Happy Valley Road warn that new housing developments are on the horizon, and these farmlands and wetlands are getting squeezed by creeping urbanization. For years, Langford’s fastgrowth policies have put the city squarely at odds with local food and farming advocates.

The current development applications may also violate provincial rules and Langford’s own land-use guidelines.

Critics of growth-at-any-cost are responding by forging their own vision for the future of farmland and appealing for community support to make it a reality. According to Ian McKenzie, owner of a small farm in Happy Valley, the strategy seeks to promote positive solutions, rather than more head-butting with Mayor Stew Young and Langford city council.

Home-grown solutions are needed. Vancouver Islanders are snapping up more local produce than ever before. Cheryl McLachlan, an avid local food consumer and Langford council-watcher, says demand at farmers’ markets is outstripping supply. “The joke is, at some of the weekly markets, you have to get there before 11:30 or there’s no food left.”

This spring and summer, local residents are flocking to events like Defending Our Backyard, a celebration of local food on May 31 at Fort Rodd Hill. The Island Chefs Collaborative expects over a thousand people to attend. Up in the Cowichan Valley, wine-tasting tours are a going concern. Across the South Island, restaurants compete for bragging rights about the advantages of their local, organic ingredients: superior flavour, freshness, and nutrition content. The popular Hundred Mile Diet has gained a huge following from books, blogs, and news stories in the past year. Grocery stores proudly market “BC Grown” and “Locally Grown” produce.

A harsh reality underlies this cornucopia, however: Vancouver Island grows only about five percent of its food. In the event of a crisis, the supermarkets and grocery stores would run out of many basic supplies in ten days or less. Farmer McKenzie notes, “At the moment, we depend on the transportation system and the economic system to get our food from outside our area. If Vancouver Island were hit by a tsunami—if, all of sudden, the ferry terminals were knocked out—it would take a month to repair the docks. So at some point, we’re going to have to accept we have to produce more of our food ourselves.”

Langford is taking steps to address the issue, at least on paper. Food security gets high priority in Langford’s new Official Community Plan. The guiding document for planning and development is peppered with sweeping statements promoting local food production and sustainability.

“Grow food everywhere,” the plan exhorts.

Easier said than done. Rhetoric aside, Langford politics have taken root in the farmlands like tenacious weeds. Most of Langford’s agricultural land is in the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR), a provincial program designed to protect local food production. Overseeing the ALR is the Agricultural Land Commission (ALC), which considers applications to designate or remove properties from the ALR. The agency’s mandate for preservation means the rules for removal are strict. A successful application typically demonstrates a “net benefit” to farmland overall—a tough criterion to meet. With only 292 acres remaining in the reserve in Langford, and much of the arable land already lost to development, the municipality must find creative ways to pair removal applications with plans to intensify agriculture in other areas.

McKenzie has some ideas on how to do this. “We’re looking at more intelligent use of farmland, including parcels that are part agricultural and part other use,” he says. Rocky or sandy areas can be used to build housing for farm workers, while the remainder can be worked with the latest high-intensity farming methods. Marginal soils can be remediated. “That will fulfill the ALC requirement for net benefit,” McKenzie says.

Applying to remove land from the ALR without proposing tangible benefits to farmland, McKenzie says, “defeats the whole purpose of having local food production and food security.” And those applications are not likely to be approved by the province, according to other observers.

3616 Happy Valley

At times, Langford’s land-use strategies have clashed with the provincial agricultural commission’s requirements. In 2006, the city touched off a storm when it sent a letter to every landowner with property in the ALR, advising them that the city would help them apply for removal. That letter was followed by heavy backpedaling and a second letter clarifying that there would be no “blanket removals” of ALR land. Rob Buchan, Langford’s clerk-administrator at the time, stated that the offer was merely part of a process to create a neighbourhood plan for South Langford. He told the Times Colonist that the city would consider “supporting the removal from the ALR of those lands that are not useful for farming.” As for the future of the process, “It’s very much going to be driven by what the residents have to say,” Buchan said. Cheryl McLachlan supports that notion. “Langford is a growing community, therefore it has to do more due diligence to protect the ALR land that’s left.”

So far, efforts to achieve due diligence and citizen guidance have fallen on rocky ground. Residents were cheered when Langford city council appointed an advisory committee earlier this year to assist with land-use planning and accountability. The Agricultural Advisory Committee had to hit the ground running—currently, 11 landowners are applying to remove their lands from the ALR. In announcing the inaugural meeting of the committee in January 2009, Mayor Young promised, “It’s not going to be an easy process, but it’s going to be a fair one.”

Mayor Young may be half right. McLachlan attends most of the city’s committee meetings, and she and others are raising concerns about the advisory process. Citizens’ letters to the committee were rebuffed by city planner Matthew Baldwin, who politely but firmly told residents to write to the provincial Agricultural Land Commission instead, since “the decision whether or not land is removed from the ALR rests solely with the ALC, and not with Council for the City of Langford.”

Debra Harper, a local food advocate and Langford resident, was so irked by her exchange with Baldwin that she posted his “rejection letter” on her website. Baldwin later admitted that city council does, in fact, decide whether to forward applications to the province, and it can effectively veto the proposals, but he has failed to address citizens’ grievances about the way he handled the situation. Among the letters were submissions from local farmers with information about farming techniques, local soils and drainage conditions that could have helped guide the committee, which does not include any local food producers, McLachlan says.

Adding insult to injury, at least eight of those letters were also missing from the package given to city council for its final consideration of the ALR applications on April 20, 2009.

Another surprise awaited attendees at the April city council meeting. Reading the agenda, they noticed that one of the advisory committee members had the same last name and first initial as a landowner applying for removal of his land from the ALR. When questioned, Mayor Young confirmed that Mr Thomas Atherton of Happy Valley Road had, in fact, voted to bring his own application to council.

Turning farmland into housing developments typically brings a windfall profit to the landowner, and those responsible for advising governments on land-use decisions are expected to be impartial, with at least an arm’s-length distance between applicants and deciders. Langford’s terms of reference for the committee state emphatically that “no member of the Agricultural Advisory Committee shall have an active application before the committee.”

Even after McLachlan raised the point about this potential conflict, Mayor Young and Langford city council voted unanimously to forward seven applications—including Atherton’s—to the province for removal from the ALR. The final decision now rests with the Agricultural Land Commission.

Meanwhile, McKenzie is preparing a presentation for Langford council on the community’s vision for the future of farmland in Happy Valley.

“We want our kids to have food on the table and not to have to struggle for it,” McKenzie says. “We want our kids to have jobs, and that means a whole range of jobs, not just professional jobs, not just construction or manufacturing.”

Agricultural work is a big part of lots of people’s lives, he says. “We’d like to see urban planning that takes into account the importance of farming—the necessity of growing food. ”

McKenzie is hopeful Langford’s rhetoric will someday match up with its actions. “I think they’re sort of grudgingly admitting they have to have some sort of a plan for agriculture, but I think at the moment they don’t give it the same importance as other types of land development,” he says.

As you sow, so shall you reap. Chris Johnson, a local food advocate in Victoria, says disappearing agricultural land is an urgent problem. “At the rate things are going,” he says, “I hope our children can figure out how to eat carpet and plasterboard.”

Rezoning notice in Happy Valley

Zoe Blunt lives in Langford and loves local food.

Photos by Pete Rockwell.


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Auntie Civ: How to bring it down and why


Meet Auntie Civ, the world’s first anti-civilization advice columnist!
April 18, 2009

Hi kids, it’s your Auntie Civ here. I want to say you all deserve a huge shout-out for your amazing efforts! It’s hard work, challenging the stifling conventions of this destructive society, not to mention preparing for the collapse of civilization (and even helping it along a bit!) I’m moved by the passion and resourcefulness and dedication of the happy bands of ruffians diving in dumpsters, hopping trains, and living in the woods. The sheer exuberance of these semi-feral young people puts a song in my cynical old heart.

Now, I can’t hop trains anymore because of the arthritis, but I can help in other ways. I’ve learned a few things over the decades and I’d like others to benefit from my experience. There’s a lot at stake, and I know the struggle can be overwhelming for even the bravest soul. Please, get it off your chest. Ask Auntie Civ anything — whether it’s free advice, anti-civilization insights, or funny stories from the bad old days, I’ll reply to everyone and post the best questions and answers here.

But first, a little note about common sense: don’t send Auntie Civ any details about actions you may be thinking of doing, or details about actions you already did, or theories about who might be doing what. (Here’s a nice little essay about security culture – very educational!) Also, my opinions are my own (unless I’m quoting an expert) and I expect those who disagree to follow the time-honored tradition of flaming my fat ass. So bring it on, you young whippersnappers!

Love, Auntie Civ

(Disclaimer: Advice given is for entertainment purposes only. Void where prohibited by law.)

Dear Auntie Civ,

How do you propose to bring down ‘civilization as we know it?’


Dear Remarcus,

Great question! It reminds me of a joke that’s been around since the Roman Empire. A soldier brags that he’s going to kill an elephant and eat the whole thing — by himself. The other soldiers scoff at him. “How can you eat an elephant?” one asks. “Simple,” says the first soldier. “One bite at a time.”

Rome didn’t fall in a day, and none of us can bring down civilization all at once. What we can do is help it along a bit by greasing the skids, fighting to preserve those parts of Mother Nature that are still intact, and monkeywrenching the forces of destruction.

I can hear you asking, “But how do you do that?” Well, here’s some examples.

  • Challenge timber sales
  • Blockade logging roads
  • Stop local governments from adopting development plans
  • Support First Nations land claims
  • Sabotage the careers of pro-development politicians
  • Take the bastards to court
  • Tear down flagging tape
  • Uproot survey stakes
  • Shoot out electrical transformers
  • Cut fibre-optic cables
  • Destroy earth-wrecking machines
  • Hack the computer systems of earth-wrecking companies

Years ago, when I ran around with a posse, we made a conscious decision that we were on side with anything that slowed down the destruction, or stopped it even for a minute, or cost the company money, or exposed it to public embarrassment and drove down its market share. As long as no one got hurt. And you know what? We won. It was like a death from a thousand cuts, and you better believe when Goliath hit the ground, the shock wave reached all the way to Ottawa.

Dear Auntie Civ,

Is it possible for the Earth to feed 6 billion people without civilization? I’m worried that if we all go live in the woods at once and use hunting or slash and burn farming to feed ourselves we’ll destroy nature.


Dear Bacchus,

It isn’t possible to feed 6 billion people right now, with civilization. That’s why millions of people are starving. That’s why more and more desperate, hungry people are resorting to slash-and-burn farming and destroying nature to feed themselves. Much of the best farmland has already been ruined by agricultural chemicals or paved over for subdivisions. Much of what’s left will be devastated by climate change and drought. This is happening now, because of civilization.

You see, we’ve exceeded the carrying capacity of the planet. It’s horrifying to contemplate a future in which hundreds of millions more will die for lack of food, clean water, medicine, transportation, heat, air conditioning, and so on. I’ve thought about it a great deal, and I’ve come to the conclusion that the fight to defend and restore the land and water is the only sane response to the crisis we face.

All my love,

Auntie Civ

Send your questions to auntieciv (at)

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“Racist” Developer May Get the Torch

frankenstein mob

Halloween Uprising on Vancouver Island?

April 14, 2009

Victoria, BC – A local blog is reporting rumours that the controversial Bear Mountain Resort may host part of the 2010 Olympic Torch relay on Halloween.

WTF Langford? cites “insider gossip” as the source of this news, noting that municipalities recently sent their proposals for Torch venues to the Vancouver Olympic Organizing Committee (VANOC). An announcement is expected later this week, the blog says.

Conflict has dogged Bear Mountain Resort for over two years, with native protests and a ten-month-long treesit that blocked the route of a highway to the resort.

Last week, WTF Langford? named Bear Mountain owner Len Barrie Vancouver Island’s Most Racist Developer for desecrating native graves, blowing up SPAET Cave and willfully destroying a million-year-old geological formation.

The web site spells out a cozy relationship between Barrie and the BC Liberal Party, which is well-known for forging sleazy deals with developers. That relationship was consummated last year with a $10,000-a-plate Liberal fundraising dinner at Barrie’s sprawling estate at Bear Mountain.

If VANOC awards Bear Mountain “the endorsement of the world’s largest sporting event and a million-dollar-marketing advantage,” there will be consequences, the blog warns. However, the authors predict, “this little s#$%storm is not going to materialize. Why? Let’s just say we know people. People with morals and the power to use them.”

Read the whole post here.

Your comments are welcome!

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Why I Won’t Run for the Green Party


March 31, 2009

Clarification: I’m flattered the Greens would consider me as a candidate, and I respect the group — especially Jane Sterk, the provincial leader — but there’s no way I would put my name in as a candidate for any political party. For one thing, I wouldn’t survive the vetting process. As I mention below, a few minutes’ research would get me dumped off any self-respecting party’s slate. Also, I make a lousy servant. I suck at toeing the party line. I’m insubordinate, undisciplined, and disrespectful. And those are my good qualities.

Thank you, we now return to our regularly scheduled mockery.

Strange times! On a Sunday morning in February, out of nowhere, I get a note from the leader of the Green Party of British Columbia asking if I would consider running as a candidate for the Legislative Assembly in May.

Jane Sterk, Green Party of BC

When I stopped laughing, I called a few friends. One said the Greens seem to be flailing. “Not that you wouldn’t make a fine candidate, “ he added.

Sorry, but if they’re asking me, they must be desperate. I can see the headlines now. “Anarchist eco-terrorist riot-inciting cheerleader for the collapse of civilization is the Green Party candidate for southern Vancouver Island.” I guess Jane didn’t Google me or check out this blog before she sent me the message.

But never mind the embarrassment I could inflict on the Greens by accepting their invitation. This riding is held by a strong ally, John Horgan of the New Democratic Party, one of maybe two politicians in this province who I actually respect.

His challenger, Jody Twa, is an evil reptile backed by Stew Young, the mayor of Langford. Like Young, Twa apparently never met a developer he didn’t like, and he has an ego the size of Mt. Washington.

Evil clone Twa, backed by big money and the Liberal machine, has a fighting chance to beat Horgan and take over the riding. That could pave the way for an explosion of cancerous growth eating through the forests and hills around Goldstream Provincial Park. (Like we don’t have enough of that already.)

Worse, a strong Green candidate could split the enviro vote and hand the pro-development side an easy romp to victory. Personally, I would rather cut my fingers off with a dull knife than help elect Jody Twa.

So I called Jane with a proposal of my own. “I wonder if the Green Party would consider not running a candidate in this riding,” I said.

“We’re running candidates in every riding,” she snapped back.


I don’t remember her answer. It doesn’t matter.

So far, the Greens haven’t announced who’s taking on Twa and Horgan. With less than six weeks before the election, I’m thinking maybe they’ll just do the right thing and let it go. Jeezus.

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Please don’t call it the Bear Mtn Bailout

Bear Mountain resort, near Victoria, BC. Photo mosaic by Pete Rockwell.

March 18, 2009

The public hearing on March 16 was much more civil than other meetings I’ve seen at Langford City Hall, but I still had to lean over the podium and grab the microphone to be heard over all the people shouting at me – not just the audience, but also the chair of the hearing, deputy mayor Denise Blackwell. It’s not easy to deliver a simple five-minute presentation to Langford Council when the pro-development crowd doesn’t agree with you.

I made some enemies that night when I suggested to Blackwell that the best thing she could do to restore Langford Council’s integrity was resign. I added that Mayor Stew Young and Chief Planner Matthew Baldwin should also resign in response to increasing concerns about biased decision-making around Skirt Mountain.

It was the second public hearing for this development proposal. Skirt Mountain – known for thousands of years as Spaet Mountain, and more recently as the home of Bear Mountain Resort – is a bluffy knob rising 340 meters from a fault line next to Goldstream Provincial Park, fifteen kilometers west of Victoria, BC.

Thanks to Len Barrie, the former NHL player turned real estate developer, Skirt Mountain has been “terraformed by mountaintop removal,” according to local environmentalist Ingmar Lee. In April 2007, Lee set up a tree-sit camp to stop construction of the Spencer Road Interchange and protect the remaining garry oaks and arbutus bluffs on the mountainside below Bear Mountain Resort. I helped kick off the tree sit by spending a wet and stormy week camped on a platform high up in the limbs of a big old red cedar.

That cedar and all its neighbours are gone now. Last February, a contingent of more than sixty RCMP special forces arrested the tree sitters and closed the area for three days while machines clearcut the site. Soon after, the city borrowed $10 million from TD Bank on behalf of the developers, and construction on the new interchange lurched forward.

Today the interchange is almost complete, but it leads nowhere. A muddy, impassable track marks the future road up Skirt Mountain to Len Barrie’s house, the golf course, and all the unsold condos at Bear Mountain Resort.

That’s about to change, if the South Skirt Mountain Village developers get their way. They’re planning a mini-city on that rugged slope, with towers six stories high and higher and 2800 condos with a total value of $1.7 billion. Apparently the condos will sell for about $607,000 each. (I did the math.)

It’s bad news for garry oaks, songbirds, owls, woodpeckers, and eagles. Anyone who enjoys fresh air and fresh water or opposes urban sprawl has a stake in this project as well.

Predictably, Langford’s mayor and council are cheerleading the development. In February, local news broadcasts showed Mayor Young enthusing over the construction boom the project would create, followed by footage of Young at the public hearing berating a retired schoolteacher who lives on Florence Lake, next to Skirt Mountain. Local residents’ complaints centred around concerns about damage to the watershed at Florence Lake and loss of wildlife habitat. Their testimony was interrupted by Young’s frequent diatribes against “you people” making “the same complaints time after time.”

Joni Olsen, a band councillor for the Tsartlip First Nation, attended the February hearing to tell Langford Council that the graves of her ancestors are on Skirt Mountain and that development would destroy “this beautiful place.” The city and Bear Mountain Resort have already demolished two culturally-significant caves in the area.

“That’s 8,000 years of history that you guys are going to build on. That’s appalling,” Olsen said. Young let the remarks pass without comment.

The mayor’s bad behaviour is nothing new to city council observers. But the following month brought an unwelcome surprise. On March 12, Langford council voted to apply for federal stimulus money for the road from the interchange to Bear Mountain Resort. Naturally, I wanted to ask them if this was a bailout for Len Barrie.

But as soon as I brought up the subject at the public hearing on March 16, Denise Blackwell shut me down, insisting that I could not speak about the bailout or about Bear Mountain. She said the three projects – Bear Mountain, South Skirt Mountain and the Spencer Road interchange – are not connected. In fact, they are strung together like beads on a string by that muddy track of a road.

The developers of Bear Mountain Resort and South Skirt Mountain are partners in a user-pay Local Service agreement for the Spencer Road Interchange. Remember, back in 2008 Langford Council said the deal would fund the new interchange and taxpayers would pay nothing. Now Langford will try to force taxpayers to fork over millions of dollars for the project.

South Skirt Mountain has its own user-pay agreement. Staff reports say the developers will build the new subdivision’s roads and the interchange as part of a $28 million contribution to the city’s services and amenities. None of this jibes with Langord’s $24.5 million taxpayer-funded grant application. Furthermore, the Community Charter expressly forbids local governments from giving out grants to private companies.

I realize that Langford Council and the developers have compelling reasons for making this project a top priority, regardless of the cost to everyone else. They would be the first to tell us that the interchange and the parkway are crucial for Langford’s future, and taxpayers should be grateful for the opportunity to pay for them. Imagine the alternative – if the developers can’t afford to build the road, the interchange to nowhere would look pretty stupid, wouldn’t it?

But please, don’t call it the Bear Mountain bailout. Denise Blackwell will thank you to stop that kind of talk right now.

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Bear Mtn developer bailout? FAIL

Bear Mountain

March 14, 2009

Oh, how the mighty have fallen – and they haven’t hit bottom yet.

Looks like some prominent Vancouver Island developers can’t afford to pay for their massive condo projects. Langford Mayor Stew Young’s statement at the last public hearing turns out to be true — he’s lining up to demand a taxpayer bailout for the Bear Mountain Resort developers.

It takes a special kind of hypocrisy to brag (loudly and constantly) that the new highway interchange will be 100% paid for by developers, and then turn around and beg for a federal grant. Of course, the grant would have to be matched by municipal revenue, meaning taxpayers get soaked twice.

That would be enough for most public officials, but here Langford ups the ante and demands millions more for a parkway to service the posh but half-empty golf resort. That takes real gall.

I’m really offended that politicians want to give taxpayer money to rich developers, especially when they’re destroying rare ecosystems and demolishing native burial cairns and blasting sacred caves.

Bad karma, much?

Langford wants to bill taxpayers $21-million for its “100% developer-funded” projects.

On Monday, March 16, the city of Langford will apply for a federal and provincial bailout for construction on the Spencer Road Interchange and Bear Mountain Parkway. The application was approved by City Council in a special meeting March 12. On March 13, city engineer John Manson confirmed the city is applying for $21.5-million in infrastructure grant money for the interchange and road project. An additional $3-million would come from city revenues.

According to Manson, the city asserts that the interchange on-ramps are not part of the interchange agreement, and that the Bear Mountain Parkway – which lies completely within a Local Service Area on South Skirt Mountain – is not, in fact, part of that Local Service Area. The parkway connects the Spencer Interchange to Bear Mountain Resort.

The Community Charter defines a Local Area Service (LAS) as a municipal service that is to be paid for in whole or in part by a local service tax. In this case, council considers an LAS to be a service to provide particular benefit to a part of the municipality. It’s like a user-pay system – if a developer wants a highway interchange next to his property so he can build thousands of condos, he can pay for that construction himself and everyone’s happy, right?

Right, but in this case, the city borrowed $10 million on behalf of the developers, provoking cries of favouritism. Now everyone’s wondering what will happen if the developers default on the repayment.

Anyway, it may be true that the fine print on the interchange deal left out the two ramps in the southwest quadrant near Langford Lake Cave.

However, the parkway is an integral part of the Local Service area. A staff report notes:

“The subject propertles are located within a Local Service Area for road construction. Therefore, the owners will be paying for road construction instead of paying road DCCs [development cost charges – a tax on development]. Due to this, they are not also eligible for Road DCC amounts. The total amount contributed to the Local Service Area road construction is: $28,322,882. “

On December 27, 2007, Langford Council gave first, second and third reading to Bylaw 1147, which defined the Spencer Road Interchange (formerly known as the Bear Mountain Interchange), as a Local Area Service, and set out the boundaries of a Local Service Area (LSA) to fund the interchange. The Local Area Service bylaw was later adopted as Bylaw 1156 on April 7, 2008.

“Langford North Connector Road” was known, until now, as “Bear Mountain Parkway” and it is entirely within the LSA defined by Bylaw 1156. This bylaw is still in force and has not been rescinded. The road is to be funded by a proposed new development called “South Skirt Mountain Village,” which is also entirely within the LSA. Langford Council gave first reading to a bylaw for zoning for the project on February 23.

The zoning process for the South Skirt development is plagued by procedural problems, including non-disclosure of documents and improper conduct at public hearings. If the South Skirt Mountain re-zoning bylaw is adopted based on the current process, we’ve advised the City of Langford that it’s susceptible to a legal challenge under the Judicial Review Procedure Act.

Fewer than 400 people live in the area to be served by the interchange and the parkway.

LGB9 Corporation, owner of Bear Mountain Resort, holds title to over half of the land in the Skirt Mountain Local Service Area and has committed to 55% of the total LSA fees.

Section 25(1) of the Community Charter expressly forbids a municipality from providing “a grant, benefit, advantage or other form of assistance to a business” except for a few exceptions, none of which apply here.

This will all blow up at the public hearing Monday, March 16. Stay tuned for the next exciting chapter, in which our heroes annihilate the rezoning bylaw.

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Land-Use “Bullies” Put On Notice

Update: Langford’s mayor has given in and scheduled a new public hearing. News report here.

When I don’t blog for a while, it’s usually because I’m out causing trouble for malevolent public officials or unethical developers. But it’s all good, because then I can come back here and dish the dirt with photos and video and all that happy shit.

I’m a founding member of Vancouver Island Community Forest Action Network (VIC FAN), a tiny non-profit group that’s challenging the big boys of Bear Mountain. This week, we scored some points in the mainstream media.

Here’s the VIC FAN posse backing me up at Langford City Hall, February 27, 2009. Photo: Edward Hill/Goldstream News Gazette staff

VIC FAN is challenging a public hearing where Langford’s mayor verbally abused and intimidated residents opposed to the Bear Mountain Parkway and South Skirt Mountain Village development. News reports from the hearing on February 23 show an angry Mayor Stew Young browbeating a retired schoolteacher, calling her remarks “negative” and telling her to “sit down.” Other speakers were repeatedly interrupted and confronted by the mayor, who had earlier told reporters that he believes the development should be approved regardless of the public’s objections.

My neighbours want to protect wildlife habitat and water quality for the enjoyment of the whole community, and the way they were treated at the hearing is absolutely appalling.

The media frenzy is still in full swing. Behold:

Critics of Langford Development Assail Mayor’s Conduct
(Times Colonist, front page — above the fold, February 28, 2009)

Activists seek fresh public hearing
(Goldstream Gazette, March 4, 2009)

Langford mayor tangles with citizens over Skirt Mountain development (Times Colonist, February 24, 2009)

VIC FAN has since learned that the city and the developers have failed to notify — let alone consult with — the Tsartlip First Nation, which claims SPAET (Skirt) Mountain as part of its traditional territory. For thousands of years, the mountain has been a shared site where families from the Esquimalt, Songhees, Tsartlip and other First Natons would gather for ceremonies and celebrations.

Now we’re demanding a new public hearing on the South Skirt Mountain development. A February 27 letter to Mayor Stew Young and Langford City Council spells out several violations of the Local Government Act, and warns that if Langford adopts the controversial Skirt Mountain rezoning bylaw, it could be quashed by the Supreme Court.

I went down to City Hall yesterday, gave the letter to a city staff person and told him, “We’re putting the City of Langford on notice that we won’t tolerate bullying citizens who raise legitimate concerns about environmental destruction.”

In the letter to Langford’s mayor and council, our lawyer Irene Faulkner notes that:

  • Pertinent documents, such as an archaeological report, were not made available to members of the public;
  • Some speakers were interrupted and berated by the Mayor;
  • Audience members heckled and jeered at speakers.

The letter continues: “Such conduct suggests that those charged with making the decision were not amenable to any persuasion, but rather went through the motions of holding a hearing with a totally closed mind.”

Provincial statutes and past Supreme Court cases set a clear standard for public hearings on land use, which are considered “quasi-judicial” and expected to maintain “courtroom-like decorum.”

The controversial South Skirt Mountain Village proposal includes 2800 housing units, a village centre and an ecological centre that will decimate the remaining native garry oak and arbutus ecosystems on the steep hillside east of Goldstream Provincial Park and south of Bear Mountain Resort. The west side of the development plan abuts the Florence Lake neighbourhood.

Mayor Young revealed at Monday’s meeting that the city is seeking federal and provincial infrastructure funding for the South Skirt plan, in addition to the Bear Mountain Parkway and the Spencer Road Interchange, which are already under construction.

The interchange project and Bear Mountain Resort itself have been dogged by protests from environmentalists and First Nations people since November 2006. Two caves considered important cultural sites were destroyed during the construction of the interchange and the resort’s second golf course in 2008. In February 2008, more than 60 RCMP officers raided a protest camp and arrested five people. Their charges were later dropped, and a Public Complaints Commission investigation is ongoing.

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Vancouver Island Hippies: Top Security Threat for 2010?

Vancouver Island hippies in their natural habitat
Vancouver Island hippies in their natural habitat.

February 11, 2009

According to the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, protestors are the number one security threat to the 2010 Games. So maybe that explains why officers with the Integrated Security Unit are running around Victoria trying to convince hippies to spy on each other.

But the cops may find that peaceniks and bohemians are too street-smart to play spy games. Vancouver Island long-hairs know better than to give information to police, especially when it’s obvious that no crime has been committed.

“I said to the officer, there’s no way I am going to snitch on my friends!” bookstore owner Robert Garfat tells me, a little indignantly.

The long-time Vancouver Island resident was shocked when he was approached earlier this month by RCMP constable Mike Smook of the Integrated Security Unit. Smook wanted information about Victoria’s No 2010 activists. But it’s not snitching, according to Smook – the police just want to use his eyes and ears.

Garfat was troubled by the encounter and unsure if he should tell others, but then made up his mind that people should know what the police are up to.

“My feeling is that we should say something because if they’re going out into the community trying to intimidate people and to try and co-opt people into becoming informants, that’s like Big Brother,” he says.

A second local activist — who asked not to be named — says the police have come to his door asking to speak to all the residents, as well as taking pictures of everyone who came and left the building.

“None of those questioned had any arrests or previous charges,” the young man says. “The cops friggin’ bothered us for no good reason other than owning literature that is in opposition to the Olympics.”

Others in the community have similar stories. According to several people who contacted us privately this week, the RCMP has succeeded in recruiting at least one informant – a child of 15. She has been cooperating with police for months, they said.

Leaving aside questions of whether this is legal or ethical, the tactic is troubling. If Victoria social justice advocates are so dangerous, isn’t it risky to send a child to spy on them? And if they’re not dangerous, why spy on them at all?

We should all be aware that the police are not gathering information so they can hand out commendations for being great social-justice activists and good citizens. They are gathering information that will potentially put people in jail — preemptively — to prevent them from getting a message to the world about the social conditions here. Why are so many people homeless? Why are so many people in poverty? Why is there a lack of decent housing across B.C. on the reserves? Why are we still destroying old-growth forests for sports events? These are the questions we want to get out to the world, and we believe the police are trying to stop this from happening.

Conducting surveillance and recruiting informants in the absence of any crime violates the Charter, in my opinion. Domestic spying without a clear law enforcement objective does not help national security – it just intimidates citizens who have done nothing wrong (besides criticizing the government.). Fishing expeditions are not legal. Prior restraint on free speech is not legal. Warrantless wiretaps are not legal either, or at least they weren’t the last time I checked.

In fact, we have the right to associate with whoever we want, even with people who criticize the Olympics or take governments to task for ignoring poverty, homelessness and the ongoing effects of racism in our society.

Police statements in the media about ‘consulting with activists’ are nonsense. Their clumsy and heavy-handed attempts to meet privately with individuals are causing controversy, intimidating activists and sowing distrust in the community. There are serious concerns that the police may resort to coercion and bribes to try and force people to inform on their friends.

A committee founded by members of the BC Civil Liberties Association tried to meet with the ISU for an exchange of views and advice, but backed out on finding it was an exercise in frustration.

“It hasn’t been easy when dealing with the authorities,” said Michael Byers, UBC professor and BCCLA member. “With respect, we have pretty much hit a brick wall.”

“In my view, the ISU … has lost sight of those human rights principles and have focused excessively on the search for “perfect security.”

Alissa Westergard-Thorpe, a member of the Olympic Resistance Network in Vancouver, was approached by police last month. She has this to say: “The ORN is not interested in talking with police about the conditions under which we exercise our rights to assembly and expression. They can read the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.”

And if the police can’t be bothered to read the Charter, maybe we should read it to them — real slow, so that they understand.

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Flack vs. Flack

Deirdre Campbell

A lesson in public relations ettiquette
January 23, 2009

An open letter to Deirdre Campbell, founding partner of Tartan Group public relations firm, after running into her at yet another presentation about a new mega-development on Vancouver Island. Can’t believe these guys are still planning new mega-developments on Vancouver Island – but oh well, here we go …

Dierdre Campbell
Tartan Group public relations

January 22, 2009

Dear Dierdre,

After speaking with you at the Open House in Langford last night, I feel I should address your confusion about my reasons for attending these open house meetings and so on.

As I told you last night, your assertion that I’m a public relations consultant is a rumour with no basis in fact. I’m a writer and an environmental advocate. I live in Langford and I go to open houses and council meetings as a volunteer. I spend hours studying the maps and doing the research and writing the press releases because I care deeply about what happens to Skirt Mountain. I do this all on my own time and I don’t get paid for any of it. I suppose the PR label is intended to discredit me or dismiss the legitimate environmental and heritage concerns I’m bringing forward. My adversaries’ reasoning seems to be that if I’m a public relations professional, nothing I say should be accepted as fact.

Hearing you parrot this statement was truly ironic, although I’m sure you didn’t mean it that way.

I should admit that I started this consultant rumour myself, by accident. About a year ago, I made a joke about being a “media consultant” for the tree sit in front of a couple young regional government staffers. They apparently repeated my joke as fact, because within weeks my exact words were thrown back at me by Highlands mayor Mark Cardinal and then by other local pro-development types.

It’s hilarious to consider that those who were so quick to accuse me of being a paid PR flack are now (apparently) paying genuine PR flacks like yourself to repeat the accusation.

I’m not sure why people like Cardinal are so interested in my motivations in the first place. My conversation with Cardinal began when I wrote about the work he was doing on the interchange site, his contract with Langford, and previous conflict of interest charges. Cardinal contacted me to clarify that he had been cleared of the conflict charges. Then he launched into this personal attack on my nonexistent PR career.

This incident provides a wonderful illustration of the difference between private and public interests. You see, I’m a private citizen. Even if I was funneling money directly from Greenpeace and the Rockefellers, this presents no ethical conflict because private citizens and groups can hire advocates and PR consultants to their hearts’ content. I’m sure you’ll agree that marketing and lobbying are standard practices for corporations, non-profits, and individuals with a cause to promote.

City mayors and councilors, on the other hand, are obligated to uphold certain ethical standards. If an elected official was paid by a private company to advocate for development, or profited directly from a development while making decisions favourable to the developers, those would be gross violations of the public trust, and definitely issues for public debate. I hope you can appreciate the distinction I am making between my private life and that of a public figure.

I’ve noticed that petty name-calling and smear campaigns often take the place of real discourse in local politics. Unfortunately, these tactics distract decision-makers from the important questions, such as: How can we protect Langford’s unique natural environment? And how can Langford residents have more input into planning and development decisions? Your clients face a constituency that is deeply divided on these and other crucial issues. I would suggest that leadership and integrity are called for, rather than divisive personal attacks.

When people call me names or spread lies about me, it does nothing to address the environmental and public process concerns. It only makes them look like bullies. In your position, you may have the opportunity to guide Langford toward building cooperation and consensus on public input and land-use decisions. That choice is certainly theirs to make.

I welcome your response, and wish you all the best in your endeavours.

Sincerely yours,

Zoe Blunt



Even if I was funneling money directly from Greenpeace and the Rockefellers, this presents no ethical conflict

Actually, that’s wrong. I’d have to resign as leader of the anarchists.

ZoeBlunt @ 01/23/09 02:01:19

Deirdre is quick to assure me she meant no disrespect, but she still doesn’t get the joke. She writes: “As a public relations professional, I am very proud of the profession as I believe we have a role to ensure all voices are heard and that we foster two way communications, consultation and understanding.” I wonder how much Langford is paying her?

ZoeBlunt @ 01/23/09 13:18:42

youre such a sweet smart-ass, zoe

remarcus @ 01/24/09 02:15:01

I’m just getting warmed up. I’m glad Deirdre was on hand so I could sharpen my claws a bit. We had a bit more back and forth, and now she claims she saw a TV news broadcast that identified me as a PR consultant. Never happened.

Go on, click it…

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Saying Goodbye to Ms. Haywire

A small, sad story
January 6, 2009

Ms. Rosie Haywire, my faithful friend and cat companion for the past seven years, died today after a brief but brave battle with congestive heart failure. She was only nine years old, and she will be fondly remembered for her strong spirit and love of big trees.

In 2007, Ms. Haywire traveled with us to the Wild Earth camp at Hadikin Lake, where she took to living in the rainforest like she was born to it – stalking through the underbrush, scrambling up fallen logs, and patrolling the trails with her tail held high. She easily won the Hide and Seek championship, skillfully eluding a team of increasingly-desperate searchers for six hours after the campsite was packed up.

At the age of six weeks, Rosie the kitten came to live with my grandmother, an evil woman who beat her regularly with a broomstick. Rosie would retaliate by shredding her legs and the furniture. I kept offering to adopt her, until finally the old woman decided she’d had enough and sent Rosie to live with me. Now a large, muscular cat, Rosie remained fierce and wild — she bit and scratched, and I couldn’t pet her at all unless she was in bed under the covers. It took a year of gentle coaxing before she would sit in my lap and purr. When people came to visit, I would joke about her bad behavior, calling her “Post-Traumatic Stress Kitty” as she glared at the newcomers and hid behind the door. It’s only in the last couple years that she got over her shyness and her fear of brooms.

Ms. Haywire earned her adult name from a series of misfortunes. She fell off my third floor balcony in 2003 while having a seizure. Even though she was not badly injured, my mother and aunt urged me to have her put down. I had the luxury of ignoring them, thanks to a small inheritance from Grandma. That money went to fixing the cat’s broken foot and diagnosing the seizures. Once she was fully recovered (minus a front tooth), Ms. Haywire took another dive off the balcony, but this time she landed on the grass and only had a few bruises. Around this time we started calling her “Spazz Kitty.”

A few years later, the seizures returned. Full-blown, grand mal seizures — first daily, then hourly, then every twenty minutes. This went on around the clock while we kept increasing the dosage of her medicine. This time, I couldn’t afford the animal hospital fees, and after day and a half of almost-constant seizures, the vet told me the only thing to do was to put her to sleep. I said no. The next day the medicine finally took effect and the seizures stopped. Ms. Haywire expressed her love and gratitude nearly every waking moment for weeks after, bounding joyfully to the door when I came in, rubbing herself against me, purring loudly, touching my face with her paws, and kneading my lap at every opportunity.

Three months ago, we moved into a small cabin surrounded by big trees, squirrels, deer, and birds of all kinds. Ms. Rosie loved it here – she spent hours birdwatching and prowling the yard, and she adored the peace and privacy of this little hideaway.

Her illness came on suddenly, as often happens. Many cats give no outward side that anything is wrong – they cover up until they can’t any longer. A couple days ago, Ms. Haywire got very quiet. She stayed in bed and wouldn’t eat. Finally I took her to the pet hospital. We were there for most of the day getting tests. An exam and X-rays revealed her chest and abdomen were filled with fluid. The veterinarian said they could take heroic measures, but the best medical care and all the money in the world probably wouldn’t save her. She was in pain, but she pushed her head against my hand one last time as I held her, sobbing, and the vet slid the needle in.

In seven years, Ms. Rosie and I were apart only a handful of times. I keep turning around to see where she is. I want to pick her up in my arms one more time and bury my face in the thick soft plush of her fur. The cabin is empty now — her bright green eyes, her heart-shaped face, and her tiny meow will never greet me again. Tomorrow, she’ll be buried on the hill behind the cabin. I won’t leave a marker, but if I did, it would say, “There will never be another cat like Ms. Rosie Haywire.”


(Special thanks to Animal Crusaders for helping to cover Ms. Haywire’s vet bill.)

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