HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html B.C.'s Largest First Nation Accuses Province Of Conflict On
Pubdate: Mon, 24 Jun 2019
Source: Province, The (CN BC)
Copyright: 2019 Postmedia Network Inc.
Author: Rob Shaw


VICTORIA - B.C.'s largest First Nation is accusing the provincial
government of stalling its application for a retail cannabis licence
while it races to open its own public store in the community's prime
retail location.

The Cowichan Tribes on Vancouver Island are in the sixth month of
trying to get approval for two retail store licences from the
provincial government. As the Cowichan wrestle with a wall of red
tape, and are repeatedly rejected for nation-to-nation talks with the
province, the B.C. government is competing against the First Nation
for the municipal rights to open a store in the community's largest
shopping centre.

Government's licensing delay on one hand and its attempt to outflank
the Aboriginal community on the other, have left Cowichan Tribes Chief
William Seymour outraged.

"It seems as if they are delaying us so they can ensure their store
opens in Cowichan," Seymour said.

At issue is who gets to open a cannabis store at the busy Cowichan
Commons shopping plaza across the highway from the province's popular
Forest Discovery Centre just north of Duncan.

Both Cowichan Tribes (through a partnership venture called Costa
Canna) and the government's cannabis branch have applied to the
District of North Cowichan.

But without a security check and licence from the province, the
district can't hear Costa Canna's application. The situation was
inflamed further in April when the government's cannabis branch wrote
a letter to the district requesting it move on from the Cowichan
Tribes and focus solely on its application because another arm of the
same government had yet to approve Costa Canna's application.

"There's a real big benefit for the province not to provide us with
the licence until they have secured the Commons, and a huge conflict
of interest as far as Cowichan Tribes is concerned," said Jodee Dick,
land manager at the tribe.

Cowichan Valley MLA Sonia Furstenau said she's tried unsuccessfully to
get answers from Solicitor General Mike Farnworth's office, which
controls licences. "I was quite alarmed and frustrated to hear they
were experiencing these delays," she said.

"Cowichan Tribes have demonstrated that they are responsible,
successful business people and I would very much like to see them
successful with this venture."

Seymour already has security clearance from the province because he
oversees the Cowichan Tribes's successful casino. The nation is also
certified by the First Nations Financial Management Board, has its own
financial administration law and is the owner, operator and landlord
of several commercial ventures and a shopping plaza.

That's not good enough, Solicitor General Mike Farnworth said in a
June 7 letter.

"We are also concerned that exempting First Nations from security
screening may increase their vulnerability to organized criminals
seeking a path into the legal industry," read his letter.

At one point, the government offered to directly screen Seymour within
two and a half weeks if he put in a new application, said Dick. He
did. Eight weeks later there's still no response, she said.

Seymour said he's particularly disappointed because the First Nation
is voluntarily putting itself under provincial rules. Another Costa
Canna store, in a tribe-owned shopping centre on reserve land, is
ready and could be unilaterally opened by the First Nations government.

But Seymour said he wants to follow the provincial process, so that
his nation can help other First Nations start up similar stores.

The Costa Canna cannabis stores would focus on health and wellness,
with displays showing how legal marijuana can assist various ailments,
said Dick. Because people in the community has suffered from
addictions, Dick said there are also plans to include counselling
services at the site.

"The revenue generated from this operation will go to support social
programs and housing for Cowichan Tribes," said Dick. "It will be a
very big economic initiative for us and provide us for the money
needed to have better programs for our community."

Time is running out for the Cowichan Tribes proposal. North Cowichan
council gave the government cannabis store approval last week to go to
public hearing. Costa Canna would have to find an acceptable
storefront in the Commons shopping centre, at least 300 metres away
from the government site, and reapply soon with government approval to
keep up, said Mayor Al Siebring.

Siebring said council is aware of the provincial delays.

"I think notionally council is aware of those issues and scratching
our heads about it a little bit," he said. Siebring said he's heard
other communities complain that the province is the inspector, licence
issuer, supplier and wholesaler when it comes to private cannabis retailers.

Seymour said he's met with Farnworth and Indigenous Relations Minister
Scott Fraser to ask for nation-to-nation talks on the issue under the
United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. That
has also been denied.
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