For immediate release
Please circulate to as many interested groups or individuals as possible.
We, the Bowen Innovations Research and Development Society (BIRDS) (Formerly the Camp Bowen Society for the Visually Impaired), the Bowen-based non-profit that took over CNIB’s summer camp program in the fall of 2010, are requesting that the Bowen Island Municipality enforce the Bowen Island Lodge Covenant, which protects the rights of our Bowen Island neighbours as well as those of the blind, visually impaired, and deaf blind community. Breaches of the covenant have already lead to the cancellation of the 2017 camping season, marking the first summer camps have not been held in 54 years, and have far reaching consequences.
In 2002, a covenant governing the lands and facility that is the Bowen Island Lodge was put in place by the Bowen Island Municipality that protects the residential nature of Snug Point and ensures blind, visually impaired, and deaf blind individuals have access to a facility for recreation, meeting, and training. The covenant, which was signed by CNIB and the Bowen Island municipality and which also applies to their respective successors, was designed to restrict the use of the lands and facility in keeping with the residential nature of Snug Point by designating the principal use of the Bowen Island Lodge as “recreation, training and meeting facilities related to the care and rehabilitation of persons with disabilities…” (Covenant P. 4), activities that do not typically disrupt the surrounding neighbourhood. Furthermore, the covenant places restrictions on the amount of accessory use events, events not considered part of the principal use, that can be held at the facility to ensure that the principal use group has access to the facility and to reduce the amount of noise and other issues typically associated with an event space and resort. When the covenant was instated, it created Canada’s first and only legally protected recreation, meeting, and training facility for the blind, visually impaired, and deaf blind.
In early 2016, the Bowen Island Lodge changed hands, from the trethewey family, who had purchased the property from CNIB in 2011, to the Hundred Year Education Group Corp., a company with off-shore owners. Under this new ownership it has been made very clear that they intend to run the facility primarily for accessory use groups. Repeated attempts by organizers of programs for the principal use group to resolve issues of affordability, safety, and accessibility have met with no success.
There is no mention in the lodge’s marketing of the principal use group, something that serves to reenforce their position.
In June of 2017, two months after the Camp Bowen Society for the Visually Impaired’s 2017 Safety and Accessibility Report was released to the Bowen Island Lodge, a representative sent an answering report. In this report, the representative made it clear that they don’t see the need to follow the covenant as it pertains to the blind, visually impaired, and deaf blind, citing a paragraph that is superseded later in the covenant. To the best of our knowledge, according to the covenant, at the end of the day, all parts are to be interpreted according to the spirit of the covenant, which is to protect the blind, visually impaired, and deaf blind community, as well as the neighbourhood of Snug Point. If correct, this invalidates the representative’s claim. The report goes on to suggest that the answer to the blind, visually impaired, and deaf blind community’s safety and accessibility concerns, as expressed in our report, is to ensure that any concerned blind, visually impaired, or deaf blind guest be accompanied by a sighted person. This is as ridiculous as saying any concerned black guest should be accompanied by a white person or any concerned female guest should be accompanied by a man and is blatantly unacceptable. Just as society wouldn’t tolerate this report were it based on skin colour or gender, neither should we stand for a report that makes such suggestions based on disability. Not only does the report’s recommendations insult the independence of members of the blind, visually impaired, and deaf blind community by its tone and suggestions, it flies directly in the face of what the facility was intended for and the covenant protects. Finally, the report’s suggestions that the society bare the cost of substandard safety and accessibility measures, coupled with the report’s conclusion that the society perhaps look elsewhere for a venue, paint a grim picture of how the lodge views its responsibilities as set out by the covenant.
Today, more than ever before, there is a need for a training and recreation centre for the blind, visually impaired, and deaf blind in Canada. The blind, visually impaired, and deaf blind community is currently in a state of crisis. There are high rates of depression and low self-esteem, a lack of freedom, and an estimated 80% unemployment rate in the community. A large part of the solution to these problems is access to safe, accessible, affordable, and quality independent living skills training. At present, the Bowen Island Lodge is Canada’s only legally designated training centre for the blind, visually impaired, and/or deaf blind.
On July 20, 2018, we were made aware of an initial report drafted by the bylaw office, dated July 13, 2018, regarding a rezoning application submitted by the owners of the Bowen Island Lodge. This application went before Mayor and Council on Monday, July 23, 2018. As per municipal procedure, Mayor and Council are required to consider the application. The owners of the Bowen Island Lodge wish to see amendments made to both the covenant governing the Bowen Island Lodge and “BOWEN ISLAND MUNICIPALITY LAND USE BYLAW NO. 57, 2002”. Proposed amendments to the covenant include but are not limited to: alteration of the Principal Use definition to remove primary rights of use from people with disabilities, removal of the maximum number of guests allowed to use the guestrooms, removal of a restriction limiting the number of days usable for secondary uses of the facility, increases to the number and length of permitted Assembly Events, and removal of a clause that requires the owners to bar excessively noisy users for a period of 1 year. In order to be able to alter the Principal Use definition to remove primary rights of use from people with disabilities in the covenant, the lodge’s owners are requesting that the definition of “Recreation, Training, and Meeting Centre” in “BOWEN ISLAND MUNICIPALITY LAND USE BYLAW NO. 57, 2002” be changed by removing the words “…for the care and rehabilitation of persons with disabilities…”
The amendments the lodge’s owners are proposing strip rights from people with disabilities, including those who are blind, deaf blind, and visually Impaired. People with disabilities are a marginalized group that has very few opportunities to access spaces designated specifically for their use. For example, blind, deaf blind, and visually impaired people have no other legally protected training, meeting, and recreation centre in Canada. For this segment of the population, a legally protected recreation, training, and meeting facility represents the only means of meaningful socioeconomic advancement by way of access to quality independent living skills training. Legally designating and protecting facilities as “recreation, training and meeting facilities for the care and rehabilitation of persons with disabilities” ensures that people with disabilities are not systematically squeezed out of spaces in favour of business interests as is so often the case.
By amending the definition of “Recreation, Training, and meeting Centre” in “BOWEN ISLAND MUNICIPALITY LAND USE BYLAW NO. 57, 2002” to remove the words “…for the care and rehabilitation of persons with disabilities…”, the owners of the Bowen Island Lodge would effectively remove the rights of people with disabilities to have recreation, meeting, and training centres that are currently protected from business interests by the Land Use bylaw. This does not only affect the covenant governing the Bowen Island Lodge but would remove all protections for any future facilities wishing to use the designation to safeguard the rights of people with disabilities.. If these amendments pass, it will set a dangerous precedent that will have far reaching consequences for Bowen Islanders with disabilities and other Canadians with disabilities for generations to come.
We were disheartened to see that after over a year of attempting to resolve issues surrounding use of the Bowen Island Lodge by the Principal Use group through official channels, the Bowen Island Lodge chose to put forth this rezoning application. It is our position, speaking on behalf of people with disabilities, that this rezoning application must not move forward to ensure the continued protection of the rights of people with disabilities and those of our Snug Point neighbours.
As of April 2019, the matter is stalled and is waiting to go before the Bowen Island Municipality’s Advisory Planning Commission. Every moment that this rezoning application and covenant amendment remain unblocked is another moment that people with disabilities do not have assurance of the protection of their rights.
There is still a lot of work to be done to ensure that the rights of people with disabilities and those of our Snug Point neighbours remain protected. Support from the entire Bowen Island and disability communities will be crucial to ensuring proper protection of this unique resource remains in place. The next step will be a public consultation process. Public consultation will be held at the Bowen Island Lodge at a date and time as of yet unknown to us. We feel this venue is not neutral enough for this process to be effective.
We urge the community to stand with us and make it clear to Mayor and Council through official channels that this rezoning application cannot go ahead and should be blocked at the first opportunity. You can do this by attending Council meetings where this issue will be discussed and attending the public consultations. If you cannot attend in person, please still let Mayor and Council know that you oppose the proposed amendments by submitting a letter of support for this cause. Letters can be sent by email to: firstname.lastname@example.org or by writing to:
Mayor and Council
981 Artisan Lane,
Bowen Island, BC
To keep up with updates on this situation or to get involved, please check out our website, join our mailing list, or contact us directly at: +1 (604) 947-0021 Extension 102. You can join the mailing list and find more information here.
Thank you in advance for your support of this important issue.
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