Contentious land sale

Although federal Treasury President and Manitoba MP Vic Toews calls it a done deal, the bickering has already started over who will end up owning a prime piece of Winnipeg real estate.

The sale of the former Canadian Armed Forces Kapyong Barracks in south Winnipeg has either been rumoured or in the works for five years. During that period, a number of suggestions have been made as to how the land will be redeveloped and by whom.

Kapyong became surplus land in 2004 when the soldiers of the 2nd Battalion of the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light 

Infantry were transferred to CFB Shilo. But the sale of the 65 hectares of land and buildings that made up the former military base has been plagued by numerous delays. Yet when the federal Treasury Board finally reached a decision to permit the sale to Canada Lands Company, a Crown agency dealing with surplus federal land, that still didn’t appear to end the matter.

CLC has been instrumental in redeveloping a number of surplus military bases across Canada, including the highly-acclaimed Garrison Woods development. The redevelopment of the former CF air base has been called “not only unique in Calgary, but in all of Canada.”

Garrison Woods was developed under the basic principles of New Urbanism — narrow streets, broad sidewalks, original streetscaping and easy access to public transit. 

It’s a blueprint that the province has 

in mind for the massive Waverley West 

development in southwest Winnipeg.

“It (Garrison Woods) is a one-of-a-kind urban village in the middle of the big city,” said Ken Toews of CLC. “It is an integrated community where people live, work, play and be educated.”

But another group wants a say in who works, plays and lives at Kapyong. 

Seven southern First Nations are warning Ottawa that they will go to court to halt the sale (for approximately $9 million) of the land to CLC. The CLC land purchase does not include the houses along Kenaston, which will be part of a separate deal.

Treasury Board President Toews shouldn’t have been surprised that the First Nations were prepared to intervene and halt the sale.

Five years ago, former Brokenhead Chief Harvey Olson told the WREN that his band “definitely has first rights under our (Treaty Land) Entitlement (TLE). 

Because of our location so close to the city, we’re considered an urban First 

Nation; therefore, Winnipeg is now considered in our Community Interest Zone.”

The entitlement for Brokenhead, 25 kilometres north of Winnipeg, goes back to unfulfilled promises made in Treaty One signed in 1871. 

According to the Brokenhead Ojibway Nation’s TLE signed on September 9, 1998, between the band and the federal and provincial governments, Brokenhead is entitled to acquire up to 5,860 hectares (14,481 acres) of new reserve land from a pool of Manitoba Crown land. Ottawa also gave Brokenhead $3.7 million to allow the purchase of up to 4,102 hectares of other land where Crown land is not available. 

Under the Framework for TLE, 19 First Nations in Manitoba will eventually have access to over 445,000 hectares (about one million acres) of land.

Five years ago, Harvey warned that the federal government could sit on the Kapyong land for up to 10 years before making a decision on its sale, although he remained confident that Ottawa would recognize Brokenhead’s claim — after all, TLE land was owed and Kapyong seemed a great fit for the reserve’s aspirations to expand 

beyond its borders along Lake Winnipeg. 

As the years progressed, the claim to Kapyong was enlarged to include the First Nations of Brokenhead, Roseau River, Peguis, Long Plain, Sandy Bay, Swan Lake and Sakqueeng, whose ancestors signed Treaty One, which ceded most of southern Manitoba to the Queen (Canadian government) in exchange for reserve land, agricultural implements, cattle, small sums of treaty money, etc. The contention of the southern Manitoba First Nations is that not all land owed to them under the original terms of Treaty One was granted. The federal and provincial governments agreed and commenced the process of TLEs. 

“Regard this letter as official notice that the Treaty One First Nations lay claim to the lands known as Kapyong Barracks land, as part of their unfulfilled treaty land entitlements ... owed to First Nations,” wrote the seven chiefs to federal Indian Affairs Minister Chuck Strahl, Attorney General Rob Nicholson and Treasury Board President Vic Toews.

Long Plains First Nation Chief Dennis Meeches, spokesperson for the seven Treaty One First Nations, told the media they have no choice but take the government to court because their “backs are against the wall.”

The chiefs are adamant they get first crack at any federal land declared surplus in southern Manitoba because of their TLEs.

They are so confident that their claim will prevail that the chiefs are also soliciting Winnipeg Mayor Sam Katz to start 

development talks for the land. Katz has yet to reply to their request for consultation.

Meanwhile, Toews indicated to local radio station CJOB that the sale approved by the Treasury Board to CLC will go ahead as scheduled.

Toews should not be so hasty to say it’s a done deal; there was a precedent set in Federal Court that could have a bearing on the claim made by the seven First Nations. 

In September, Federal Court Judge Frederick Gibson granted the Musqueam First Nation an injunction to halt the sale of two surplus federal downtown Vancouver office towers on land claimed by the First Nation. The judge ordered Ottawa to sit down and negotiate the land claim in order to settle outstanding treaty entitlements with Musqueam.

Chief Olson appears to be quite correct in his original assessment that settlement of the former Kapyong Barracks land question could take up to 10 years. 

As it now stands, the Kapyong Barracks land deal approved by the Treasury Board has been exposed to the murky legal encroachment of TLEs, which could mean a lengthy time spent in courts before it really is a done deal.