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Judicial review application dismissed in Mill River land sale

Mill River Resort
Mill River Resort - Eric McCarthy

The P.E.I. government has scored a victory after a P.E.I. Supreme Court judge dismissed a judicial review of a decision to sell its Mill River property to businessman Don McDougall.

In a decision released Monday, P.E.I. Supreme Court Justice Gordon Campbell said when he examined the province’s consultations as a whole, he was satisfied they met and exceeded the duty to engage in meaningful consultations and to act in good faith toward the Aboriginal people and their interests.

“The government made reasonable efforts to inform and consult,” Campbell wrote.

That decision came after the Mi’kmaq of P.E.I. sought a judicial review of a January 2017 decision to sell 324 acres of Crown land to McDougall as part of a 20-year agreement.

The deal included McDougall buying the Mill River golf course and surrounding property for $500,000 with the province committing $6 million for capital improvements over 12 years.

The province also committed another $1.6 million for operational losses in the first six years and it bought the resort on the property for $1.8 million, which it then gave to McDougall.

Campbell wrote in his decision that the consultations weren’t perfect, and the province could have been more proactive in reaching out to the Mi’kmaq Confederacy at times to inform it when nothing new was happening, which would have been better than being left to speculate.

Cabinet approved the land transfer on Jan. 10, 2017, but it did not inform the Confederacy of that decision during a meeting between the two sides earlier that day.

Campbell wrote that it would have been a more respectful gesture and would have reduced some of the negative feelings that resulted from the decision to sell the land.

“The reconciliation process is best served by courteous and thoughtful interactions at all times,” Campbell wrote.

In dismissing the application for judicial review, Campbell said that if the parties aren’t able to reach an agreement on costs they can contact the court to have the matter addressed.

The Mi’kmaq Confederacy issued a statement in response to the decision, saying the First Nations Councils will be reviewing all elements of it and engaging with legal counsel as they consider their next steps.

Abegweit First Nation Chief Brian Francis said many landmark decisions supporting First Nations in Canada were unsuccessful at the trial level but later succeeded on appeal.

“We need time to digest the decision and to meet with our legal counsel, but we are aware that this may very well be the first step in a lengthy legal process,” he said.

Premier Wade MacLauchlan also issued a statement that said the province appreciates the court’s guidance regarding the legal requirements and responsibilities pertaining to land transactions.

“The province will continue to work together in a spirit of partnership and reconciliation with the Mi’kmaq people and leadership of Prince Edward Island,” MacLauchlan said.

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