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Build School on Top of Cemetery?

New Westminster Threat

by Bill Chu

Stakeholder Groups
Stakeholder Groups

Canadians for Reconciliation Society
加 和 會

Media Contact: Bill Chu   604-261-6526

For Immediate Release

BC government about to fund SD 40 and repeat its 1949 mistake of building a secondary school on top of former cemetery — designated three months ago as an Historical Place

Yesterday we received a first ever call from the Ministry of Education regarding the New Westminster School re-construction. The civil servant indicated she specialized not in history but in project management. She was simply the messenger to inform us that the Ministry is about to grant capital project funding for the reconstruction.

As one of the 33 stakeholders groups (see attached), we are surprised that the Ministry in charge of our children’s education would approve the questionable reconstruction project over a former Chinese Cemetery (actually burial site for the marginalized and those of color: Chinese, Japanese, Indo-Canadians, Indigenous People, etc). The said cemetery has not been decommissioned through public process of informing the descendants or stakeholders. So the question is: Is the dignity of one’s remains and one’s right to stay at one’s burial site worth public respect anymore? What’s also surprising is that she indicated the School District 40 (the owner of the site) will conduct more serious consultation with stakeholder groups after the District received the construction funding!

As the controversy over the sensitive site is what held back the reconstruction for years, why would the Ministry not demand the School District to find an alternate site instead of granting them the money? Why would the Province , secretly through its Ministry of Consumer and Corporate Affairs, downgrade the former Chinese cemetery to a “Heritage Conservation area” while allowing the adjacent former Caucasian cemetery to keep its designation as “Cemetery” and thus protecting the latter from any construction? Is that not discriminatory practice by BC government in 2016? What did Premier Clark mean when her 2014 apology to the Chinese community states “British Columbians today consider this racist discrimination unacceptable and view it with extreme indignation”? And why did her government designate the above former Chinese Cemetery with big fanfare as one of the 21 Chinese historic places three months ago if they are going to grant funding for its total destruction now?

The following are additional reasons why humanity should be very concerned about SD40’s approach to this sensitive heritage site:

1.  Planning to desecrate the burial site even after detecting the presence of many human remains by their own consultant

2.  Setting a terrible example to students by disrespecting a designated historical site and remains of human made in God’s image

3.  Not informing and consulting stake holder groups with respect to their construction plan on a former cemetery

4.  Making callous and misleading statements regarding the nature of the site to the unwary public

5.  Not obtaining informed consent from known Indigenous stake holder groups

6.  Not informing descendants of those buried at the said former cemetery

7.  Discriminatory re-designation of the adjacent former Caucasian cemetery as “cemetery” and the former Chinese cemetery as “Heritage Conservation Area” in an effort to rebuild only on top of the Chinese cemetery

8.  Selecting design-build construction where decision on the exact footprint of the future building is shifted to the contractor so SD40 can plead ignorance on those until they receive funding and engage a design-built contractor

Highlights of what CFRS has done on the proposed reconstruction:

1.  In early 2009 alerted the community and set up website to collect community responses to the proposed reconstruction

2.  Forwarded results of that survey (reflecting majority opposing) to School District 40 in 2009

3.  Attended public meeting (where SD 40’s project manager used #8 above to give little detail), communicated with local stake holders and continued to educate the public via media

4.  Monitored minor trench excavation and sieving of excavated material at the NWSS site in December 2012 for potential clues to cemetery burials

5.  Met with J. Gaiptman, new Superintendant of SD40 in 2014. Full of promises but no delivery to our written request

6.  In June 2015, wrote to Chinese community leaders, CBA of Vancouver, members of Legacy Initiatives Advisory Council, Vancouver Chinese Evangelical Ministers Fellowship, etc. informing them of the historical background of the site and current threat. In inviting them to action, we raised the question “whether Chinese wish our own or our forefather’s burial sites be protected any less than others in the society?”

7.  In February 2016 requested Minister Teresa Wat to intervene and suggest looking for another site for reconstruction

8.  February-April 2016 contacted and informed all 19 Indigenous and one Japanese stake holder groups of the imminent threat on the site and tried to organize a meeting

Note it was only a month ago we finally received the report from Golder Associates re that minor excavation in #4 above. As it took them nearly four years to produce a report for a minor excavation, how long will they take to report on the major excavations if the school reconstruction happens? Would it be too late by the time they reveal to the public what they discovered during bulldozing? Also still missing is Golder’s report on a subsequent minor excavation under HCA Permit 2012-0404 for School District 40. If the latter is so secretive about the findings in such minor excavation, what certainty do stakeholders have that SD 40 will release their findings in later major excavations, if that is allowed to happen?

This is a non-partisan issue as it is about defending the Canadian core value of honor and respect, and about whether Forest Lawn, Mountain View, Ocean View … will be next to be bulldozed for some desirable developments.

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