(File photo)

City of Victoria reaches impasse on hosting a casino, votes to never reply to BCLC

Conflict between legal concerns and reconciliation push decision ‘into the ether’

The City of Victoria reached an impasse in its decision on whether or not to host a casino, and as a result have voted not to make any decision at all.

In November the B.C. Lottery Corporation (BCLC) wrote a letter asking the city to confirm if it should still be considered as a host for any future casinos. In December 2018 council drafted a letter that firmly declined the decision, citing concerns for potential money laundering opportunities, but the letter was never passed due to a motion put forward by Coun. Marianne Alto.

READ MORE: Victoria no longer interested in hosting a downtown casino

Alto brought up that barring the city for consideration would also bar local First Nations from later expressing interest. She proposed an amendment be added to the letter, stating that the city would no longer be interesting in hosting a casino “[b]ut may consider a proposal by a local First Nation, reflecting their right to economic development self-determination.”

The amendment was discussed at large at council Thursday (Jan. 17) night, which ran until 1 a.m. Friday morning.

ALSO READ: Victoria wants more information on money laundering prevention in casinos

“We were facing two competing value systems,” Alto said. “We have council’s general disinterest in hosting… paired with their strong and ongoing commitment to supporting First Nations.”

Alto said that in the past she has spoken with both the Esquimalt and Songhees First Nations about the option, and while Esquimalt didn’t give a decision the Songhees Nation asked that the option not be eliminated from the future.

“Do we have a right to make decisions for them?” Alto said. “Do we have a right to close a door when we know this is one of the many ways First Nations can pursue economic development?”

Despite the desire for reconciliation, council could not agree on a decision and ultimately voted to abstain from a decision altogether.

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“In the end we actually put forward a motion to postpone the decision indefinitely,” Alto said. “The outcome for the motion is essentially set off into ether to never reappear, so that essentially means we will not be considering this in the future. So, we’ve made no decision to the BCLC letter.”

In an emailed statement, the BCLC said they were aware of the decision.

“BCLC respects the authority of local governments, including First Nations, to choose whether they want a gambling facility in their community,” said Sarah Morris, BCLC media relations. “Meantime, we will consider potential next steps for the Greater Victoria region, in which several local governments initially expressed interest in hosting a casino. BCLC will take the time necessary to do that.”

While the decision is unique, Alto said she was concerned over how difficult it was to face a relatively easy topic compared to other issues council will have to face in the future.

“Reconciliation is about how far we are willing to put action behind our words… when things like this come up it’s a test for us; how uncomfortable are we willing to be?” Alto said. “This is like a canary in the coal mine, if we can’t do this one, the next one will be harder. To be honest if last night was a test, I think we failed.”

nicole.crescenzi@vicnews.com


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