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Christian Island cottager cries foul over BFN restrictions

Cottager says they're being forced to leave island early with 'summertime lease' policy, but chief says restrictions in place due to COVID

A Christian Island cottager contends Beausoleil First Nation (BFN) isn’t treating seasonal residents fairly.

The cottager, who asked not to be identified for fear of repercussions, says BFN administration has instituted a “summer lease” policy, even though he said his lease contains no such wording.

“It's a pretty complicated situation over here that's developing with the new leadership,” the man said, noting he’s been coming to the island for more than 40 years, first as a camper and eventually as a cottager.

“The band members are a very open and friendly group of people. And I don't see it coming from the grassroots. It just seems to be the leadership that is adopting this new strategy. It's really disappointing.”

Under the ‘summer lease’ specification, he said cottagers can only use their properties between June 9 and Oct. 11.

“We all just want to get along peacefully here and in co-existence as we do anywhere on the mainland,” he said. “Why create all this bad public relations and this kind of animosity?”

He said a number of cottagers are banding together to determine what their next steps might be. He also said some seasonal residents, like him, have sunk sizeable investments into their properties to ensure they can be enjoyed throughout the year, something they wouldn’t have done had their leases stated they were only for summer use.

“We have justifiable leases and made our payments, we've made investments, and now we’re not wanted on the island for more than four months a year,” he said.

The cottager said he has spoken to BFN Chief Joanne Sandy, who was elected earlier this year, about his concerns.

A notice on the BFN website that was added last week outlines the move is meant to restrict access and keep island residents safe due to COVID. But the cottager said the Sept. 16 notice replaced a previous cottagers’ notice that made no mention of COVID.

Chief Sandy said the notice and restrictions are directly related to the ongoing COVID situation.

“It's that the cottages have a lease and we're in the COVID state of emergency and they have to leave,” she told MidlandToday. “There's no question about it.

“We've already discussed this with our lawyers and things like that. We have every right to ask them to leave," Sandy added. "And they were told that before they even got a chance to come. So I will not be addressing this with you.”

Sandy said cottagers were sent notices about the restrictions and opening/closing dates before the season began and that nothing has changed since then.

“Those rules of when they can come and leave were given to them before they were allowed to come this year,” she said. “We are still in the state of emergency, so that was just the decision with the lands department, the council and the emergency operations team.

“So they can use whatever excuse. It says in their lease, summertime use only. There’s no argument. We have legal (rights) and going to the newspapers; they’re not going to get sympathy from our community.”

Sandy said cottagers were allowed to come to the island last year provided they got tested.

“They all refused to get tested,” she said. “And we don’t know what their status is and they don’t let us know what their status is. We’re trying to keep our community and our membership safe.”

While the cottager noted BFN used the pandemic as the reason behind limiting visits to the island last year, he said this year is different.

“It’s got to be a double standard if all the band members have free and open access anywhere on the mainland, which has a much higher possibility of COVID interaction.

“There's no lockdown on the mainland, and the band members seem to have no worry, no fear of frequenting anywhere over there. What if the tables were turned on the band and all of a sudden they found out that leadership on the mainland was restricting their access?”

As well, he noted that cottagers pose little, if any, risk to full-time island residents since they sit in their cars on the ferry and immediately head to their cottages where they remain throughout their stay.

The seasonal resident pays $2,800 a year to lease the land where his cottage sits with BFN adding a service fee of $750 for garbage collection and other services a couple of years ago.

He said that since their access is now being restricted, cottagers should only have to pay 25% of the associated fees.

“They haven't reciprocated and said, ‘okay, since we're only allowing you here 25% of the time, as being a sign of fairness, we're going to reduce your leases and reduce your service fees by 75%.’

“They’re still expecting the full lease fee and the full service fee, but only allow us (to be) here a quarter of the time. It's a real public relations fee fiasco that they're embarking on."

He estimated there about 250 cottages on the island.

“A few of us have built newer cottages to newer standards and newer code levels, but the majority of the cottages here were built from the 50s through the 70s on a pretty tight budget,” he said. “So they're basically uninsulated frame construction on concrete blocks.”

And while the summer lease arrangement would work for some cottagers such as those with young families who rarely trek to the island during the school year, it’s not fair to those who like to visit more often throughout the year, he said.

“I know myself and a few other of my retired neighbours tend to not come up on the weekend because the lineups for the barge on Friday and then returning Sunday are so long with the families wanting to get back to the city or wherever they live.

“So generally, a lot of the retired people will come up Monday morning and go back Thursday. A lot of us also love the challenge of coming up in the weather’s getting more inclement.”

Andrew Philips

About the Author: Andrew Philips

Community Editor Andrew Philips is a multiple award-winning journalist whose writing has appeared in some of the country‚Äôs most respected news outlets. Originally from Midland, Philips returned to the area from Québec City a decade ago.
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