The provincial government may introduce legislative changes to deal with racist covenants on land title records, but has stopped short of fully endorsing specific solutions proposed by the District of West Vancouver to remove historical language that outlawed some homes from being owned by Blacks or Asians.
The racist land covenants are unacceptable and have no place on land titles across the province,” the Forests Ministry, which oversees B.C.’s land tiles office, said in an email on Tuesday. “We are working to see what more can be done to support this important work, including future legislative changes.”
The ministry provided no specifics about what those changes may be.
Addressing such documents gained momentum a month ago when West Vancouver resident Michele Tung found one attached to her British Properties home , and started a petition for their removal, which has now garnered more than 4,500 signatures.
A West Vancouver staff report said it would cost the district about $1 million to locate all the covenants, which were made unenforceable in 1978 but are still upsetting for residents to read. Because these discriminatory clauses also exist in other cities, any change will require a provincial solution, the report added.
At Monday night’s council meeting, the West Vancouver mayor and councillors unanimously backed a plan for a resolution at this year’s Union of B.C. Municipalities convention that requests the province have its land title agency locate and delete all such covenants. Currently, when these documents are brought to the attention of the Land Title and Survey Authority (LTSA), it can only strike-through the offending words, as it is illegal to alter official land title records.
“We would all be pleased if these covenants were not to see the light of day again,” Coun. Craig Cameron said. “It’s incumbent upon (the province) to act, and the LTSA, to take care of these covenants that they hold. And I think now that there’s been more pressure put on them, that it will lead to them dealing with the problem.”
On Tuesday, the forests ministry said it understands the issue will be brought up at the UBCM convention this fall, but made no further commitment to take the action requested by the district.
In a separate email, LTSA spokeswoman Janice Fraser said there are 2.2 million land titles and millions of historic records in paper, microfiche and digital formats. The organization has begun a multi-year project to digitize all records, and is working with Simon Fraser University to explore whether artificial intelligence software can be used to speed up locating the racist language.
“While initial work with (artificial intelligence) shows promise, there is still much work to be done to fully realize its potential,” Fraser’s email said.
West Vancouver Coun. Marcus Wong. Photo: The Office of Councillor Marcus Wong.West Vancouver Coun. Marcus Wong. Photo: The Office of Councillor Marcus Wong.
In an interview Tuesday, Tung said that although she acknowledges other cities are struggling with these covenants, West Vancouver is in a unique position because a private company, British Pacific Properties, is responsible for the development of the large residential neighbourhood where she and other homeowners have found these covenants. She wonders why council didn’t direct the company to help.
“I don’t know why there isn’t this suggestion by council,” she said. “Companies that dump toxic waste into an environment are financially and legally responsible to clean it up. Why are (British Pacific Properties) not being held to that same standard?”
The company, which bought 4,000 acres from West Vancouver district in 1931, has begun to identify all the properties it developed and sold that contain such language, and will share that information with the LTSA, President Geoff Croll said in an email Tuesday. It is also researching legal options to remove the offensive words if the province is unable to give the LTSA the authority to delete them, he added.
“We absolutely have a role to play in having racist and discriminatory language fully removed from restrictive covenants on title of properties historically developed by the company,” Croll’s email said. “It is time for us all to roll up our sleeves and work together to resolve this.”
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On Monday, Tung’s petition was introduced in the provincial legislature by Karin Kirkpatrick, the Liberal MLA for West Vancouver-Capilano.
MLA Kirkpatrick introduces petition against discriminatory restrictive covenants https://t.co/gsOa7gMO5A
— Karin Kirkpatrick (she/her) ❤️