B.C. strengthens protections of heritage, archeological sites with updated law

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VICTORIA — It would be mandatory in British Columbia to report the discovery of sites or objects of potential heritage value to the government’s archeology branch under changes to legislation introduced Wednesday.

Forests Minister Doug Donaldson said amendments to the Heritage Conservation Act would strengthen the protection of archeological and historic sites and form part of the government’s commitment to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

A totem pole in Victoria, B.C./Shutterstock

The proposed amendments, which give the government enhanced powers to refuse, amend, suspend and cancel permits, are the first changes to the heritage law in 20 years, he said.

“We’ve heard from First Nations and we’ve heard from others concerned about heritage that these changes needed to take place over the 20 years,” said Donaldson. “So, we’re catching up. I think it’s a recognition that B.C. has a tremendous heritage history.”

He said people who want to develop land where there is little knowledge of its history may be required to complete an archeological study on the property. People may also be required to obtain and pay for heritage inspections or investigations before receiving permits to alter sites, Donaldson said.

Developers of major private and public projects have voluntarily reported finding significant sites and artifacts, he said.

The mandatory reporting requirements would come into effect through government regulation, expected this year, but the other changes would come into effect when the act is passed in the legislature this spring, Donaldson said.

The Forests Ministry says there are more than 54,000 registered archeological sites in B.C. and the province’s archeology branch processes about 500 permits annually.