From the archives of the Environmental Law Centre (University of Victoria)

Editor’s note & acknowledgement: The article published on March 5, 2021 by the Environmental Law Centre Society :is a reminder of the public opposition to a proposal to expand a marina deeper into the Tsehum Lagoon (part of the 1931 Shoal Harbour Migratory bird Sanctuary). The proposal was refused by the North Saanich Council of the day. and the sequence of events that followed led to the formation of the Friends of Shoal Harbour.

We take this opportunity to acknowledge the generous support of the work of Friends of Shoal Harbour offered by the Environmental Law Centre


“This story is the second in a series we’re sharing in 2021 to mark the ELC’s 25th anniversary [ICYMI, our first flashback is here]. We’ll take this time to reflect on milestones and appreciate work done in the past that is making a difference today. These stories demonstrate what we all inherently know: actions we take today reverberate long into the future.ELC Students met with Robert Bateman and Chief Vern jacks at a Migratory Birds Day event at Lillian Hoffar Park, near Tshehum Inlet (2005).

ELC Students met with Robert Bateman and Chief Vern jacks at a Migratory Birds Day event at Lillian Hoffar Park, near Tshehum Inlet (2005). (Photo by Holly Pattison)

Tsehum Inlet Lagoon

In 2005, the ELC helped persuade a local government to save migratory bird habitat on Vancouver Island rather than accepting a proposal to dredge a lagoon and construct a 75-boat marina development.

Located near the BC Ferries terminal in Sidney, BC, Tsehum Inlet lagoon is home to bufflehead, greenwinged teal, peregrine falcons, eagles, herons and more than 30 other species of waterfowl, seabirds, shorebirds and the rare intertidal Jaumea carnosa plant community. Visible along the stretch of highway from the ferry terminal into Sidney, the lagoon is backed by forest and a large marina. It is part of the federal Shoal Harbour National Migratory Bird Sanctuary, established in 1931 as one of the first migratory bird sanctuaries on the pacific coast.

Before the ELC became involved, the local municipal council had given approval in principle and were prepared to amend their OCP and zoning bylaws in order to accommodate a development that would have dredged and removed 2,000 dump tuck loads of sediment, and installed floats and facilities for 75 boats.

Thanks to Governance Action in North Saanich (GAINS), the group of residents who brought this issue to our attention, the ELC was able to identify and object to procedures the council had followed, which resulted in the scheduling of a new public hearing on the issue.

ELC student Derek Simon and ELC Legal Director Calvin Sandborn co-authored an op ed, which helped marshal opposition to the proposal and drew a crowd to Migratory Birds Day event the residents sponsored near the lagoon, which featured famed wildlife artist Robert Bateman and Chief Vern Jacks of the Tseycum First Nation.

In preparing for the public hearing, Derek discovered that the developer did not have a necessary permit from the provincial Director of Fish and Wildlife, which was required by the federal sanctuary legislation. He presented this information at the public hearing, with the supportive of an enthusiastic crowd, and council reversed their earlier position and rejected the proposal.

At the time, Derek said he hoped it would be just the first of a number of public interest cases that he’d work on in his career. He said, “I enjoyed working with a passionate and committed group of local citizens who had such a wide range of expertise and insight on these issues. It was exciting to be able to combine their passion for community and conservation with strong legal and scientific arguments.” He hoped to continue to work with community and conservation groups, First Nations, and local businesses to develop the legal and economic frameworks that are needed to build a sustainable society.

Derek, now a lawyer in Halifax who works almost exclusively in Aboriginal Law says, “As a law student, the opportunity to work with local residents, and to represent them at the council hearing, was highly motivating, and taught me skills that have served me well in my career. I also learned a lot about the laws around protected areas, which has turned out to be a significant area of practice for me, as I now work with my clients on the creation of Indigenous Conserved and Protected Areas, and negotiations with Parks Canada.”

Susan Chandler recently said that the quote she provided at the time on behalf of GAINS has stood the test of time: “Having the support of the UVic Environmental Law Clinic was wonderful. Being able to understand and ask advice about the legal aspects of this case was empowering, and provided a dimension that allowed us to think about our options. Derek was an amazing resource. He was tenacious when navigating the intricacies of the federal and provincial governments, and was a powerful presence at the Council hearing.”

…the natural world is not lost in one fell sweep, or by a single catastrophic decision. We lose it one little piece at a time, one lovely lagoon at a time. We lose it one Council decision at a time, as governments approve a subdivision here, a new mall there, a new marina somewhere else. And then, before you know it, the Island we love will be gone.”

Save the Gateway to Paradise (from op ed written by Calvin Sandborn and Derek Simon, May 2005)


Please attend a Community Conversation about Tsehum Harbour, Tsehum Lagoon and Roberts Bay. Join us on ZOOM, Thursday, April 15, 4:00 to 5:00 pm. We need your input!


In the mid 1800’s as settlers were arriving on the Saanich Peninsula, the sheltered waters and lush foreshores of Tsehum Harbour and Tsehum Lagoon (then known as Shoal Harbour) were prime habitat for waterfowl and many other wild creatures. Flocks of Brant geese interrupted their migrations to rest here and feed. Commercial hunters harvested them so aggressively that by 1930 the numbers of visiting Brant geese were seriously reduced, so much so that the Government of Canada established a Migratory Bird Sanctuary encompassing Tsehum Harbour and Roberts Bay, as it had done a decade earlier along the foreshore of Victoria.

Establishing  these two migratory bird sanctuaries was effective in  curtailing  over-hunting but has not prevented the degradation of the sanctuary itself due to residential and commercial development on its shores. We also realize that the loosely framed and under-enforced bylaws currently in place in both Sidney and North Saanich have not been effective  either in preventing harm to the Sanctuary.  Ironically, Tsehum Harbour, Tsehum Lagoon and and Roberts Bay, squarely within the Sanctuary, have become three of the most degraded nearshore areas on the Saanich Peninsula due to (partial list):

  • Contaminated runoff from storm sewers, streets and highways, waterfront properties, industrial activities
  • Cumulative effects of over 3000 pleasure craft moored in the harbour (anti-fouling paint, fuel and lubricants, garbage and other effluvia (particularly Styrofoam particles))
  • Loss of shoreline trees (aging plus removals)
  • Degradation of beaches due to seawalls and sea-level rise

The day-to -day stewardship of our local natural endowment (our naturehood) has become the responsibility of local municipal governments staffed by people who we know and who live among us. Thus, as voting citizens, we share with them the responsibility for establishing and directing the necessary stewardship.

The Ask

Friends of Shoal Harbour is inviting you to join a Community Conversation about Tsehum Harbour and Tsehum Lagoon on Thursday, April 15, 4:00 to 5:00 pm.

We hope that this Community Conversation will result in both energy and ideas in support of  initiatives to provide more effective care for of our local NatureHoods

The ZOOM link to this conversation is given below (it will be activated on April 15). Note: this link has been updated on this site at 12:30 pm April 13, 2021

Meeting ID: 830 6412 0709
Passcode: 720167

Here is a link to a document outlining (1) specific purposes of this conversation, (2) the desired outcomes (both short and long term) of our initiative (of which The April 15 conversation will be a part), and (3) an assessment of the current situation.

The Day I Saved a Hummingbird (a picture and poem by Veda )

Veda (age 9) lives across the road from your editor. She’s a busy kid, smart and articulate, a natural, I thought to participate in the story and Naturehood Canoe exchange that Friends of Shoal Harbour sponsored a short time ago. Veda signed on. I asked her now and then how the project was going and each time Veda said that she was working on it. Have I not heard that story before? But Veda did deliver and it’s super!