Controversy is brewing over an application to the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District (SLRD) requesting that a 33-acre parcel of land overlooking Howe Sound be rezoned from Resource to Institutional Retreat Centre. The application would make way for a $6-million centre that some residents fear will be a school of indoctrination for Opus Dei - a controversial prelature of the Catholic Church.
Ralph Fulber, who has lived in Britannia Beach for 22 years, is one of about 135 residents who have signed a petition against rezoning, citing concerns with Opus Dei's mission. According to its website, Opus Dei, formed in 1928, offers classes, talks and retreats in 64 countries with the mission of encouraging people to put the Christian faith into practice in their day-to-day lives. About 30 per cent of members remain celibate and live in Opus Dei centres.
The group came to prominence in its depiction as a dangerous cult in the controversial bestselling novel by Dan Brown, and Hollywood blockbuster The Da Vinci Code. Planner Michael Rosen said the centre is connected to Opus Dei, but denied it was a spiritual retreat. "It's been proposed by the Institute of Research and Communication Development. If it was an Opus Dei retreat, that's what it would be called." Rosen declined to say what activities would occur within the centre.
Fulber said residents also oppose changes to Britannia's Official Community Plan. "It took us decades to get that. We don't want a 60,000 square foot institute tucked up where housing should be." Rosen said the building would be about 45,000 square feet with a design that blended with the landscape. "This facility is going to be very distant from any one individual house because the property is so big," he said.
A public hearing about the rezoning on Thursday (Jan. 31) gave residents the chance to voice concerns. However, statements could not touch on questions over Opus Dei. "One of the things I made perfectly clear at the beginning is that there are no comments to be made on religious affiliations," said SLRD chair John Turner. "Those issues are illegal... and certainly not appropriate for rezoning."
Fulber said he was frustrated members could only discuss the implication of the building rather than use. "It will affect all of us deeply in the fabric of our society." If the application were approved, Fulber said he would apply for an injunction through the Supreme Court of Canada demanding a referendum on the decision, since, he said, the community has shown they "overwhelmingly object." However, Turner said an equal number of people spoke in favour of the application at the hearing. "I thought it was a fairly balanced support."