The controversy over a proposed UBC hospice isn’t about to die anytime soon.
A position taken by the University Neighbourhood Association—which functions like a municipal council on campus—on the planned 15-bed palliative-care facility has sparked a revolt among local residents.
Retired Canadian senator Pat Carney, a campus resident, has written the UNA board to express her concern about the “inappropriate action” the association has taken by supporting a group of Asian residents of the upscale Promontory condominium tower who oppose having the St. John Hospice built next door, at the northeast corner of West Mall and Stadium Road.
Citing traditional beliefs, the Promontory residents have claimed that living near a hospice brings bad luck to its neighbours. But this has been discredited by prominent members of the Chinese Canadian community as a misrepresentation of Chinese culture.
“We on campus live in an area of natural beauty, bounded by Pacific Spirit Park and the Musqueam aboriginal reserve, where the cycle of nature, both in birth and in death, is part of our environment and cultural values,” Carney wrote in a letter dated March 5, 2011. “It is offensive to suggest that the proposed hospice should be relocated because of the belief systems of newcomers to our country, with suggestions of evil spirits wafting through open windows and fear of dying.”
Carney, a former federal cabinet minister and MP for Vancouver Centre, also recounted how she recently attended to a cousin who died in a hospice.
“It was a peaceful and moving experience, consistent with the ”˜cultural sensitivities’ of many Canadians, including UBC residents,” she stated in the letter, a copy of which she provided to the Georgia Straight.
Carney also pointed out that she was born in China and shares “some cherished Chinese values”.
“I suggest concern over real estate values is more prominent among hospice critics than ”˜belief systems’,” Carney wrote. “I suggest the UNA Board retract support or resign.”
One recent real-estate listing puts a three-bedroom, three-bathroom unit at the Promontory at almost $1.6 million.
UNA board chair and president Sharon Wu told the Straight by e-mail that she was not available for an interview. Jan Fialkowski, executive director of the UNA, sent the Straight a statement saying that the board “supports community hospices”.
“The UNA Board is not saying that these are the views of the larger community, nor is it saying that the views of these new Canadians should dominate,” the statement says. “The UNA Board is simply encouraging UBC to consider their views along with all other inputs UBC is receiving from the community.”
Karen Russell, UBC manager for development services, referred questions about the two-storey, 14,100-square-foot hospice development to the university’s public-affairs department.
UBC public-affairs director Scott Macrae told the Straight by phone that “there is nothing to report” except that the university is still analyzing public feedback.
Eleanor Laquian is an author and former UBC researcher who lives in UBC’s Hampton Place neighbourhood. She claimed the UNA board passed a resolution in February endorsing the position of Promontory residents of putting the hospice at another site without consulting other residents of the campus.
“They’re supposed to represent the whole community and not just these rich millionaire Asians in the Promontory,” Laquian told the Straight in a phone interview.
According to her, many UBC residents are supportive of the planned hospice. “We need it,” she said. “With the aging population in our community, I am a potential user of that.”
Linda Redmond has initiated a petition to show that many campus residents are not in favour of the UNA’s move. “We think that site is appropriate for the hospice,” Redmond told the Straight in a phone interview. Redmond’s petition points out that the UNA board is “clearly not in touch with the community at large”.
According to a UBC webpage, approval for the hospice project has been “delayed to June 2011”.